Did you love Downton Abbey? Right? So good. I cannot wait until Season 3.
Lucky for me, since the advent of Downton Abbey everyone has been doing their part to uncover old Downton-esque favourites or bring to the forefront those titles that helped bring Downton to the small screen.
I am totally OK with being suckered into buying a new book because it now has some sticker on the front saying something along the lines of “Inspiration for Downton Abbey” or some quote from Downton’s creator, Julian Fellowes like “I love this book” because I do love Downton and I will totally read anything that might have had something to do with it on any level.
Which brings me to Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs: The Best Selling Memoirs of a 1920s Kitchen Maid.
It was a short and sweet read but I can totally see how this might have served as inspiration for some of the characters and plots of Downton Abbey. There was the housemaid that gets pregnant and is sent away, descriptions of all the work that poor Daisy is forced to do (it really was a lot!), and the servants’ balls and Christmas traditions. Powell talks very openly about the kinds of relationships she had with her employers – she was there to do a job but she didn’t care about the people she worked for. They were almost like a different species.
Powell has a very distinct voice – she writes exactly like she might have spoken. As a result it can feel like you are sitting with your grandmother and she is telling you all about this extraordinary life that you never knew she had. All about what it was like to live in 2 rooms with her entire family, how she only stayed in service long enough to get a husband, how she became a cook at the age of 25 when all she knew how to make well were vegetables. This woman is a product of a different time and she is completely charming and open. You get the sense that there is nothing she wouldn’t tell you the complete truth about.
The book was originally published in 1968 when the world was already vastly different than the one that she was writing about. But reading it in 2012 – both worlds seem completely foreign to me. Which was kind of delightful because everything was so surprising. Of course I know that they used to have to make potato chips by hand but I honestly didn’t even think that they would have had them in fancy manor houses in the early years of the 20th century!
There are other “Downton” books that I have on my list (To Marry An English Lord, The American Heiress and Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey to name a few. You can find an awesome list of more Downton reads here) and Powell has a sequel as well so I’m sure that I will be able to satiate my appetite for the Downton-esque but this one will probably stay at the top of my list because it was so purely Downton.