Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey"by Margaret Powell
Pub. Date: 01/03/2012
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell’s classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell’s classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s. As a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5.30am and went on until after dark. It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaids’ curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlormaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress’s nephew, Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation. Margaret Powell's true story of a life spent in service is a fascinating “downstairs” portrait of the glittering, long-gone worlds behind the closed doors of Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.
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You will like this book if you like Downtown Abbey! But you will see that the staff at Downton have it good compared to reality!! I cannot imagine todays teenagers living this life! A rough life to earn a roof over your head and a bit of food! The first half of the book is written about her life when she was a teen in service so keep that in mind. It made me appreciate even more than usual how lucky I was that I did not have to go through such a tough teen and early twenty something life! I learned alot from this book about the service life and as I love antiques and the old days it was even more enjoyable for me!
Margaret Powell's story of her time in service, first as a kitchen maid and then as a cook, brings to light the working conditions of the serving class in the early 1900s. Just as interesting is the attitude of "them" living upstairs in those great houses, the employers, their family members, and their friends. To think that just because a person was a servant that they couldn't read is so sad; to treat servants as less worthy of the basic comforts of life (food, shelter, kindness) is deplorable. As with many other reviewers, I have come down with Downton Abbey fever and am watching similar movies and reading books regarding about the servant class. Powell's book is a quick read; I enjoyed her wit but sometimes felt I was slogging through the details.
Powell was such a malcontent (read early UK reviews when book was first published) that it is hard to establish fact from hatred. I truly enjoyed her strange way of writing but toward the end liked her less and less. I am sure her work was no picnic but I am just as sure that "they" were not as evil as she was wont to describe "them". As she said, she probably would not have been happy in any work she did. I do recommend Below Stairs as a light and often, fun, read.
Barness & NOble keeps pestering me to write a review of the book. Damned nuisance.