Saturday, December 15, 2012

Below Stairs

Below Stairs, by Margaret Powell

This is a really famous memoir. I guess there aren't that many memoirs that talk about what it was really like to be a servant back in the old days, and Powell is very honest about it. 

Margaret Powell grew up very poor, in a large family, and though she was highly intelligent and wished to further her education and become a teacher, it just wasn't feasible for her family.  So she went to work at 14, and after a couple of years doing laundry and various jobs, she decided to enter into service as a kitchen maid.  This put her at the bottom of the servant hierarchy, but it was also a position that had great opportunity for advancement, because a kitchen maid could move up to be a cook. 

Being a kitchen maid is not much fun, but it's sure interesting to read about.  After 3 years as a maid, Powell advertised herself as a cook (though really she had more confidence than skill).  She spent several years doing that too.  It's a great memoir, so don't miss it.

2 comments:

Teresa said...

When I first read the title I thought "Ugh, another new book that is profiting from all this Downton Abbey craze". But a memoir is interesting... why did you like it so much?

Jean said...

Ha, I know, but it turns out this memoir was so famous that it helped to inspire the shows, so it's the other way 'round. But they sure are pushing the connection--even the subtitle has been changed for this edition.

I enjoyed it because she is so sharp and honest. It's like talking with her; her personality really comes through.