While You’re Watching: Downton Abbey

If you can’t get enough of the upstairs/downstairs life portrayed in Downton Abbey, try one of these:

Below Stairs - Margaret Powell
“Arriving at the great houses of 1920′s London, fifteen-year-old Margaret’s life in service was about to begin. As a kitchen maid, the lowest of the low, she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and even bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5.30 a.m. and went on until after dark. It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaids’ curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlourmaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress’s nephew, Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation.”

Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor - Rosina Harrison
“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 WWII, 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 raise, but she traveled the world in style and retired with a lifetime’s worth of stories.”

Life Below Stairs: In the Victorian Country House – Sian Evans
“From the cook, butler, and housekeeper to the footman, lady’s maid and nanny, this is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of some of Britain’s grandest houses. An entertaining social history, steering the reader through the minefield of etiquette and hierarchy that kept Britain’s great houses running like clockwork. A bygone era is brought vividly to live through letters, journals, interviews, lively descriptions, and stunning photography of the places and possessions left behind. The largely untold stories of innumerable, rather humble, lives spent “in service” are lying just below the surface of many great houses; the physical evidence can be seen in surviving servants’ quarters, the material of their everyday life, even their uniforms and possessions.”

You may also want to look at the following lists for reading suggestions:

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