Page Type: trope
Servants tend to be humble and deferential — it's considered part of their job description. This trope is about the exceptions: servants who are proud, patronising, or snobbish, and who will treat people with subtle contempt or even outright disdain. Sometimes their aloofness will be carefully restricted to people who occupy a lower position than them, or whom their employer doesn't care for — other times, it will extend to everyone, their employers included.
This can have various causes and forms (not mutually exclusive):
- Reflected glory: They might gain power or prestige from their association with their oh-so-important employer (or at least, their employer's office or title). They may have have a relatively high position within a hierarchy of servants, or may have been delegated some authority by their employers — and they get Drunk with Power. Just because they have to be a Sycophantic Servant to their employer, doesn't mean they can't turn around and be a petty tyrant to servants on the next step down. Even if they're cleaning boots, the boots belong to someone important, and that's a closer association with power than many people can claim. Getting to sneer at people who have no access to their illustrious employer is a perk of the job.
- Flawed employers: If the servants are the ones who really run things — an Almighty Janitor, a Chessmaster Sidekick, or a Man Behind the Man — then they may take a dim view of whichever Upper-Class Twit thinks they're in charge. Servants are also in a better position than most to know the faults of their employer, who is often No Hero to His Valet. If servants are Loyal to the Position rather than the individual, they may be disdainful of any employer who is deemed to be disgracing their office.
- Offended sensibilities: Despite not actually being members of the elite themselves, servants may be just as fastidious (if not more so) about upholding "proper" etiquette, protocol, and aesthetics. People who get mud on the fine carpets, scratch the expensive woodwork, draw moustaches on the paintings, and use the wrong fork at dinner may prompt a clash of Slobs vs. Snobs, with the servants being the latter.
A haughty servant may choose to express their disdain by being a Servile Snarker or by employing Stealth Insults. (Note, though, that not all snarky or insulting servants are haughty — in fact, many are snarking at haughtiness.) Another way for haughty servants to express themselves is by becoming an Obstructive Bureaucrat and engaging in Bothering by the Book.
- Some appear in the works of P. G. Wodehouse.
Jeeves: The tie, if I might suggest it, sir, a little more tightly knotted. One aims at the perfect butterfly effect. If you will permit me—
- Of the Jeeves and Wooster duo, Bertie Wooster is often more casual about etiquette and proprieties than Jeeves, despite being an archetypal Upper-Class Twit. While Jeeves's disapproval of Bertie's choices never translates to disapproval of Bertie himself, and he always rallies around Bertie in the end, that doesn't mean he'll let his employer get away with lax standards. Of particular note are their periodic clashes about Bertie's fashion choices — Jeeves considers this a more Serious Business than Bertie does, and despite Bertie declaring more than once that he won't be pushed around by his valet, Jeeves always manages to quash any departures from correct gentlemen's attire.
Bertie: What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this? Do you realise that Mr Little's domestic happiness is hanging in the scale?
Jeeves: [pained] There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter.
- Elsewhere in the Jeeves and Wooster stories, there are other, haughtier servants. Jeeves's uncle, Charlie Silversmith, is the butler at Deverill Hall, and is noted for his intimidating, austere manner. The servant Bertie and others meet at Bingley's house in Much Obliged, Jeeves is also notably disdainful of his employer's visitors.
- In Wodehouse's Ukridge stories, the narrator (Corky) lives in an apartment building run by Bowles, a former butler to an earl. Bowles is always polite and respectful, but still manages to project an air of dignified superiority leaving Corky in no doubt that he isn't approved of. Also featured are some haughty servants of Ukridge's rich aunt Julia, who make it clear that they're only letting rabble like Corky into the house under protest.
- In Rebecca, Mrs Danvers the housekeeper is contemptuous of her employer's new wife, trying to bully and belittle her. Mrs Danvers had a very close attachment to the previous lady of the house, the titular Rebecca, and does not believe that the replacement is worthy of Rebecca's place.
- Au Bonheur Des Dames (a French novel by Emile Zola, set in one of the first department stores) explores this theme: the saleswomen are all working-class, but often better-dressed than the customers who come to them for help, resulting in subtle resentment and jealousy on either side.
- In The Goblin Emperor, Maia is unenthusiastic about the strict protocols surrounding the imperial throne to which he is the Unexpected Successor, and some of his household clearly disapprove him. Beshelar, one his his bodyguards, is particularly prone to finding the Emperor's behaviour scandalous, although he's still scrupulously loyal and Maia manages to establish a good relationship with him eventually. The same is not true of another bodyguard, Dazhis, who keeps his disapproval hidden until his Bodyguard Betrayal.
- The Wheel of Time: The upper servants of the Seanchan Empire's aristocracy are granted the title so'jhin; while they're still slaves, they hold some of their masters' authority and are often quite powerful as a result. The Seanchan princess's so'jhin bodyguard Selucia shows no deference to anyone else, even reigning monarchs of other nations.
- In You Rang, M'Lord?, the servants are deferential to their employers, but have their own hierarchy of snobbery. In particular, James the valet and Mrs Lipton the cook can both be quite unpleasant towards Mabel the charwoman and Henry the boot-boy, who are at the bottom of the heap. By contrast, Mr Stokes the butler (nominally at the top of the servant hierarchy) is usually quite nice to the junior staff, only taking a hard line when it's necessary to keep up appearances. A certain amount of the conflict between him and James comes from their differing attitudes on this subject — Stokes is something of a closet socialist, proud of his working class background and secretly disdainful of his wealthy employers, while James fully believes in the class system and his place it it.
- In Worzel Gummidge, Sue defines a butler as "a person who serves drinks on trays and looks down his nose".
- Blackadder: In Blackadder the Third, Edmund (Prince George's butler/manservant) makes his contempt for subordinates (such as Baldrick) and the lower orders of society (such as actors and the French) clear.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look has the sketches "The incredibly posh people who are still unaccountably waiters", and "The incredibly aristocratic and intimidating people who still unaccountably sell clothes".
- Jeffrey, the butler to the Banks family in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, thought most of the family was rather dim-witted and he often made snarky jokes reflecting that opinion.
- In Last Word, Banter, the servant at the Professor's mansion, is notably disdainful of the guests attending the party. He doesn't much bother to hide it, meeting any criticism of his attitude with further barely-concealed put-downs. If Seymour's journal is to be believed (which it sometimes might be), he's been waiting a long time for the chance to sneer at his supposed betters. His relationship with the Professor seems to go beyond simple employment, so he probably wouldn't get in trouble for it even if it were a more normal party.
- BlazBlue: While Kagura's Battle Butler Hibiki is normally humble and soft spoken to most people, he often throws snark at his boss as he has to rein his boss in from his "fratboy" and perverted antics.
- Touhou: When Reisen is first introduced she's a Dirty Coward who frequently mocks Earthlings for being inferior to Lunarians, despite being merely one of the Moon Rabbits who serve them. This extends to her bossing around Earth rabbits like Tewi, seemingly unaware that the Lunarian exiles she works for are guests in Tewi's house. However, Reisen's extended time on Earth eventually leads her to become fully mortal and essentially go native, picking up a good deal of humility, sentimentality and even courage in the process.
Indexes: Prideful Tropes, Servant Tropes
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