Servants and Allocation of Narrative Space in the Eighteenth-Century English NovelMelih Levi
Narrative struggles in the eighteenth-century English novel can be traced to the allocation of narrative space to a multiplicity of characters. The narrative positioning of the servant comes to embody the anxieties of the author and of the age. As servants are associated with the transmission of stories with varying degrees of reliability, they easily turn into stand-ins for authorial performance, especially in eighteenth-century novels, where the performance of reliability is a crucial aspect of authorial selffashioning. Servants make up a large portion of the reading public in the period and their desire for upward social mobility inevitably finds both narrative and characterological representation. However, as exemplified by the “Pamela controversy,” famously sparked by Samuel Richardson’s novel, open depictions of the possibility of social mobility also engendered unease. This article studies the allocation of narrative space to servants in three novels: Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is an epistolary novel narrated by the letters of a servant character. Therefore, the servant character is established as the center of narrative attention; however, it is this very centrality that unsettles her position and turns her into a figure in “service” of the novel’s moral purpose. Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews presents a more convoluted struggle over the claiming of narrative space since Joseph’s ambivalent release from the servant position is continuously challenged by other servants. Finally, servants in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy are situated at the margins of narrative space as parodical embodiments of the desire to rise to the level of narrative and public visibility.