Her servants.

Today Google has highlighted author Virginia Woolf, who was born 136 years ago today.

How the heck does this relate to economics? Here’s how. In his excellent 2010 book At Home, Bill Bryson, in describing the life of a servant about 100 years ago in Britain, writes:

Perhaps the hardest part of the job was simply being attached to and dependent on people who didn’t think much of you. Virginia Woolf’s diaries are almost obsessively preoccupied with her servants and the challenge of maintaining patience with them. Of one, she writes: “She is in a state of nature: untrained; uneducated . . . so that one sees a human mind wriggling undressed.” As a class they were irritating as “kitchen flies.” Woolf’s contemporary Edna St. Vincent Millay was rather more blunt: “The only people I really hate are servants. They are not really human beings at all.”

This comes only a few pages after Bryson has explained the hard work the “kitchen flies” did in hauling buckets of water upstairs for baths.

As was said to a woman in an ad for another Virginia, Virginia Slims, “you’ve come a long way, baby.” And we can thank relatively free markets. And no, I’m not endorsing cigarettes.

Here’s my review of Bryson’s book.