A Countess Below Stairs

A Countess Below Stairs

by Eva Ibbotson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142408650
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 05/10/2007
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 191,904
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Eva Ibbotson, born Maria Charlotte Michelle Wiesner (21 January 1925 – 20 October 2010), was an Austrian-born British novelist, known for her children's books. Some of her novels for adults have been successfully reissued for the young adult market in recent years. For the historical novel Journey to the River Sea (Macmillan, 2001), she won the Smarties Prize in category 9–11 years, garnered unusual commendation as runner up for the Guardian Prize, and made the Carnegie, Whitbread, and Blue Peter shortlists. She was a finalist for the 2010 Guardian Prize at the time of her death. Her last book, The Abominables, was one of eight books on the longlist for the same award in 2012.


The following interview appeared in the Fall 2001 Preview Magazine

Do you have any rituals?

I can write anywhere if I have to because I still use a pen and paper -, but when I am at home I go to the old carved desk I inherited from my mother who was a writer too, and told some fantastic stories. The morning is best for ideas, and I have to be wearing warm clothes because when I am thinking hard I get cold. And I have to have a waste paper basket handy for all the pages that have gone wrong.

Whom do your share your writing with first?

I don't really share my work until it is published, I feel too uncomfortable about unfinished work.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I don't think I ever knew, it just happened. One day I wrote 'author' in my passport and that was that..

What were you doing when you found out that your first book was going to be published?

Cooking supper for my husband and children. My agent phoned and I shouted and we all danced about, except my husband who saw to it that the sauce did not burn.

What did you treat yourself to when you found out that your first book was accepted for publication?

My first money as a writer came from a short story in a magazine. It was a very small sum, and I bought Mars Bars for everybody in the family.

What was the first book you remember reading as a child? Did you have a favorite book as a child?

I don't remember the name of my first book, but I know it had a picture of very bright berries, green and red in a forest- and people lived inside the berries... Perhaps that's where my passion for forests comes from!

Do you read reviews of your own work?

Yes, when I am sent them, but I don't go out and look.

What’s the best question a teen has asked about your writing?

I don't know what the best question is, but by far the most common is 'Where do you get your ideas from?' - and the answer to that is very difficult (and therefore interesting).

What are you reading right now?

The Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin.

Susan, your editor, tells me Journey to the River Sea is a book you've wanted to write for years. How did the idea first come to you?

Journey to the River Sea was written quite quickly but it spent years and years inside my head. It started with my hearing about this fabled opera house a thousand miles from the mouth of the Amazon and I thought it was one of the strangest things I had ever heard - I meant to go there and see for myself but then I realised it would mean going back into the past because everything is quite different there now. So I went on reading and dreaming and researching and then one day, I picked up my pen to start a new book about witches and ghosts and found I had started to write an adventure story set in the jungle.

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A Countess Below Stairs 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 164 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Anna Grazinsky is a member of the Russian aristocracy, or White Russians, during the Russian Revolution. Her family is forced to flee from their comfortable life in Russia to England, where they are safe from the revolutionaries. But in England, the Grazinskys are left with nothing. Anna has a very resilient spirit, and instead of moping around and wishing for her old life, she is grateful for the safety of her family and secretly takes a job as a maid so that her little brother can still attend school. With her take-charge attitude, Anna proves that not all rich girls are snobby brats, like modern heiresses lead us to believe.

While many of the servants at the Westerholme residence are skeptical of the new foreign girl, Anna quickly charms her way into their hearts. With her deep curtsies, bright smile, and cheerful demeanor, Anna is beloved by all. She does each task assigned to her as best she can, never slacking on the job.

When the young and handsome Earl of Westerholme returns home from World War I, Anna is immediately drawn to him. And it seems that he feels a similar attraction to her. But Anna's identity as a countess is still a secret, and she does not have the social standing that she once held in Russia. Plus, the Earl is already engaged to the beautiful but vicious Muriel Hardwicke. Muriel nursed Earl Rupert back to health when he was wounded in the war, and he proposed to her. But that was before he met Anna.

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, Muriel begins to take over the Westerholme household, arbitrarily firing servants that do not fit in with her vision for Westerholme. None of the servants or neighbors are fond of Muriel, and as the wedding date approaches, all of Rupert's friends and family are leery of the impending marriage.

