Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: "Below Stairs"

I found this book on Goodreads and was instantly interested. This book by Margaret Powell is her memoir, chronicling her life as a domestic servant in post - World War I England. According to the subtitle, it is this book that inspired the TV shows Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, the latter of which I am a fan.


find it on Amazon here

The writing style is different than I expected. I had thought that this would be a standard novel-type story, with a recurring plot, beginning, middle, and end. Instead, because this is a memoir, I found that the story is a bit more intimate. You feel like you're sitting down with the elderly Margaret Powell (she was in her sixties when she wrote the book), sipping tea and listening to her life story. It's a very fascinating first-person look at life as a servant. She offers extremely intricate details of the ins and outs of servant life that we don't often get.

I think that, due to shows like Downton Abbey, we already have a bit of a glimpse into the vast difference between the social classes in times past. This book, being one-sided and so naturally a little biased, offers a much grittier look. Servants were seen as an almost completely different race than their employers. Margaret comes across as being bitter against her wealthy employers, although she admittedly tries not to be. In fact, she considers them with pity and understanding, saying that if she had their riches, she would most likely be no different than they. And she doesn't blame them for their way of thinking, because that is how they were brought up to think. Because she wrote her memoir at the end of the 1960's, by which time the world had changed drastically, she was able to offer some social commentary that is very interesting.

I must admit I came away from the book a little let down (I gave it three stars on Goodreads) because the book deals with such sobering themes. However, Margaret was definitely a very spirited and feisty woman. It his her feistyness that balances out the somber tones of the book. So if you like history, Downton Abbey, or memoirs in general, I'd definitely recommend Below Stairs. I enjoyed the glimpse into the world of time gone by, and hopefully you will too!

Hanneli

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