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)
As a fan of the "Downton Abbey" series, I picked this selection on a complete, total lark. I expected it to be lightweight, fun, and not much more than a marketing exploitation based on the new fame of the series. Instead I found a completely interesting story of lives, society and a time, enveloped and transformed not only by the tragedy of WWI, but also by the discovery of King Tut's tomb. Not only well done and interesting, but the narrator, Wanda McCaddon. is fabulous and completely appropriate to the story. Really enjoyed this.
Narrative makes the world go round.
This is not exactly Downton Abbey fan fiction -- it has more substance than that. But in the intro the author rightly states that she's not writing history, biography or a novel --it's sort of a combo of all those genres - and as much about the estate as the Countess. It wouldn't succeed as strictly bio, novel or history, but take the listen for what it is-- splendid background to late Victoriana transitioning to Edwardian and beyond. I think it would be really useful listening for fans of historical fiction or period novels who might not "get" some of the references to the times when they made obliquely. I enjoyed the social history portrait for itself, understanding that it's not a critical look at the people or times depicted.
McCaddon delivers this with all the formal Brit-ness the listen deserves, and since she (or any of her audio alter egos) seems to be the kind narrator that reviewers either love or hate, listen carefully to the sample if you are unfamiliar with her.
Very high....love the history, and after seeing Downton Abbey on PBS, goodness, it really brings the book to life! By the way, I have watched Downton Abbey, both seasons, twice on Amazon Prime...in HD.
I haven't listened to it the second time, so that is up to the reader...can't answer that one.
Get it, if you are a fan of the PBS show, listen to this...it is pure fun!
I've spent my entire life around the written word - writing it, editing it, teaching it. So, it's no wonder I also love to read it!
Yes! I would like to see more focused research about Lady Almina's life rather than listen to lists of who was at dinner, what was served and who wore what.
I liked the son's adventures the best.
Based on the comments of other readers, I was excited about reading this book. I listened to the audible version and I must say that, while interesting, it didn't engage me as I thought it would. Yes, it tells the story of the countess of Highclere Castle, the site of Downton Abbey; and, yes, Lady Almina lived a very compelling life, especially in her years as a nurse during World War I. But I was immediately wary when the Introduction states that this is not a biography nor is it a history. So, then, what is it? Much of the book (especially the early chapters) are lists culled from guest books and photographs. Who came to dinner. What did Almina wear on her wedding day? Who were her bridesmaids. Where did they have their wedding reception and what was served? Frankly, this was not particularly compelling to me.
The book gets more interesting when journalistic records of the time improve and we learn more about Lord Carnarvon's many trips to Egypt and his discovery of King Tut's tomb.
This is rich material but because of the lack of sufficient research, it lacks a deep exploration of the key relationships in Lady Almina's life. After all, relationships form the foundation of the engaging Downton Abbey...that's what keeps us involved in the show...and that's what is missing here.
I would recommend it to my friends. It gives you a real feeling on how people lived and what they went through before and during WWI. Most people aren't as rich as this family but she talks about the common people and the servants that worked at the castle. I really enjoyed this book.
Lady Almina was my favorite character. She had everything, beauty, wealth, love and yet she opened a hospital in her home for the wounded soldiers and sailors of the war. she didn't open the hospital but worked in the hospital. Amazing woman.
Energetic, Opulent .Fairytale
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson I loved this book when I first read it in 2005, because it involved an historical event - the Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1892 and 1893 - and was based on the inspiration of real people who planned and executed the Fair that many felt was not possible. I kept having to remind myself that there weren't cell phones, fax machines, air travel, and mass communication. The task was enormous and the task was completed. In the background there was a psychotic killer who was systematically killing innocents, unnoticed by the general public. It held my interest throughout the book as did "Lady Almina".
I have heard her before (though I can't recall which book it was), but felt that this was very well done. It had to be read by someone with an impeccable British accent.
Three moments: 1) the death of Almina's father, Alfred 2) The death of Almina's husband and 3) the discovery of King Tut's tomb and all that resulted from that event.
The book surpassed my expectations and I'll recommend it to many who ask if I've read a good book recently.
The story of the real Lord and Lady of the manor is as fascinating as the fictional Downton - and I am a Downton fan. I had no idea the real occupants of Highclere Castle were so fascinating. For anyone with a sincere interest in the period, this is a must.
I would reccomend this book to anyone who wanted to know the true history of Highclere Castle, although I wish that the family history had been followed through to the present day.
I discovery of King Tuts Tomb was probably the most memorable moments.
I've not listened to any other McCaddon's performances, but I felt this was a very good one.
A self determined woman makes a difference in her world.
If one is looking for a tintalating tale of family intrigues and scandals (like the TV Downton Abbey) this book is bound to dissapoint. At best the only resemblance between the Carnarvons and the fictional Downton Abbey family is that Lord Carnarvon married into money and the house played a part in rehabilitating soldiers during "The Great War"--but the resemblance ends there. Any provokative tales about life "below stairs" are effectively side stepped, probably owing to the fact that the ancestors are still employed at Highclere and people don't want their family scandals brought into public view. What this book is, is basically a time capsule of a period of time when the great families of England still held almost of fuedal rule over the common people, and people lived lives of opulence even against a changing world.
Retired to mountains of California. Sell on eBay as Prsilla. No TV. Volunteer in wildlife rehab. Knit, sew or embroider while listening.
I am not a Downton Abbey fan. Yet. I don't have a TV. Netflix has just sent the first DVD! My people are English going way back, and I enjoyed all the Upstairs, Downstairs PBS shows plus Victorian literature. This book is like a puzzle piece offering new insights to a lifetime of study and experience. So in this book we get a description of how a great house was run, how the British people coped with WWI, and then the opening of the tomb in Egypt! The effort, energy and organization is phenomenal! American lowlife media would suggest that rich people are all rotten and undeserving. Not by a long shot! Having served in the military myself, as an officer, I noticed that Lady Almina opened her home to OFFICERS, i.e., the really nice men, her kind of people. Probably those pretty rooms would have been wasted on hayseeds. As for the Egyptian story, I attended the Tut exhibition in San Francisco and read the names of the men who opened the tomb. This story tells so much of their long pursuit of the subject, effort to bring in real experts, though they had studied much, themselves.
I would have enjoyed hearing more about the laundry, the clothes, keeping track of everything. Also more about Lady Almina's clothes, who designed them, who sewed them, England's early fashion industry. The book really disappoints some of us in that area.
A school administrator and avid reader and listener of books. At least an hour of every day is spent in the car, and that's where the bulk of my listening is done. I tend to listen to books on "faster" mode so I can get through more books!
While this clearly isn't world-changing literature, it certainly was an enjoyable read for this Downton Abbey fan. Lady Almina's story is an interesting one, and her lasting legacy on Highclere Castle an important one.
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