At the costume ball thrown prior to the wedding, Anna's true identity as a countess is revealed, and Anna and Rupert dance the night away. Everyone can see that they are a perfect couple, but can Rupert and Anna come to terms with their feelings for each other before his marriage to Muriel?

Although A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS has a very fairytale-like romantic plot, Anna is far from the typical princess. She has a feisty spirit and genuinely fun personality that immediately draws you in. Eva Ibbotson does a great job in breathing life into the generic fairytale plot. Anna's story is very similar to what much of the Russian aristocracy experienced during the communist revolution, and Ibbotson shows that even though life is unpredictable and rarely kind, if you embrace all opportunities and make the most of your situation, you will find happiness.
BookWorm902 More than 1 year ago
This book was a fabulous read that I finished in one day. I could not put it down. Eva Ibbotson does a fantastic job of recreating the Cinderella theme in this book. I fell in love with the characters and was rooting for them the whole time. She captures their personalities and it comes through in the book, and you really feel as if those characters are your friends or enemies. She also places the characters in an appropriate historical setting that does not seem to stunt the book's appeal at all. Even though it is set in the past, the characters and situations are still relatable to the present and girls of all ages who enjoy a good love story about a girl who goes for what she wants and does not sit around waiting for it all to come to her.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book looked promising, and the summary was excellent, so I said 'Why not?' It could have gone so many places. Unfortunately, it did. To uneccessary ones. There were sooo many sub characters that did not contribute to the story and it was confusing to keep up with their silly stories. There was not much characterization we do not get a real good view on the personalities of the main characters. The romance was rather dry and 'cheesy' and I just kept turning pages in hopes it would take off, but it lacked the umph power to be a great book. Okay, but I would not read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book at school because I was bored and such. I thought the plot was good, but there were way too many subplots and unnecessary characters. Although I do like the author's style, simplifying the book somewhat would have made it a bit more enjoyable.
beautybabydoll More than 1 year ago
This is a book that should be a classic. It's easy to fall in love with the characters, and hate the others just as quick. I must say, if you wanted too lose yourself in a book, I'd recommend this story, as well as all the Historical Fiction this author has written! Amazing, and a well rereadable novel!
hoodreader More than 1 year ago
I loved it. A Countess Below Stairs is about a Russian countess named Anna. Due to war, Anna and her family are forced to go to England. They have lost everything and are living in a tiny house fit for only about one or two people. When her little brother goes off to school, Anna decideds to get a job. So, she moves to the house of Westerholme family to become a maid. There Anna learns what it's like to work and finds love. I loved all of the characters in this book. They were so interesting and I could relate to a lot of them. The plot of the story was great, I loved how it ended. I loved this book so, I've decided to read more books by Eva Ibbotson.
Faerytale_lover More than 1 year ago
I love Eva Ibbotson's books. I have read every one available. The Countess Below Stairs was the first I read and I loved it then. I started reading all her other books and kept getting more and more entrenched in the history, realism and amusement of her unique characters and love stories. I lost my copy (I think I gave it away) of this book. When I saw my parents last I gave my mom all my books by Ibbotson but realized that the Countess was missing. I started to remember how much I loved this book and ended up re-purchasing it to read again. I read it on the plane and I got so immersed in the story I didn't even hear the pilot telling us about the coming turbulence - instead I was somewhere in England working below stairs :) I completeley recommend this book and all the other books by Ibbotson as wonderful reads for teens and adults alike.
readinggeek451 on LibraryThing 26 days ago
My favorite of her books. The Honorable Olive in Clawstone Castle is obviously this one's evil twin.
aviddiva on LibraryThing 28 days ago
This delightful book tells story of a young Russian Countess who is force to flee Russia after the revolution and ends up taking a job as a maid in an English country home. Essentially a charming Cinderella story, A Countess Below Stairs contains such beautiful and unexpected descriptions, well drawn characters and true emotions that it rises well above the standard fairy tale romance. It made me weep, it made me smile, and it was a nice change to read a story like this told about Russian emigres, who really did end up in jobs like Anna's and Sergei's. I highly recommend it.
