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 5:30 am 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.
©1968 Margaret Powell and Leigh Crutchley (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
What attracted me to the book was the title saying it inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abby" . This is a story of a 14 year old off to work in service. Teenagers working was common in those years, the story took place just before WWI and after. Mary Wells did such a good job narrating and the book was written in a relaxed style I felt as if I was having a cup of tea with a friend, who was telling me about her first jobs. Up at 5:30 a.m. scrubbing and cleaning, light coal fires, and can you believe ironing bootlaces after shinning the shoes. From what she described I think houses must have been cleaner than today OR the coal heating made the constant cleaning a necessity. Having to cook everything from scratch, groceries delivered daily, (no refrigeration), making your own house cleaning solutions, no wonder they went to bed exhausted. Sure glad we have all our modern implements otherwise would never have time for anything but cleaning and cooking. The story is short, and written in a breezy manner that makes the ending come up way to fast. The book gives one a look into a way of life that is mostly gone after WWI.
If you are a fan of Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs, be warned: this memoir is nothing like them. Nor is it particularly well written. I almost couldn't get through the first seven chapters because of the constant reiteration of the phrases "back then" "back in those days" and "back in the old days." It's relentless, kind of verbal Chinese water torture. Eventually, it either lessened or I got used to it.
As to content, this isn't a novel or an expose of any kind. There isn't much that struck me as shocking as the author seemed to expect (for example, some servants liked to read) , but that may be because I am an American reading this in the twenty-first century. Or that "them upstairs" expected those below to be grateful to them. There was some interesting detail about the mechanics of housekeeping and how Margaret learned to cook. The news that fresh food made from scratch tastes way better than what we have today just didn't strike me as amazing news.
Since this was an impulse download done at a time I was trying to distract myself, the book really didn't suit my purposes. I wish I'd kept searching, but not terrible. Just terribly bland.
Humanitarian Aid Worker living in Central Asia.
I liked that the author had several different positions and therefore several different experiences which meant that her bosses were neither all bad or all good (in the eyes of those that worked for them). It also meant that she came across alot of different characters that worked in service who reflect different personalities and outlooks on their work.
The amount of work a scullery maid had to do with unpleasant products (no nice cleaning products back then!) and the taunting she received when cleaning the outside doorstep and how men were less likely to date her if they knew she was in service.
No, but I enjoyed it.
I am not sure if there is a photo section in this book. But I am always hesitant to purchase biographies or memoirs on audible in case the hard copy of the book has photos & drawings as I think they add a lot the story being told and I enjoy them. I would like it if audible included a download of any images included in a hard copy for reference.
This was just ok. Not a bad read, narrator was fun to listen to, but the story was very anticlimactic.
An engaging read, the narrator did a fine job.
The main character is a woman happy to be who she is, but unwilling to accept less than she can be. An interesting slice of life tale that helps put one's own struggles into perspective.
The narration is simple and direct, with good humour.
Many of the stories stayed with me afterwards.
I enjoyed being in her world.
I enjoyed it. The memoirs of a young woman who wants to become a cook. Be warned, the Servant's hall book contains a lot of similar content to this, so if you buy this one, be careful the sequel has lots of the same material.
Overall, liked it. well narrated, good listen..
I had to laugh when this memoir was described as "for fans of Downton Abbey" and suchlike. Margaret Langley, who was born in 1907 and wrote this in 1968, was a bright girl who couldn't afford to take up her scholarship at higher school, had to go to work at 14 instead. Her only choice was domestic service and she didn't like it or her "Upstairs" employers. There was no socializing between classes and very little liking or respect, contrary to the books and TV shows. Margaret became a cook, the highest she could rise in service, and still was at the mercy of demanding skinflint employers. The book is full of anecdotes, some of which made me LOL. Margaret continued to read, to the surprise of even her nicest mistress (and she has sharp words for that too), and by the end of the book is close to her A levels, as the British gates to higher (university) education were called then, which she's proud of reaching in her 60s. And yet she managed to enjoy life, to achieve her aim of marriage and escape from service outside the home until the WW II. She maintained a proud, openly feminist attitude toward her place in the class system but had the realism to know it wasn't likely to change, although she expected things to go on improving. I wonder if she saw Margaret Thatcher bulldoze many of the advances that had occurred. This book is funny and smart, but don't expect the rosy sentiments of shows like "Downton Abbey" even though you may enjoy this even more. Good performance too.
Cat lover, technology enthusiast, novice audio book listener
After watching Downton Abbey, all season and Upstairs Downstairs this book provides an enlightenment look into domestic service from the servant's point of view.
This book was very interesting. We all like good gossip and being nosy when it comes to lives of the rich. This book has it.
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