‘Life below Stairs’ by Alison Maloney

The idea of domestic servants and their relationship with the masters is superficially romanticized not in the least due to period dramas, such as ‘Downton Abbey’ or Victorian masterpiece theater. In such fictionalized stories, the social dynamics between the classes are often bowdlerized or beautified, in addition to the romanticization of the working class as though to neutralize class antagonism in fear of marring a lofty literary theme. That said, ‘Life Below Stairs’ by Alison Maloney is a documentary of the real people who had to find themselves in servitude of their betters and their live-to-tell accounts of what it was like to be servants.

While reading the book, I could not help but think that the professional domestic service in the capacity of maids, footmen, and butlers was not so much different from today’s social dynamics of at-will employees who provide their labor to employers for livelihood. Of course, the labor conditions and workers’ rights have been considerably improved, thanks to continuing reformation of workers’ compensations. However, the essence of the exchange of labor for necessities of life and the nature of employment is often precarious and insecure on the whims and caprice of businessmen and women. For example, recent union movements of Starbucks employees have prompted the company to close down under the pretext of low sales or redundancy. It betokens that the company will not tolerate such defiant action by the employees who provide their service in pure physical labor and mental exertions in catering to the needs of customers daily. Servants in the Victorian and Edwardian eras were employed chiefly by the middle-class bourgeoise who regarded keeping servants as a status symbol in the emulation of their upper aristocratic betters. In the States, servitude equated the slavery in the South, which was also maintained by merchant and business classes. Although I am not a proponent of aristocracy, aristocrats knew better how to treat their underlings because the need for servants arose from the necessities of keeping their estates and domesticity, not from a flash of ostentatious wealth that their jealous middle class was envious of.

I envision myself as a housemaid in one of the early Edwardian eras (1900-1930), working from 6:00 am till 11:00 pm for a mistress whose temper is mercurial like Hera. That would be miserable with no weekend offs and mandatory church going with her. Then I feel okay to live in this moment of history even if my mistress boss is a modern-day bourgeoisie woman who wants her underlings to do thngs in her way because thanks to labor law, I only work from nine to five with saturdays an sundays to myself. Thank God for that.

Dark Water (2005) – film review

Here’s a young mother with a five-year-old daughter freshly divorced from her husband who thinks she’s delusional, paranoid even, and wants to keep sole custody of their daughter. The daughter is everything she has reason to live, a life that has been so hard to endure with an indelible traumatic childhood. Yet, because she sees herself in her daughter needing constant unconditional love, which she was not allowed to have, she will do anything to protect her from the harsh reality of life, even from the supernatural peril of the beyond reality.

So the story of Dark Water (2005) narrates Dahlia, a young divorcee trying to take full custody of her daughter Ceci away from her assiduously hostile husband. Instead, he embarks on a legal battle to claim sole possession of Ceci because of Dahlia’s unstable mental state. Dahlia, a once copy editor from Seattle, takes a low-paying administrative position at a Manhattan Radiology office for livelihood in a delipidated apartment in Roosevelt Island with Ceci. The semblance of the apartment is the working-class version of Rosemary’s apartment. Dark water is leaking everywhere: from the elevator to their bedroom ceiling, and the laundry room, which is a prelude to the finding of a tank on the rooftop where the traumatic ends of a certain young Russian girl abandoned, unloved finds her and her memories. Or is it Dahlia’s phantasmal delusion of confronting her own child self in her painkiller-induced pill to alleviate the cruel migraine caused by the yoke of woes?

Dark Water is an American adaptation of the original Japanese film Dark Water (2002) by Koji Suzuki, the famous writer of the Ring trilogy, excellently translated to an American audience who will find broad universal themes of human nature, psychology, and behavior. You don’t have to have perfect childhood fed on parental love to be a loving parent. Of course, unhappy childhood will affect the development of one’s character and behavior pattern more or less, but it all boils down to one’s nature to be loved and be loving. Dahlia wants to counteract the demon of the past, which still grabs her with its tenacious tentacle of recurring nightmares and murderous migraine, by being constantly -and eternally – loving and kind to Ceci despite her unhealed scars left in her child self. Perhaps that is why her name is Dahlia, whose flower word is loyalty, dignity, courage, and support due to its withstanding of harsh conditions.

Jennifer Connelly, playing Dahlia, is not only beautiful but also talented in a way that few actresses on screen possess in our time. Her presence in scenes is unique in that her character is downright realistic yet oddly out of the world in a riveting way, as exhibited in this film. No wonder the late film critic Roger Ebert admired her for the same reason. With her exceptional performance and the storytelling that grips the eyes and ears of the beholder, Dark Water is a worthy film for those who delight in supernatural horror without blood and screams.

My Cat Toro and Samuel’s Hodge

Toro is a very fine cat indeed

Since I don’t like the word “pet,” I won’t say it when I refer to my two-year-old tabby, tom Toro, a family member. Toro pays a portion of his rental fee and is a controller of rodents in our dilapidated humble apartment we long to escape. But that’s another story, and this story I am going to unravel is for Toro.

Toro before entering the clinic

It was that time again to get Toro’s annual physical exam, also required for his Hills prescription Urinary care food. So we took a trip to the vet at Little Tokyo, and all’s well that ended well. His weight was steady at 11 pounds, the same as the last year (what an excellent dieter he is!). He got his FVRCP, FelV, and nails done and was proven generally healthy. What a relief because I had been concerned about his taking more naps than usual and tired expressions with half-cast eyes. The doctor told me that it was customary for cats to show such symptoms as they grew bigger. So albeit my mom thinks that I am overly concerned about Toro’s otherwise fine status quo, aren’t we all concerned about the general well-being of our flurry fur babies?

Samuel Johnson and Hodge

It all makes me think of the story of Samuel Johnson and his cat Hodge. Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest men of letters from 18th century England and the author of A Dictionary of the English Language, had his beloved sale-furred cat Hodge, who was immortalized in literary works and as a bronze statue outside his guardian’s once resident abode. We first come to know of Johnson’s cat Hodge thanks to his lawyer friend and biographer James Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Johnson used to go out to buy Hodge’s favorite food, oysters. He refused to let his loyal and faithful Jamaican-born master-servant Francis Barber because he felt that it would be degrading to Francis to do such errands for him. But I like to think that it was more affection toward Hodge, whom he called thus: “He is a very fine cat, very fine indeed.” When Hodge was nearing to cross the rainbow bridges due to his old age, Johnson would get valerian, an herbal painkiller extracted from the flower to lessen his fur baby’s pain. But the end of Hodge wasn’t lost in the inner circle of the ether, for his life was memorialized in ‘An Energy on the Death of Dr. Johnson’s Favorite Cat’ by Percival Stockdale, published in 1778:


The general conduct if we trace
Of our articulating race,
Hodge’s, example we shall find
A keen reproof of human kind.

Samuel Johnson is one of my most admirable literary persons because of his humanist rules of thought articulated in his mastership of the English language. Hence it gives me a feeling of kinship with his love of Hodge. His affection for Hodge felt genuinely caring and familial, which was never mawkish or superficial. So, likewise, my cat Toro is a muse of my writings: whimsical, independent, intelligent, and affectionate. Sometimes, I wonder if Toro is really a little boy bespelled a tom. Well, what more can I say? Toro is a very fine cat, very fine indeed.

Hodge’s bronze statue was inaugurated in 1997 by Sir Roger Cook, the then-Lord Mayer of London. Note the oyster at his paw as his eternal token of Johnson’s affection.