aconnx3 on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Anna is a countess fleeing from Russia during the revolution whose family looses all their greatest treasures. She is forced to work "below stairs" in order to support her dwindling family. Anna is a beguiling character who intrigues all those she comes in contact with, including Rupert, the Earl of Westerholme. The historical fiction novel is almost a fairy tale. The whirl wind romance is not allowed because of society and, not to mention, the Earl's fiance. Eva Ibbotson's book is romantic and poetic, leaving the reader hoping for a life half as perfect as Anna's.
jjameli on LibraryThing 28 days ago
The Countess Below Stairs is the first book I've read by Eva Ibbotson, and it won't be my last. This book was a lovely written romance, and I can't wait to read more from this author. After having to flee from Russia Anna, the Countess and her family find themselves with no money. Willing to do anything to help her family, Anna finds a job working for Rupert, the Earl. Quickly Anna is loved by all there, from the other help, to the dowager, and most important Rupert. Of course, no good romance to go without a mean, and spiteful wrench. Rupert is engaged to Muriel, and just as quickly all can tell Anna is a kind person, they can tell Rupert's fiance is not a nice women.The Countess Below Stairs was a thick book with close to 400 pages, but I read it as if it was 100. I couldn't stop reading it. It wasn't cheesy, and most importantly I liked the main characters. Anna wasn't dependent on a man, and she certainly wasn't whiny, and Rupert also was a great strong character. My biggest complaint with romances is they can be cheesy. I'm one that rolls there eyes at jewelry commericals (have you seen those lately..uugh). The Countess Below Stairs has just the right amount of romance. The only problem I had with this book was I wish Rupert and Anna had more interaction. I get that back then people fell in love quickly, but a couple of more moments between them would have felt more believable to today's readers. Regardless, I knew they cared for each other, so it wasn't all that important.
knielsen83 on LibraryThing 28 days ago
I just couldn't get into this book - 50 pages into it, I was sick of the uninteresting main character, not looking forward to what the book may hold and ended up flipping through it. Basically, it just had nothing that appealed to me. So I gave up on it - it's been a long time since I gave up on a book.
joririchardson on LibraryThing 28 days ago
This book is pretty dry at first, but it does pick up. The heroine of the story is charming, and the way it is written is eloquent and beautiful. This book is never amazing, but it definitely isn't a bad story, either. A bit hard to believe, yes, but that in itself enhances the fairy-tale feel to the story. If you like Gail Carson Levine or are looking for an easy-to-read Jane Austen style book, this one is perfect.
lalawe on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Charming and sweet, just like the main character, Anna. The fairy tale qualities of the story keep Anna from seeming *too* perfect, and make it easier to accept some of the less believable elements of the story.
mmillet on LibraryThing 28 days ago
A sweet love story about a displaced Russian Countess, Anna and an English Earl set on marrying a (horrid) heiress to save his family seat. I am a sucker for all things Russian so I loved Anna and her efforts to become an able housemaid. As usual, Ibbotson has created a set of unusual and extremely interesting cast of secondary characters that I would love to hear more about. I mean a body-building footman?! Who wouldn't want to hear his story? I think I could read her books if only for those who are only glimpsed.This was a cute story but I think "A Song for Summer" is still my favorite -- but maybe it's because all her stories are a little formulaic and that's the one I read first. But no, it has Austria and who doesn't love Austria?
stephxsu on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Anna and her family are Russian nobles, refugees from the civil war that tears their country apart in the middle of World War I. They go to England, where Anna takes up as a housemaid at Mersham, an elegant estate full of personality. Rupert is the young new Earl of Westerholme and reluctant owner of Mersham, just discharged from the hospital where he recovered from a plane crash, and where he has found his fiancee, a pretty young lady named Muriel Hardwicke. Muriel, an orphan, has money but no connections, and is determined to get them by marrying Rupert, whose family has no physical or mental flaws that she knows of.As Anna flies about Mersham determinedly carrying out her duties and endearing herself to all of the staff there, Rupert can¿t help but be attracted to her. And everyone in the house and out is beginning to realize how stuck-up and purist Muriel is. Her demands for physical, mental, and genetic perfection put many of Mersham¿s help in danger of losing their positions, their entire family. Can Anna¿s friends, everyone at Mersham, come up with a plan to save the day?It has been a long time since I have read a refreshingly straightforward fairy tale. Anna is a resourceful and delightful female protagonist. I could¿ve wanted more interaction between Anna and Rupert, but is the delightful way that Eva Ibbotson draws up her cast of characters that really make this simple story shine.
