Created By: Goldfritha on June 3, 2012 Last Edited By: Goldfritha on June 9, 2014

Poor Relation AKA Servant

Rich relatives exploit a character's poverty and need for a place to live.

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Sometimes when you are the Impoverished Patrician, you lose even the family house, but other branches have more money. Or when you are orphaned young, or lose your money, you find you have Nouveau Riche relatives. Since blood is Thicker Than Water, they take you in. How nice. And will you just take this letter down to the post office? Or take the Royal Brat for a walk? Or pick and arrange flowers for the banquet?

While you are generally performing an upper-servant's sort of duties, Cinderella Circumstances are not unknown. And they don't pay you. And you won't get a reference if you leave, which is a lot harder. And you're expected to be grateful.

The character is more historical than contemporary, and more often female because men had better chances to get themselves a Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job outside the family. (Plus young for the chance at romance.)

Contrast Wicked Stepmother, who can force the child to work because of having legal guardianship.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • In the Tsukigomori story in Skip Beat! , Kyoko's costar and the romantic lead Itsumi's character is a girl taken in by her relatives and used basically as a maid.
  • In Hanasaku Iroha Ohana arrives at her grandmother's hot springs inn...and is quickly put to work, as she has no other place to stay.

Literature
  • Fanny in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park
    • In one of her juvenilia, "Catherine or The Bower", Kitty is indignant about how one of her childhood friends has been taken on as this -- and the family is regarded as being generous.
  • P. G. Wodehouse used this quite a bit.
    • In Jill the Reckless, when Jill's Uncle Elmer learned she had lost her money, he and her aunt expected her to read to her aunt, and take the boy for a walk, and to shovel the steps after their hired man quit -- she revolted at the last.
    • In Quick Service, Sally procures groceries and does other work. Mrs. Chavender knows she hasn't a moment to call her own -- which is why she is careful to hide from her sister-in-law that she lost all her money.
  • One Agatha Christie story combines this with Easy Amnesia: two sisters set off on a cruise liner. When it sinks, the elder suffers memory loss, and the younger convinces her that she's the Old Retainer (who actually drowned). Much later in life, the amnesiac sister starts to half remember things, leading to trying to murder her niece and sister via Gas Lighting.
    • Another Agatha Christie example is Death on the Nile. Cornelia's family has lost all their money, and she's very excited when her wealthy relative, Miss Van Schuyler, is going abroad and invites Cornelia to come along. Officially Cornelia is going as a companion to keep Miss Van Shuyler company, but she ends up acting more as a maid.
  • At the beginning of The Fire Rose, Rosalind says she was offered one of these positions after her father's death. Since it involved being a nursemaid for a man strongly implied to be a pervert, she refused.

Western Animation
  • Scrooge Mc Duck loves to do that to his nephew Donald.

Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • June 3, 2012
    animeg3282
    In the Tsukigomori story in Skip Beat , Kyoko's costar and the romantic lead Itsumi's character is a girl taken in by her relatives and used basically as a maid.
  • June 4, 2012
    randomsurfer
    This is often referred to as "earning one's keep."
  • June 4, 2012
    TheHandle
    Scrooge Mc Duck loves to do that to his nephew Donald.
  • June 4, 2012
    Chabal2
    One Agatha Christie story combines this with Easy Amnesia: two sisters set off on a cruise liner. When it sinks, the elder suffers memory loss, and the younger convinces her that she's the Old Retainer (who actually drowned). Much later in life, the amnesiac sister starts to half remember things, leading to trying to murder her niece and sister via Gas Lighting.

  • June 4, 2012
    McKathlin
    In most adaptations, Cinderella is servant to her stepmother and stepsisters after her father dies.
  • June 4, 2012
    McKathlin
    If the relative the family takes in is treated unkindly, but not like a servant, that relative is The Unfavorite.
  • June 4, 2012
    Goldfritha
    But Cinderella's treatment does not stem from her lack of money.
  • June 20, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Another Agatha Christie example is Death On The Nile. Cornelia's family has lost all their money, and she's very excited when her wealthy relative, Miss Van Schuyler, is going abroad and invites Cornelia to come along. Officially Cornelia is going as a companion to keep Miss Van Shuyler company, but she ends up acting more as a maid.
  • June 21, 2012
    surgoshan
    I think a shorter title would be Servant Relation.
  • June 22, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Yes, but there are situations where being a servant is considered right and proper and not exploitation at all. Chaucer's knight was served by his own son at the table.
  • June 22, 2012
    Antigone3
    At the beginning of The Fire Rose, Rosalind says she was offered one of these positions after her father's death. Since it involved being a nursemaid for a man strongly implied to be a pervert, she refused.
  • July 6, 2012
    AgProv
    Harry Potter as first seen with his bigoted, lazy, self-satidfied Daily Mail reading uncle and aunt and cousin...
  • July 7, 2012
    Goldfritha
    What sort of work do the Dudleys make Harry do?

    Furthermore, as in the Wicked Stepmother case, Harry is not kept there by his poverty (he's rich, in fact), but by his age and their legal authority.
  • July 8, 2012
    randomsurfer
    ^Well, until partway through the first book Harry doesn't know that he's rich. And IIRC they make him do assorted household tasks - washing, cooking, etc. Again, this is only at the start of his story, before he finds out he's a wizard.
  • July 8, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Yes, but the knowledge that he has money doesn't let him escape.
  • July 8, 2012
    planswalker
    Are there really that many examples of this trope that are truly this trope, if HP doesn't count?
  • July 8, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Yup. All of the listed examples could have escaped with money.
  • July 8, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In fact, in one book he does make an early "escape" of his summer holidays at home, by renting a room at the Leaky Cauldren.
  • July 28, 2012
    animeg3282
    In Hanasaku Iroha Ohana arrives at her grandmother's hot springs inn...and is quickly put to work, as she has no other place to stay.
  • June 9, 2014
    DAN004
    Related to Nepotism?
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