Below Stairs Book Review
I got completely sucked into the world of ladies and lords and of beautiful dresses and luxurious living. I learned all about the difference between being a butler and a footman, being a housemaid and kitchen maid, and a valet and lady’s maid – all through wikipedia of course (I always read up on things I find so curious and interesting)
And to take this one step further, I researched on books about the beautiful era that is of the 1920s and found two. The first is Below Stairs, a memoir of a 1920s kitchen maid – which I’ll be reviewing today. And the other is Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey – which tells the story of inhabitants of Highclere Castle (the actual location used in Downton Abbey). Both books are non-fiction, but the difference is Below Stairs tells the story of the “downstairs” world, and Lady Almina is all about the “upstairs”
My thoughts on it
I absolutely loved reading about a (very poor) young girl’s life in the 1920s. Throughout the book, I felt like a grandmother is telling me a story and I imagined her having far-away looks of fondness/hatred of old memories. For whatever reason, I expected everything to be on the positive end, for granny to tell me she loved everything about her job as a kitchen maid, that her employers were kind – but that’s just me being an idealist.
Truth is, this granny was once young like you and me. And she was feisty in her accounts of how she hated scrubbing the front door and kitchen floor. How she absolutely loathed some of her employees because they made it seem like she was invisible, that she was unworthy. The book takes us from her girlhood, to young adulthood, to courtship (finding boys when you’re working as domestic help was difficult!) and having a husband and 3 children.
Some parts of the book are funny, like how she pretended to show interest in a boy’s hobby of making model planes, when she thought is was just stupid. Some parts are heartbreaking, like how one of her employers demanded to know why she handed her a newspaper by hand instead of putting it on a silver tray. It was as if she was too dirty and insignificant to give anything by hand to her madam.
After reading this, I realized that Downton Abbey was made too polished and too nice. The “upstairs” were nice people with hearts (despite their selfishness) and the “downstairs” was just really too nice. Daisy, the kitchen maid looks stressed and harrowed all the time, but we don’t see her go through actual manual and menial labour everyday. And people were nice to her.
It was an eye-opener reading this book, and it ended up being an inspiration. No spoilers here!
I give it: