Domestic Servants in Literature and Testimony in Brazil, by S. Roncador

By S. Roncador

Drawing from a number of historic resources, idea, and fictional and non-fictional creation, this publication addresses the cultural imaginary of household servants in glossy Brazil and demonstrates maids' symbolic centrality to transferring notions of servitude, subordination, femininity, and domesticity.

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Extra resources for Domestic Servants in Literature and Testimony in Brazil, 1889–1999

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It was Simplícia, in starched skirts, walking sprightly through the garden, looking for carnations to decorate her kinky hair already bedecked with a blue ribbon. She passed by the window and the widow smelled her own perfume on the little mulatta who was soaked in it; she closed her eyes and was overcome with laziness, unable to reprimand the break in trust—the girl slowly sauntered through the flowerbeds and disappeared. (40) Although Simplícia is ridiculed for her exaggerated use of her mistress’s perfume, she is portrayed as the incarnation of the prototypical envious maid in this and other sections of the novel.

According to Almeida, the maid was a “plague,” whose “stupidity, ignorance, laziness or animosity” could in fact bring “a lot of good people,” such as her chronicle’s suicidal woman character, to want to “escape this life for another where you wouldn’t have to eat burned beans or raw roast beef and where petty theft and negligence would not be so shameless or irritating” (Donas e donzellas 65). The maid character stands out as one of Almeida’s main social interests, emerging as a crucial element not only in this obscure tragic-comic Júlia’s Maids 25 piece, but in her better-known texts as well.

The other children were wearing them, the wet nurse’s children! What people! I’m going to take her home! ” (188). Curiously enough, the old popular belief that milk was a vehicle of transmission of both physical and moral diseases was still in effect in this late nineteenth-century crusade led Júlia’s Maids 43 by positivist scientists against hired black breastfeeding. All the while, the author draws on prestigious treatises of (women’s) education, such as Jules Michelet’s Woman and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile, as well as on up-to-date medical theses to question the ancient tradition of employing a wet nurse when it was still thought that Africans had better eugenic qualities for breastfeeding than the “natural” white mother.

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