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

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3.53  ·  Rating Details  ·  9,423 Ratings  ·  1,276 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published January 3rd 2012 by St. Martin's Press (first published 1968)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Madeline
Dec 16, 2015 Madeline rated it really liked it
Do you watch Downton Abbey?

If you answered yes, congratulations, we can continue being friends. I'm currently obsessed with that show, and so when I was in Barnes and Noble last week browsing through the biography/memoir section (like I do) this caught my eye, and I was about to put it back when I noticed that the title was blaring MEMOIR THAT INSPIRED "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" AND "DOWNTON ABBEY" and the next thing I knew I bought it. So kudos to the marketing team behind this book, because they k
...more
Diane
Oct 29, 2013 Diane rated it really liked it
What a delightful book! I admit I was drawn to it because of its claim to have inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey," but I think I would have loved it regardless.

The writer was born in 1907 in Hove, England, and even though she was bright and had won a scholarship, her family was poor and she couldn't afford to go to school, so she started working at age 13. Her first domestic service job was as a kitchen maid, and she eventually worked her way up to cook, which was a prestigious
...more
Zanna
Mar 23, 2016 Zanna rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

This is a brisk and efficient book full of interesting observations on interwar British society from a working class perspective. Powell grew up in a poor family in Hove, a seaside town on the UK south coast very close to Brighton. That the working poor lived in dreadful conditions during the period is no surprise, but what struck me was Powell's praise of Hove, where during her childhood all the lawns were public space and filled with children of all classes playing (though generally n
...more
Kaethe
When Powell was one of seven children, and pretty much starving, everything was better and had more flavor. Not like the rubbish you get nowadays (ie., 1968). She has a strong voice but lacks perspective on everything. She tells the reader that her parents could enjoy sexy times in privacy only when the kids were off at Sunday School (nine people in two or three rooms) but doesn't consider that information about birth control was suppressed by the church and the state at that time. She had to le ...more
Sverre
Apr 24, 2013 Sverre rated it liked it
Shelves: biographical, history
At the conclusion of the book, Margaret Powell says "So despite what it may sound like, I'm not embittered about having had to go into domestic service." Readers would like to believe that but most of the contents and tone of the book can easily be understood as being the memoirs of an embittered domestic.

Fans of Downton Abbey and Berkeley Square may expect to discover tantalizing details of below and above stairs goings-on in this book but will be rather disappointed to learn that the dreary sl
...more
^
I was surprised to find no mention of a ghost writer; because the style of the writing is very much 'as told'. That directness really does work well, because the reader is firmly put at the same level as the servants; and, boy, don't a number of the employers seem to inhabit some rarefied and distant plane!

Yes, one is left wishing that employers would be more considerate of the quality of life of their servants. But one can well see in Margaret Powell the dilemma to many: wondering how to be a h
...more
Rebecca
Feb 04, 2013 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
What a contrast to read this right after Julia Child's "My Life in France." With her acerbic wit and keen eye for social injustice -- not to mention the intellectual perseverance that led her to finally take and pass her O-levels after her children were grown -- Powell was clearly a force to be reckoned with, "in service" and out. Yet the function of the British class system at the time -- she was born in 1907 to a hardscrabble family -- was to continually "put her in her place," in other words ...more
Dawn
Apr 22, 2012 Dawn rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-fodder
My gran could have written this book. It certainly sounded like her voice coming down through time! A fascinating first hand account of what life was like at the early part of the 19th century for so many bright, capable women. Choices were few and life was outlined almost from birth if you were born into a working-class family of uncertain means. My great grandfather, who served galantly in the war, raised three children in Paddington on a carman's wages.

My gran went into service as a laundry
...more
Susan
Dec 05, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, 2012
I always enjoy these upstairs/downstairs-type of book. Maybe I was a maid in my previous life, I know I feel like one now! :)

The author has an easy, flowing narrative of her life growing up very poor, then working in service. It is told without any sort of resentment or entitlement. She and her family made do with what they had, did without or improvised. No whining here. It was a fascinating glimpse of those days gone by.

The maid and cook portion of the book was also interesting as the reader g
...more
fenrir
Feb 13, 2016 fenrir rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Dal libro che si vocifera abbia ispirato la serie televisiva Downton Abbey mi aspettavo qualche cosa di più, lo ammetto.
E' un libro interessante che descrive la vita dei domestici che lavorano nelle case degli aristocratici degli anni trenta ma senza i dettagli che mi aspettavo di trovare. Parla principalmente solo della vita della protagonista mentre va a servizio e senza descrivere in maniera dettagliata in realtà niente. Di "loro", cioè dei suoi datori di lavoro, sappiamo poco o niente e Mar
...more
Kirsti
This book inspired three TV series: Upstairs, Downstairs; Beryl's Lot; and Downton Abbey. I suspect that the Maisie Dobbs mystery series borrows from it too.