lindasbooks on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Main character Anna is a countess from a wealthy Russian family. War breaks out and she is forced to flee to England, where she finds employment as a servant (housemaid) at the Westerholme estate. She soon falls for Rupert, the Earl of Westerholme. Problem is Rupert is engaged to the the mean Lady Muriel.This was a lovely story that I enjoyed very much.
mrsdwilliams on LibraryThing 28 days ago
After the Russian Revolution, a young countess named Anna is forced to leave her home behind in order to seek safety in England. She hides her true identity and takes a job as a maid in the home of the Earl of Westerholme.Rupert, the kind and handsome Earl, returns home after WWI and brings with him the beautiful nurse who helped heal his wounds. Rupert's fiancee, though lovely on the outside, is greedy, mean, and self-centered.Anna and Rupert feel an immediate and strong connection, but Rupert's honor keeps him from dumping Muriel, even as her true nature is gradually revealed. This sweet, well-researched, and often funny story will appeal to readers who like their historical fiction with a bit of romance.
nbmars on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Note: This book is called The Secret Countess in the U.K.This very predictable but oh-so-charming Cinderella-like tale with a Russian flavor is a joy to read. Anna lives a charmed life with her wealthy parents, the Count and Countess Grazinsky in St. Petersburg, until the 1917 Russian Revolution forces them to flee to London. Anna and her mother take refuge with Anna¿s former governess, Miss Pinfold, but it is crowded and they are short of funds, so Anna obtains a temporary position at Mersham, the manor house of the Westerholmes. Rupert, the only heir to survive World War I, is coming home, and he has instructed the servants to get the house in shape. Thus, Anna becomes part of the cleaning crew, and in no time endears herself to everyone both downstairs and upstairs with her hard work and cheerful disposition.Rupert, now Earl of Westerholme, returns and brings a surprise with him: Muriel Hardwicke, a fiancé, whom he met while recuperating from a war injury. Muriel is beautiful, but cold and cruel, and in no time alienates everyone, even Rupert, who would never, however, go back on a promise. And in fact, Rupert is becoming more and more fascinated with Anna, even while Muriel is more and more taken with her eugenicist mentor, the evil Dr. Lightbody.Another family plays a rather large role in this tale: that of the Byrnes, neighbors and friends of the Westerholmes. Tom Byrne is Rupert¿s best friend. Tom¿s little sister Ollie is everyone¿s sweetheart. Tom is in love with a local girl, Susie, from a Jewish family. Tom keeps proposing, and Susie keeps saying no. In my favorite passage of the book, Tom begs to know why she won¿t marry him:"Susie studied him carefully. `Tom, have you ever looked at me? At me? Not someone you¿ve made up inside your head.¿¿¿I¿m plump now,¿ she continued in her level, unemotional voice. `In ten years I¿ll be fat, however much I diet. I have a hooked nose; most of the time I need glasses. My hair is frizzy and my ear¿``How dare you!¿ Tom had seized her shoulders; he was shaking her, hurting her. The famous Byrne temper, scourge of his red-haired ancestors since Doomsday, blazed in his eyes. `How dare you talk to me like that! You are insulting me!¿`What do you mean?¿`How dare you suppose that I don¿t know who you are or what you are? That I don¿t understand what I see? Do you take me for some kind of besotted schoolboy? It is unspeakable! You could weigh as much as a hippopotamus and shave your head and wear a wig and it wouldn¿t make any difference to me. I never said you were beautiful. I never thought it. I said that you were you.¿The ending comes out as you might think in a Cinderella story, with those assisting the heroine being the downstairs help rather than a fairy godmother or cute little birds and mice. Evaluation: There are some splendid characters in this book, from Rupert¿s lonely old uncle to Anna¿s Russian friends and relations, the whole downstairs crew, and even the dog Baskerville: they are all drawn quite fully but with felicitous economy. When Mr. Proom, the head butler at Mersham, explains that he wants to help Rupert be happy because ¿well, I taught Mr. Rupert to ride a bicycle,¿ you know everything you need to know about his feelings for Rupert.
