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Below stairs : the classic kitchen maid's memoir that inspired "Upstairs, downstairs" and "Downton Abbey"
2012
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Fiction/Biography Profile
Genre
NonFiction
History
Topics
Domestics
Servants
Social classes
British society
Wealthy lifestyles
Family histories
Women
Women's studies
British history
Setting
England - Europe
Great Britain - Europe
Time Period
-- 20th century
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  Publishers Weekly Review

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. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p>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.</p>
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