Below Stairs by Margaret Powell
The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey"

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A note of pure pain colors Powell's otherwise tough voice when she records how a woman who was a sensitive mistress in every other respect expressed surprise when Powell asked if she could borrow a book from the library.
-WSJ online

Synopsis

Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s. 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 bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5.30am 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-parlormaid, 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. Margaret Powell's true story of a life spent in service is a fascinating "downstairs" portrait of the glittering, long-gone worlds behind the closed doors of Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.
 

About Margaret Powell

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MARGARET POWELL was born in 1907 in Hove, and left school at the age of thirteen to start working. At fourteen, she got a job in a hotel laundry room, and a year later went into service as a kitchen maid, eventually progressing to the position of cook, before marrying a milkman called Albert. In 1968 the first volume of her memoirs, Below Stairs, was published to instant success and turned her into a celebrity. She died in 1984.
 
Published January 3, 2012 by St. Martin's Press. 221 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel, Political & Social Sciences, Parenting & Relationships. Non-fiction
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WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Elizabeth Lowry on Jan 14 2012

A note of pure pain colors Powell's otherwise tough voice when she records how a woman who was a sensitive mistress in every other respect expressed surprise when Powell asked if she could borrow a book from the library.

Read Full Review of Below Stairs: The Classic Kit... | See more reviews from WSJ online

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