Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Peek Below Stairs

For the Downton Abbey fan, for the lover of history, for the memoir junky, or the behind-the-scenes aficionado: if you haven't met Margaret Powell, you're missing out.

Originally published in 1968 but only discovered by me during a recent trip into a bookstore (a woefully rare occurrence), this book ended up being the missing piece in my search to understand the history of domestic service in Britain.  Not that I'm done reading about it, mind you.

A year ago I read Up & Down Stairs: the History of the Country House Servant, and found scads of fascinating information.  What was missing, however, was the unedited opinion of the servants themselves.  While I'm certain servants' viewpoints varied as widely as personalities vary in general, there's nothing like information straight from the horse's mouth.

Margaret Powell is a spunky girl, and Below Stairs is never lacking liveliness.  From her tales about growing up poor in a small town to bold opinions and conjectures, there's always something to keep you turning the pages.  It had me laughing aloud and searching for a willing ear to pass tidbits onto.  In fact, I can't quote anything from the book because I lent it out as soon as I'd finished reading.  It was that much fun.

And now I'm torn—I want to scour bookstores for more, snatching up anything remotely related, and yet how can anything live up to a perfect experience?

6 comments:

  1. This is a period that I haven't read much about, but in light of my love for Downton and your review, I've added both of these books to my Goodreads wishlist.

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    1. I go through waves of interest in different historical periods, but I seem to be jumping around all over the place right now which feels rather odd. I hope you enjoy Margaret's quirky personality if you get around to reading her. :)

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  2. I really liked this book, too! Should probably add Up & Down Stairs to my list.

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    1. So good to hear! Up & Down Stairs was much more a history, so it required a different reading mood, but well done and interesting for all that.

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  3. Hi Melody,
    Having (finally) caved to peer pressure and watched the first season of Downton Abbey this weekend, I have more interest in this book than I would have a week ago. :-) DA has pleasantly surprised me but I remember telling my nagging friends after the first episode "I can't tell any of the characters apart - well, except for Mrs. McGonnagall!" :-)
    -Jay

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    1. Ha! No mistaking the wonderful Maggie Smith. :) I don't watch much TV but DA is a fun one. I can't get enough of the houses, countryside, and costumes...getting the scoop on the social propriety of the day makes it all the better.

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