Audie Award Nominee, Biography and Memoir, 2013
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for Julian Fellowes's Emmy Award-winning PBS series, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants: Lady Almina, the fifth Countess of Carnarvon.
Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war. Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart Lady Cora Crawley, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de Rothschild, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon's ancestral home. Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman.
This rich tale contrasts the splendor of Edwardian life in a great house against the backdrop of the First World War and offers an inspiring and revealing picture of the woman at the center of the history of Highclere Castle.
©2011 Countess of Carnarvon (P)2012 Tantor
"Gives the juicy back story behind last year's Emmy-winning Masterpiece Theater drama." (The New York Times)
"If you can’t wait for the new season of Downton Abbey... this one's for you.... a revealing portrait of the changing times." (New York Post)
"The present Lady Carnarvon, who tapped the family archives for her comprehensive research, dramatically captures the estate during the pre-war and war years, and paints a compelling... portrait of Lady Almina." (Newark Star-Ledger)
"Wanda McCaddon invites listeners into the Countess of Carnarvon’s breezy book, which blends a wealth of archival letters, diaries, and photographs. McCaddon sweeps through the transitions between the downstairs servants and the socially elite, details of furniture and costumes, as well as the changes that come with WWI." (AudioFile)
By turns fanciful and frightening, the story leaves you balancing the charms and lux life of Almina against the backdrop of lavish living edged by the horrors of war. One never knows whether to be a appalled by her incredible spending or enthralled by her commitment to her country to her family.
It's Downton Abbey unvarnished along with a dollop of the documentary High Clere Castle( on Amazon instant video) to make a very satisfying read
I was a bit disappointed I this book's apparent lack of research...using phrases such as "perhaps she would have..." or "one could assume...." just rather put me off. I liked the character descriptions, the way the clothes were described etc. The narrator read well and was a pleasant storyteller, but that's what it felt like...being told a story, more like gossip or supposition, than a well researched historical account.
This isn't heavy duty historical narrative by any means, but I was pleasantly surprised by the detail and depth of the writing in this biography of Lady Almina. The story, especially the years covering the Great War, consistently engaged my interest. I like historical biography and learned things in this account that were new and valuable in understanding British social change in the twentieth century, as well as the almost inconceivable degree of suffering for those caught up in armed conflict. The Countess of Carnarvon has an obvious personal interest in the subject matter and has done admirable work with her well documented source material. And as always, Wanda McCaddon (aka Nadia May) provides impeccable narration. She is, in my opinion, simply the best narrator in the English speaking world. This woman could read the phone book and I would rush to sign up for a chance to listen.
"Companion to Downton Abbey, informative on lives of very wealthy English at turn of century, plus information on World War I"
Recommend to anyone who appreciates history, follows Downton Abbey, or is interested in the discovery of King Tut's tomb. Lady Almira might not be in many history books, but a great many people owe their lives to her....and her father's money! Wonderful narration.
Well written, both intimate and grand. A good listen for those interested in British manners and history.
Enjoyed listening to the lives of those who lived in the castle where Downton abbey is filmed. Learned about the impact of WW1. Lady Almina was quite a lady, used the castle as a hospital during the war.
yogini, knitter, quilter, sewist, stitcher, reader, cook, foodie, wine snob, francophile, wife, dog mom, SF Giants fan
history family service
There are many, but one that struck me was how generous Lady Almina was to her secretary when she married, setting them up in a house, and lending them the Lake House at Highclere for their honeymoon.
Again -- they were all so perfectly portrayed, but one of my favorites was Aubrey, the Earl's younger brother.
The sweep of history through the lens of one of Britain's great families. Or something like that. :)
I absolutely loved this book and wanted to listen in one sitting! Obviously, the war years are just shatteringly sad, but Lady Almina and her family's, friends' and colleagues' sacrifices are ultimately so hopeful. I also loved Wanda McCaddon's narration and have already added two more of hers to my library, one of which was written by the Countess of Carnarvon.
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