In a nutshell (with some spoilers): Thirteen-year-old girl wins scholarship, can't accept it because family needs her income, goes into domestic service, mostly hates it but soldiers on, leaves service to marry, and (decades later) becomes famous, beloved, and quite rich.

Words and expressions I learned:

pantechnicon: a furniture van

saxe blue
...more
Susan Peterson
Jan 31, 2012 Susan Peterson rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
The cover of the book compares Below Stairs to "Downton Abbey" and "Upstairs, Downstairs." In fact, the image of Daisy, the kitchen maid in "Downton Abbey" kept floating through my mind as I read. But what this book has that the two series don't is a closely wrought picture of the life and heart of a kitchen maid. We see images of young Margaret, new to service, polishing the front door brass until her hands swell with chillblains, only to be dragged in front of the mistress of the house for a d ...more
LikeTheDog
Jun 02, 2012 LikeTheDog rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
First published in 1968 in Britian; first U.S. edition 2012. Written as if Margaret Powell was conversing off the cuff, this gives a glimpse of life in the strictly class-drive society of early 20th Century England. It was all "us," the serant class, vs. "them," the upper-class employers -- not that all the employers consciously looked down on the help, but that many they didn't even think of them as people or notice their presence in the room. You'll like Margaret's keen sense of observation, a ...more
(P)Ila
Apr 04, 2016 (P)Ila rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Ai piani bassi non è né un romanzo né un saggio né un'autobiografia ma è semplicemente un racconto sulle condizioni di vita dei domestici di inizio Novecento, ed è la vera testimonianza dell'autrice.
Per quello che mi riguarda queste poche pagine mi hanno rapita, ho trovato il libro molto interessante, realistico e coinvolgente e per nulla noioso o distaccato. Ho apprezzato anche lo stile della Powell che non risulta mai pretenzioso, anzi è semplice e estremamente colloquiale, mi è sembrato di e
...more
Aneesa
Mar 08, 2015 Aneesa rated it really liked it
This is like if Daisy wrote a diary but she were less naive and more entitled (as she should be).

Thanks to David for the recommendation!
Malapata
Apr 15, 2014 Malapata rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Margaret nació en 1905, siendo la segunda de siete hermanos de una familia humilde. Era aplicada y le gustaba aprender, así que al terminar el colegio le ofrecieron una beca para convertirse en maestra. Pero la mala situación económica de su familia le obligó a rechazarla y entrar en su lugar a servir en una casa como pinche de cocina, el escalafón más bajo dentro del servicio doméstico.

La suya es una mirada cáustica y a ratos amargada de las condiciones de vida del sevicion doméstico en la Ingl
...more
Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews
What a delightful book even though the subject of being a kitchen maid in a wealthy household was far from delightful. The author had a sense of humor that made the book fast paced, funny, and interesting.

This book was the memoir of a "real" kitchen maid. It definitely was not a pleasant life, but the author kept the book light and factual. The household staff would work from sunup to sunset with no conveniences that we have today in the kitchen or for cleaning to a shine.
The staff would have t
...more
Stacey
Aug 26, 2014 Stacey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Received this ARC as a First Reads winner. Before I read this, my knowledge of domestic service came mostly from reading Anne Perry's Thomas & Charlotte Pitt mysteries (I love their feisty maid Gracie!) as well as other period fiction. It was enlightening to read something from a domestic servant's point of view. I found Margaret Powell's varied experiences to be both funny and sad.

Before I read "Below Stairs:....", I read other reviews and many of them commented on the author's bitterness.
...more
Chris Spiegel
It's hard to read a book that's hyped as being THE inspiration for Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs without expecting a lot! If one didn't have the opulent Downton Abbey sets in mind when reading Below Stairs, I think it would be a more enjoyable read. As is however, the book falls somewhat flat. As an earlier reviewer mentioned, I too had "Daisy" in mind when reading young Margaret's story. Margaret however, is not as likeable as Daisy and continually struggles with her "place" in society ...more
Melissa Prange
Jan 21, 2012 Melissa Prange rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
With the present success of the British television series Downton Abbey, St. Martin's Press has re-released the classic memoir, Below Stairs. In Below Stairs, Margaret Powell recounts her career in domestic service and vividly recreates the world in which she lived.

