Poor Fanny Smith — or, I should really say: Poor Fanny Seymour. For her “trouble with servants” comes AFTER her marriage, AFTER her removal to Kinwarton (Warwickshire), AFTER she has begun to set up her own household.
Fanny, of all the Smith of Suttons siblings, settled the furthest away from everyone else. And, as a girl and then woman, used to the quiet of the country at certain seasons but the BUSTLE of LONDON during “the season”, she is finding Kinwarton a little too-quiet. And, therefore, she knows what other will think…
And so she informs her sister Charlotte, to whom she turns after a letter arrived asking Fanny to consider hiring a protegée of someone known to Charlotte (who, by the way, is living in London [Cavendish Square] – with husband Arthur Currie).
NB: a protegée is meant to convey the idea of recommendation: A servant (new to the market or simply seeking a different position) whom the friend or relation can recommend to the attention of someone seeking a servant.
My! what an absorbing letter to read! The gist of Fanny’s lament is not that she doesn’t think the woman will suit => Fanny believes the position would NOT at all suit the woman! The woman is too used to fine households (“white gloves” were mentioned…); and her brother is in the household of a titled family. What has the Kinwarton Vicarage to offer other than a stone-floored kitchen – no “housekeeper’s room” at all, as in all the fine house’s the woman may indeed associate with the Smiths: Suttons (in Essex), Stoke (in Wiltshire), Tring (in Hertfordshire). Fanny asks her sister to be candid, to tell the ex-Lady’s Maid — though one of Charlotte’s servants — all the letter contains about the position and the household. Tell this also to the lady who wrote to Fanny, so that she too will be under no misapprehensions.
Alas! Poor Fanny then leaves the door open, for she writes towards the end: IF the woman cares to pursue the position still, let her contact Fanny.
Now, Fanny had written Charlotte that the WORST scenario she could EVER envision was one where an unhappy servant moans and complains… Fanny may be a new-ish bride (it’s been well over a year since the wedding), but she is no “young” lady: she is in her 30s and well used to the large establishment of her mother’s household (yet, of course, always had her mother on the other side of a letter if advice was required about the said household).
Indeed, it seems, from one short sentence, that James Edward Austen (Emma’s husband) sat Fanny down and told her a few facts about life in the country’s more impecunious rectories. She knew, going into the marriage, she writes Charlotte, that she’d been heading a household where hundreds and not thousands (of pounds) would be spent in a year.
So why on earth does she simply NOT even consider taking “White Gloves” on?
For the next letter finds the woman IN KINWARTON!
The situation is not the happiest, on both sides (as Fanny predicted!), and Fanny, pregnant and planning to move south to be with her mother for her confinement, is already planning to give the woman her dismissal: the plan is NOT to engage her further once they arrive in London. The plan, then, calls for the woman – whom we now know to be nearer 50 than 40 in age (another Lament!) to be unemployed come Christmas, for Fanny was confined in mid-January.
Ah, for MORE in order to know IF this plan was followed! DID she arrive back in London with a handshake and a pay-off?
Richard’s diary mentions the woman just once: the fact of her travelling separately to Oxford as they break their journey south. Nothing more, as if the household does not affect him at ALL. And perhaps it didn’t! Fanny could write reams to her sisters, laments and pleadings for advice, but Richard can’t even be bothered to note the woman’s arrival or dismissal, or his wife’s unease.
So, until more letters come to light – or, more mentions of a woman named Heck or Hook – this story too is a “torso” waiting for a conclusion.