Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

Upstairs & downstairs : the illustrated guide to the real world of Downton Abbey by Sarah Warwick

This coffee table book provides readers with a brief look at the daily activities of Edwardian Britons. Each chapter is divided by time of day, has sidebars with even more information and concludes with a story of real life people. The book covers upstairs and downstairs but not middle class life. It's illustrated with many photographs, advertisements, and drawings from the Victorian era through the 1930s. It's hard to believe people lived like that well into the 20th century. It's more fun to romanticize 100 years ago or more and dream about living that lavish lifestyle. This book is good for casual readers who liked Upstairs Downstairs (the original) and Downton Abbey and want to know more about real life during those periods. 

 Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir that Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey by Margaret Powell -- Memoir

 Margaret Powell went out to service at age 14 to help her family. Her father was a house painter who only worked during the summer and her mother had a large family to care for so as the eldest, it was up to Margaret to give up her dream of becoming a teacher and go to work. Margaret tells her story in a matter of fact manner, comparing then to "now" (1960s) and explaining exactly what she did and why. From her first job as a kitchen maid, she spares no gruesome details about the difficulties of her job and the huge class divide between "Them" and "us." It is easy to spot the influences on the two hit TV shows yet the book also shows that the screen writers reduce the number of servants and add a heavy dose of fiction to their reality. Margaret tells her story as if she was dictating it to someone younger. She shares facts and sometimes intersperses her personal comments. I had a hard time accepting Margaret's one main goal. It wasn't surprising given the time period and all she went through, but it's difficult for a modern woman to accept. I wasn't totally surprised at how thoughtless and cruel her employers could be or that the servants gossiped about their employers but I did learn a lot about exactly what a real kitchen maid like Daisy would do. I know I could never do any of it! If Daisy is your favorite character in Downton Abbey, or you're curious about the life of a kitchen maid and cook who honestly wrote how she felt, then this book is worth your time. It's not a salacious tell-all or even akin to a novel, but an honest portrait of a hard working woman.

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