In 1928, Rosina Harrison arrived at the illustrious household of the Astor family to take up her new position as personal maid to the infamously temperamental Lady Nancy Astor, who sat in Parliament, entertained royalty, and traveled the world. "She's not a lady as you would understand a lady" was the butler's ominous warning. But what no one expected was that the iron-willed Lady Astor was about to meet her match in the no-nonsense, whip-smart girl from the country.
For 35 years, from the parties thrown for royalty and trips across the globe, to the air raids during World War II, Rose was by Lady Astor's side and behind the scenes, keeping everything running smoothly. In charge of everything from the clothes and furs to the baggage to the priceless diamond "sparklers", Rose was closer to Lady Astor than anyone else. In her decades of service she received one 5-pound raise, but she traveled the world in style and retired with a lifetime's worth of stories. Like Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, Rose is not only a captivating insight into the great wealth "upstairs" and the endless work "downstairs"; it is also the story of an unlikely decades-long friendship that grew between Her Ladyship and her spirited Yorkshire maid.
©2011 Rosina Harrison (P)2012 Tantor
"Lady Astor's personal maid reveals her 'upstairs, downstairs' relationships with England's grandest family.... Fascinating and deliciously readable!" (The New York Times Book Review)
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I've been an avowed Anglophile all of my life, so I thought this would be right up my alley. Almost immediately, I remembered something I'd heard as a child as told by one of my father's great aunts. I always thought she was crazy when she referred to Lady Nancy Astor as "a classless, poor white trash racist". Clutching my imaginary pearls, I was shocked and appalled. And remained "verklempt" for many decades, only to discover that there was a lot of truth in my own family lore about Nancy Astor.
Author and Astor maid Rosina "Rose" Harrison doesn't reveal where "the bodies are buried" in this ponderous tome. In fact, her "brown-nosing" of her "betters" is a bit over the top. While I can forgive her for not throwing Nancy under the bus for the most part, Rose seems to be clueless as she co-signs on her employer's inappropriate behaviors and language. I understand that this all took place during a much less politically correct time, but Nancy (I refuse to call her "Lady" any more) thought it was cute to make overt fun of her friends, family, the disabled, and other races and cultures. A bit a side research informed me that Nancy was actually the daughter of Virginia slave owners who lost their fortune after the Civil War. My father's ancestors were Virginia slaves and later domestics in wealthy Washington DC and New York City homes - being the requisite preferred "high yella" complexion to work in the best circles. My father's "Aint" Bessie likely got her insider info from working in homes where the Astors frequented. I would have thought Nancy would have learned some common "home training" after marrying a British lord and herself becoming a member of Parliament. However her undercover manners belied the alleged philanthropic contributions she is known for. And her maid Rose was as crass and insensitive as her mistress. I usually don't get upset by the use of the word "nigger" in books where the literary value outweighs the racial epitaphs. But Nancy (and Rose as a compliant supporter) was just nasty and hateful. No amount of British veneer could mask her "Papa Whiskey Tango" racism and meanness towards those less fortunate, no matter their race or ethnic origin. It was obvious that she had never bothered to interact with an African American person her life, instead preferring to call them "nigger" every chance she got. Nancy was nothing more than a bog Irish golddigger.
Author Rose Harrison showed me that there is a big difference between a "slave" and a "servant". The former is a state of being while latter is a state of mind. If she could have pulled her head out of her mistress' rear long enough to learn more of the world around her, this could have been a good book. As it is, it's merely a waste of money. Not so much time because I could only stomach about 1/3 of the thing before I had to put it down. This is not "Downton Abbey" or "Upstairs Downstairs". It's more like a very bad "Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte" with 2 scary old white women trying to one-up each other in their own insular world. Nancy Astor comes off as unstable, like a person with a lesion on her frontal lobe. As "Aint" Bessie said "That cow didn't have the sense that God gave a chicken!". That's a lot of farm animals when describing a "Lady". Sad.........
... I'm not sure what I expected, but this wasn't it. The book just missed the mark.
Only Rosina's employer. I was very excited to give this a listen, despite what I've always heard about Lady Astor, and I was not disappointed by the narrative at all. Rosina is an honest, salt-of-the-Earth voice, and I found her charming throughout.
Even after all I'd heard, I was fully prepared to give Lady Astor the benefit of the doubt, no one could really be so bad. Wrong, she was worse. Between the chilly treatment of her children, the cat shooting, and the unending stream of verbal abuse, "I want to break your spirit, Rose," I have seldom heard of anyone more spiteful, petty, and mean spirited in my life. I think Rose, or any of the staff mentioned throughout, must have been the soul of patience to have dealt with the ill tempered witch for so long.
Probably when Lady Astor tried to kick Rose (no joke) and Rose made a grab for her ankle to tip her over. I thought it was an incredible pity that Rose missed, the image of Nancy Astor @$$ over teakettle in the floor would have been one to cherish.
If you can get past sweet Rose's sour-puss employer, the story as a whole, and the behind the scenes peeks at the life of a Lady's Maid in this era, are really fascinating.
Bookman Old Style
This is a fun book for people who like to time-travel into the past, and into other kinds of lives. It's really a vacation and a wonderful escape. Heartily recommended for those with curiosity.
Yes, it had a very interesting point of view at a particular time in history.
Both of the ladies personalities.
Rich, interesting, rushed...
Yes, if sets were well done.
Loved the reader's voice, but hated the editing of it. It was a quicker pace, but sometimes had nice pauses in between paragraphs. Other times it was one long rush of words after another. Quite exhausting, really. Her intonations and voices were excellent and I would like to try her again under another editor/director.
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