Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s. As a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5.30am and went on until after dark. It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaids' curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlormaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress's nephew, Margaret's tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation. Margaret Powell's true story of a life spent in service is a fascinating "downstairs" portrait of the glittering, long-gone worlds behind the closed doors of Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.
If this book was the basis for the wildly successful Upstairs, Downstairs television series, then we must ensure that the show's writers and producers get all the credit they deserve. Here, the stories are lackluster and occasionally insulting to anyone under the age of 65, when Powell starts in on "kids these days." Powell, the second of seven children, grew up in a small English town where class separation was rampant. Despite her claims that it was better back then, money was tight, the family was too big, and she was ushered into domestic service at 15. Her use of many oblique references like "hair sieves" and "aspic jelly" will likely leave her readers cool or confused; the book is, above all, a litany of work the author hated to do. Powell fulfilled her lifelong ambition by marrying and, fortunately for us, left domestic service soon after that. Fans of the TV show who hope to find the same illuminating detail and descriptions of period life will be sorely disappointed.
Customer ReviewsSee All
A straight forward recollection
An unsentimental recollection of a kitchen chef's year in service, starting as a 13 year old scullery aid. Good insights into the many kinds of households, and also the reasons for being out into service in the first quarter of the 20th century. Utterly humble, and most followable,
FTC did. Hi vcx
Fab. F f bbbn. F. N
Margaret Powell writes an autobiography that could have been terribly dreary and maudlin without her uniquely saucy, clever voice. She skewers the attitudes of many in the upper classes without mincing any words. And though she repeatedly insists there's no nobility in a life of poverty, this reader can't help but wish, just a little bit, to have shared some of Margaret's story by her side. Below Stairs is mandatory reading for any fan of "Downton", "Gosford", "Upstairs"...oh for heavens sake, just read the bloody book and Love It as did I!