Annesanse on LibraryThing 28 days ago
So this book was rather predictable. However, there were moments between Anna and Rupert that just literally took my breath away. That doesn't happen to me very often especially while reading YA fiction. Anna was a totally lovable character who you just had to root for. I loved her whole family. And I loved the entire staff of Mersham. I love when a book actually makes you long to be a part of it's world. The dialogue was smart and funny.
foggidawn on LibraryThing 28 days ago
An impoverished Russian countess, displaced due to the Russian revolution, takes a position as a housemaid in a grand English country home. She is soon beloved by everyone there, upstairs and down -- and even Rupert, the new Earl of Westerholme, is not completely unaware of her charms. However, the arrival of Rupert's fiancee Muriel brings many unwelcome changes to the estate. . . .This book is delightfully funny and sweet. All of the characters are wonderful, but Anna is the one that really makes the book. She's one of those fictional characters that I really wish I could meet in person -- since I can't, I'm sure I'll be dropping by her book for many more visits in the future!
grnpickle on LibraryThing 28 days ago
I love Eva Ibbotson. This book was superb! It was a very fast read and the characters were laugh out loud funny. I especially love the mom with the appendix in the jar. My only complaint came when the characters spoke in French or Russian and I had little idea what they were talking about. I would have loved the translation thrown in there and not just alluding to the gist of the meaning. Otherwise, a fabulous book.
redheadheroines on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Summary:Anna Grazinsky is not your typical Countess. Despite the palaces, royal relatives, and the finest jewels in all of Russia, Anna manages to remain unscathed by snobbery, entitlement or general unpleasantness. She is charming, happy, carefree and honest.Then, when the political situation in Russia becomes unstable and later leads to outright revolution, Anna and her family are forced to free their land, their nation and their social status for England, where Anna takes up a position in the household of the Earl of Westerholme, to much opposition by her mother. Upon arrival at Mersham, it is clear to the head housemaid and butler of the home that Anna is of regal upbringing, yet after much begging and pleading by the Countess, they reluctantly take her on.Although the staff at Mersham is completely set on hating the new Russian maid, they are victims of Anna's charisma, including her ridiculous reliance on a horribly out-of-date guide to housekeeping and her over-the-top curtsies. It is clear that no one is immune to Anna's charms, not even the Earl himself, despite his imminent marriage to the beautiful but horrible Muriel.My Thoughts:I was blown away by A Countess Below Stairs! Eva Ibbotson is clearly a master storyteller, as evident in her ability to make a book with very little action extremely exciting, to make a character like Anna gleam with happiness without becoming cliche, and to make this charming book a lasting fairy tale that I know I will read again and again.I must reiterate how expertly Ibbotson crafted her characters, in that by the middle of the novel, you felt you knew each one as if they were your most intimate friends or enemies, and you loved the good ones, hated the bad ones, and sympathized with the more complex ones. I was truly amazed at how invested I felt in Anna's story only 30 pages into the book and I will again attribute this to Ibbotson's style and not to the story itself, for although the story is very very good, it would have become something trite and cheesy under a less expert author.Overall Grade: A+Would I read it again? Yes... oh my yes!Would I recommend it to others? Yes!
wyvernfriend on LibraryThing 28 days ago
I really enjoyed this read, granted Anna Grazinsky came across as being a bit too perfect a lot of the time but still I found it great fun. I was drawn into this story of trying to succeed when it was all stacked against you. Countess Anna Grazinsky fled Russia after the revolution and lives with her governess in London. It's 1919, the Great War is over but Anna is at a loose end. She realises that without money or prospects the best thing for her to do is find a job and she finds a job working as a housemaid in a stately home.She finds herself in a world of a very different sort. By sheer dint of hard work she gains the respect of the other staff. Things change when the Lord of Westerholme returns home, particularly when his fiancee turns up.Yes, sometimes Anna was a little too perfect but it was a great read.
lina_em on LibraryThing 5 months ago
really really sweet. the ending didn't hold up as it should.