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MISTRESS AND MAID: HOMOEROTICISM, CROSS-CLASS DESIRE, AND DISGUISE IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

  • Kirsti Bohata (a1)

Extract

The relationship between mistress and maid is curiously intimate yet bounded by class. Employers and their servants are caught in a dynamic of dominance and submission, in which they practice mutual surveillance. Yet the relationship may also evoke models of loyalty, devotion, and the possibility, in fiction at least, of female alliance. On the comparatively rare occasions that servants feature at all in Victorian fiction, these dynamics lend a homoerotic dimension to the cross-class relationship between mistress and maid. The positions of mistress and maid bring two women together under the same roof while separating them by class, thus providing a framework for a fictional exploration for yearning, desire, unrequited love, or sometimes union. Alternatively, a queer relationship may be obscured by the guise of employer and servant. Indeed, the mistress-maid stories discussed here often involve masquerade in some form, including cross-class and cross-gender disguises.

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