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Horace Lamb runs an austere household with tyrannical force and cruel thrift. His five children shiver through the winter and learn that a fire is not a thing to be taken for granted. Hierarchies are more lightly enforced in the servants’ quarters, where Bullivant and Mrs Selden attempt to rein in their young charges. When Horace suddenly turns attentive and caring, the real difficulties begin: the taut order of the household slackens, setting loose old grievances.
Her own favourite among her novels, Manservant and Maidservant is Ivy Compton-Burnett at her witty, lacerating best. A ruthless satire of power struggles and petty economies, it exposes the violence and cruelty at the core of Victorian family life.