O demônio familiar: Lavadeiras, amas-de-leite e criadas na narrativa de Júlia Lopes de Almeida

Sonia Roncador


This paper studies the images of domestic servants, and the strategic uses of these images in the works by Brazilian writer Júlia Lopes de Almeida (1863–1934) published in the first years of the Republic. According to historian Sandra Lauderdale Graham, the “modern” or bourgeois vision of the maid stems from patrons’ (sense of ) lost of control and authority over their servants in the years following the abolition of slavery (1888). It is also a result of the fact that most of the free(d) servants preferred to live in the cities’ emerging popular housing, or cortiços, at that time considered by public hygiene doctors and members of the privileged classes as promiscuous and “infected” zones. For the most part neglected by society, domestic servants gained a certain social “visibility” as they were turned into a threat to the physical and moral integrity of Brazilian bourgeois families. My intention is to demonstrate how in her earlier works Almeida uses the bourgeois vision of maids as dangerous carriers of fatal diseases such as cholera, yellow fever, and syphilis in her campaign against the services of washerwomen and wet nurses, both residents in Rio’s “infected” slums. In addition, I propose to relate the recurring image of the disloyal, thieving maid in Almeida’s first works with her engagement in the bourgeois project to reconstruct (in the sense of “to modernize,” or “to civilize”) domestic space and life. I conclude that both images of domestic servants (disease carriers and criminals) serve Almeida’s pedagogical project to prepare Brazilian women to successfully fulfill their new responsibilities as dedicated mothers, spouses and housewives in Republican Brazil.


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