I've always been interesting in the behind-the-scenes, operational side of a large home. I remember longing, as a child, to be able to see the kitchen and work rooms of an historical estate. Even now, seeing what's "Behind the Green Baize Door" [title of chapter 4] and getting a glimpse of how it all works is more intriguing to me than seeing the formal rooms.
That's why I love Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. That's why one of the best parts of staying at the amazing Ashford Castle in Cong, Ireland, was the opportunity to go to the kitchen and make scones. I've no idea why this interest is embedded in me in the first place, but Up and Down Stairs certainly helped fill that thirst for knowledge. It also made me want to know more, which (I think) reflects on the writing quite admirably.
Two vital aspects in writing nonfiction are organization and writing fluidity, and Jeremy Musson seemed to accomplish both effortlessly. The book begins with the castles of medieval times, and ends with the modern day, spending the most time in the 18th and 19th centuries: the high point for large country estates. Also included were pictures and quotes (from both servant and master) spanning those time periods--a nice addition that helped to keep it from bogging down.
I had to read aloud to my husband the duties of a valet--boy is he ever jealous. I think that acquiring a valet just went on his bucket list (or perhaps it was already there!) Whether you empathize with the working conditions of some of the servants or pine for the life of the master, if you've ever wanted to know more about Britain's grand estates or those in domestic service that kept them running, you'll find something to love in this book.
A critical factor [after the war] was the inability to recruit new servants, not merely to look after the landowner’s family personally, but also to maintain the contents and fabric of the house. The loss of the ‘odd man’ who had once swept the gutters and cleared the drains was in many ways as significant as the loss of a steward or a butler.
Where to go next? I have a copy of Keeping their Place: excerpts from servants' writing about life in domestic service, and have an inclination to finally read some Wodehouse...and off to watch the new season of Downton Abbey! Some days, I must admit, it sounds awfully nice to have a scullery maid to do the washing up.