Hesperus Press's elegant reissue of Jonathan Swift's slim, unfinished Directions to Servants seems particularly relevant now, when servants in America, though they're not typically called servants, are as common in upper-middle-class households as they were in Chekhov's plays. Which of his disillusioned doctors or dreamy heroines could have imagined that in a hundred years we would still be worrying the problems of love and despair while eating meals and sleeping in beds made by serfs? In today's professional class many women work, the men work even more, and the household, if it runs at all, is run by somebody else.
Directions to Servants lacks the central conceit and driving polemic of A Modest Proposal, but delivers a gallery of sharp miniatures, in aggregate asserting the eternal spunk, appetite, ultimate dignity, and humanity of servants. The premise is the old, satisfying one of the help outsmarting their masters. At its lowest Swift's humor would appease a nine-year-old boy's cravings for bathroom gags, with slapstick not all that much more sophisticated than the upstairs-downstairs joke of the cook's peeing in the soup. Those moments are brief, though. Swift once wrote to Pope that his aim was "to vex the world rather than divert it," and in these vignettes he's most diverting when he's at least partly serious, which is fortunate, because here in California, at least, with its enormous pool of illegal immigrants, there are numerous unintentionally comic gems in the public library, as funny as Swift's jokes about chamber pots. One is Margaret Storm's Home Maid, a Spanish cookbook (first published in the 1960s, when, apparently, "Spanish food" was a synonym for "Mexican food"), with its helpful foreword.
nota book of Mexican or Spanish recipes. Our aim is not to teach Mexican or Spanish-speaking household help how to make their native dishes. They can do that to perfection without our help. We want to have them help youin the kitchen doing things yourway.
Another is Linda Radke's guide to contemporary domestic employment, subtitled "If the Dog Likes You, You're Hired."