The no-nonsense follow-up to Below Stairs: A Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir that Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey (2012).
In this latest book, which was originally published in Britain more than 30 years ago, the author explores the ramifications of what was then considered a shocking event in the class-bound culture of early-20th-century Britain. Rose, the fetching under-parlourmaid to the wealthy Wardham family, did the unthinkable, eloping with Gerald, the family’s only son. Powell deftly explores the reactions of the family—Gerald’s father refused to see the couple ever—as well as those of the servants below the stairs, who seemed as disconcerted as the family. Though Powell and another young servant were delighted with the change in status the romance afforded Rose, she understood the hazards as well. “She couldn’t see that she’d never really be one of them; she’d never be able to keep up the conversation at dinner for she never read, not even novels, and knew absolutely nothing about politics or the arts,” she writes. Throughout the narrative, Powell offers insights illuminating the life and times for house servants following World War I, including the strict hierarchy among those who spent their lives working for wealthy families. She also looks at the sexual mores of the times, the incredible meals created by armies of servants toiling in the basements of the big houses and her own ideas regarding her own marriage. “I was determined to marry and achieve an equal partnership,” she writes. “Although I would probably still have little money, I intended to have, in my marriage, as much freedom as the male had always had by inalienable right.”
An insightful peek into a time long gone, told with skill, humor and wit.