Friday, July 5, 2013

Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants - Alison Maloney

Life Below Stairs: True Lives Of Edwardian Servants
Alison Maloney
Thomas Dunne Books
Copyright: December 24, 2012

The product description:
UPSTAIRS, an Edwardian home would have been a picture of elegance and calm, adorned with social gatherings and extravagantly envisioned dinner parties.
DOWNSTAIRS, it was a hive of domestic activity, supported by a body of staff painstakingly devoted to ensuring the smooth running of the household.

Brimming with family secrets, society scandal, and of course elaborate parties, dresses, and social customs, the world of an aristocratic Edwardian household as depicted on the hit show Downton Abbey has captivated millions.  But what was life really like for the people who kept such a household running: the servants?  In Life Below Stairs, international bestselling author Alison Maloney takes readers behind the scenes to reveal a lively and colorful picture of what went on "downstairs," describing servants’ daily life in this now-vanished world.
Detailing everything from household structure, pay and conditions, special duties, and rules and regulations, to perks, entertainment, and even romance, Maloney examines the drudgery and hardships below stairs, as well as the rewards and pleasures.  Thoroughly researched and reliably informed, this charmingly illustrated volume also contains first-hand stories from the staff of the time, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the lifestyle and conduct of a bygone era.
This one's for you if you're a fan of Downton Abbey, or so I'm told. I actually have yet to see any of that series, though I'm thinking I might try and borrow the first season sometime. From what I've been told, it sounds quite intriguing.

I picked up the book because it's the same period Mercedes Lackey writes about in her Elemental Masters series, particularly The Gates of Sleep, which makes a few references to girls going into service as servants and what life was like for them. Not to mention the servants as described in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was even interesting in the way it illuminated the master-servant relationship today, such as the one between Adam Sinclair and the housekeeper and butler he had in Katherine Kurtz's Adept series (starts with The Adept).

Life Below Stairs acts as a bit of a window onto a bygone era, in particular, the first decades of the 20th century in England. I found in reading Alison Maloney's book, that it's a world I wouldn't mind getting a few more glimpses of, although it's definitely not one I'd want to live in - at least not as a servant!

Alison Maloney has written a book that's a quick, fun and informative read, filled with both information and direct quotations from people who experienced life during that era - from both sides of the master-servant divide. I was a little surprised at how quick a read Life Below Stairs is though - I'd expected a bit more I guess.

Even so, this might be the perfect book to brush up on things before the next episode or season of Downton Abbey comes on.

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