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Gend Hist. 2002;14(2):183-201.

The haunting of Susan Lay: servants and mistresses in seventeenth-century England.

Abstract

At Easter 1650, Susan Lay, a servant in an Essex alehouse, saw the ghost of her mistress, who had been buried three days before. This article explores the history that lay behind her experience: of sexual relationships with both her master and his son, the births and deaths of two bastard children, and beneath it all, a relationship of antagonism, competition, and intimacy with her mistress. It uses this and other legal records to examine the relationship between women in early modern households, arguing that, while antagonisms between women are typically part of effective patriarchies, the domestic life and social structures of mid seventeenth-century England bound servants and mistresses peculiarly tightly together, giving servants licence to dream of replacing their mistresses and mistresses cause to feel threatened by their servants, and making the competitive relations between women functional to patriarchal order. It suggests, finally, that at this moment in time and in this context, seeing a ghost was the best, perhaps the only, way this servant had to tell a suppressed story and stake a claim to a household that had excluded her.

PMID:
17486708
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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