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Ethel Carnie Holdsworth: General Belinda, co-operation and the servant problem

Wilson, N. ORCID: (2020) Ethel Carnie Holdsworth: General Belinda, co-operation and the servant problem. Women: a cultural review, 31 (4). pp. 433-451. ISSN 1470-1367

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/09574042.2020.1843238


In July 1920, ‘Belinda: The Story of a Domestic Servant’ first appeared in the co-operative periodical, the Wheatsheaf. It was penned by one of its regular short story writers, Lancashire mill-woman Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (1886-1962). Encouraged by Percy Redfern, the Wheatsheaf’s editor, Carnie Holdsworth returned to the character of Belinda over the next couple of years, and in 1924, General Belinda became her sixth published novel. General Belinda is an episodic adventure about the trials and tribulations of domestic service. Belinda is a maid-of-all work who, like P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves, puts her employers’ lives and affairs to right. Comedy is the striking note, but Carnie Holdsworth was adept at putting popular fiction to work for feminist-Marxist politics. This article explores the novel as a radical feminist critique of early twentieth-century domestic service and the devastation of World War One, written from the rare perspective of a working-class woman. General Belinda is also an important example of co-operative ideals. Redfern was a key proponent of consumer socialism between the wars, and Belinda shows her employers the power of consumerism as a rational force for good, preaching against debt and fiscal irresponsibility. The article illustrates how Carnie Holdsworth’s plot intersects with wider debates in interwar women’s print culture on how British women shoppers were encouraged to be good home-making citizens. Belinda shows readers how to practise domestic economy and shop for co-operative good. In doing so, she suggests a new way of conceiving of the labour of domestic service and of positive social relations post-war, based on a co-operative understanding of dignity, mutual association and self-help.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Book Cultures and Publishing (CBCP)
ID Code:93755
Publisher:Taylor & Francis


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