As a child, Margaret Powell hoped to become a teacher, but her family was poor and there was no public assistance to pay for her education. Instead, she entered the workforce at the age of thirteen. For two years, she worked a series
...more
Joanne
Jul 07, 2012 Joanne rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
1968 memoir from a former kitchen maid-turned-cook, which has renewed interest because apparently the director of Downton Abbey has used it for reference. It's mildly interesting, since Powell worked in a variety of situations, but she's also fairly grumpy about it. Lots of "things were different in my day," comments, kind of like listening to an oldtimer telling you how much harder life was for them. Undoubtedly true, but a whole book of grump gets tiresome. She talks a lot about wanting to get ...more
Brian
May 20, 2012 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: nytimes book review
Shelves: on-nook
(3.0) I do see a lot of Downton Abbey here

Interesting topic: life of a kitchenmaid turned cook in early 20th century England. She's frank about her experiences, thoughts and perceptions as a domestic servant. She's also clearly intelligent and might've excelled in another profession if she'd been able to attend school. It was interesting to read, but would've been far more enjoyable if it were told as a narrative rather than reflections on memories from decades ago. More dialog, more in the mome
...more
Jaclyn
Apr 24, 2012 Jaclyn rated it really liked it
Lately I have this literary downfall. I can't seem to resist books off lists with titles like "Read This If You're Obsessed With Downton Abbey." Sometimes this comes back to bite me (Loving, I'm looking at you) but more often than not I really enjoy the books. Below Stairs is one such book - a memoir of a woman who worked as a kitchen maid, and eventually a cook, in the great houses of England during the 1920s and '30s. And let me say, Margaret Powell tells it like it is. The unfairness of life ...more
Margie
Sep 17, 2013 Margie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Mom
I'm almost tempted to call this a quick read, but that would be misleading. It is indeed a short book, readable almost in one sitting. And the author's voice often comes across as a bit breezy. But it's not a 'lite' book.

Margaret Powell went into service as a kitchen maid at the age of 14. She eventually moved up to the position of cook. Her description of what goes on downstairs isn't particularly revelatory, but her discussion of the attitudes of her fellow servants toward their work is really
...more
Melissa
Nov 20, 2014 Melissa rated it it was ok
Shelves: ladies-writin
Maybe I was expecting more scandal & more fraught interactions between the servants and the gentry, but this just fell flat. Even the poor under-parlourmaid who got knocked up by the nephew of the lady of the house wasn't too poignant. And when Margaret as Cook is serving & drops a potato down someone's décolletage, I expected everyone to erupt in a fiery wrath and for Margaret to be tragically out on the street within moments, but nothing too bad happens to her, other than getting calle ...more
Angie
Oct 05, 2012 Angie rated it liked it
I'm such a fan of Downton Abbey that I picked up this book because the creator of the show was inspired by this servant's memoirs. The work back then was much harder than I understood. I can't fathom the poverty these women were trying to escape. Can you imagine pawning your husband's suit on Monday so you could eat and then hoping to have made enough money throughout the week to buy it back in time for church?!

She was a feisty lady who pondered the inequality and by the end of her life gained
...more
Amelia
An interesting little read but for all the hyped up description and allusions to links with Downton Abbey, Below Stairs is really nothing stand out. That's not to say that it's not worth a look but if it was inspiration for Downton Abbey, then it was a very loose inspiration. A vague idea. The events listed in the description take up at most a paragraph each so don't expect a brilliantly detailed expose. It didn't tell me any more than The Maid's Tale and that is exactly the problem with the ove ...more
Joy
Dec 29, 2015 Joy rated it really liked it
I've had this one on my to-read list for a while, courtesy of my enjoyment of Downton Abbey and fondness for Regency romance novels, and with a gift certificate for my Kindle for Christmas this was one of the books I picked up. The book is exactly what the title says it is - a memoir of a woman who worked in service in England in the early 1900s, from kitchen maid working her way up to cook.

I loved the book, and it felt very much like sitting in a cozy parlor with a grandmother telling me tales
...more
Cheryl
Margaret Powell was born in 1907 in the small village of Hove in England. She was a good student and hoped to become a teacher. However, her family was poor and didn’t have the resources to allow her to continue her education. So at the age of 15, Margaret was hired on as a kitchen maid in the home of a wealthy family. Thus began a lifelong career for Margaret as she worked her way up from the lowest servant status to the position of cook for a succession of wealthy households.

In Below Stairs, M
...more
Katie Wilson
Mar 09, 2015 Katie Wilson rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-2014
Any fan of Downton Abbey will love this true story of what it was like to be a kitchen maid in an English estate in the 1920s. Margaret Powell details the events of her life, including her childhood living in poverty to her many years in service to multiple families. She points out that, as was the case with most other girls, often entering the service was the best option available.

Read Full Review: https://mybookbagblog.wordpress.com/2...
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Margaret Powell (1907 – 1984) was an English writer. Her book about her experiences in domestic service, Below Stairs, became a best-seller and she went on to write other books and became a television personality. Below Stairs was an impetus for Upstairs, Downstairs and the basis of Beryl's Lot, and is one of the inspirations of Downton Abbey.
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“I used to wonder why... Mum kept having babies... that was the only pleasure poor people could afford . It cost nothing--at least at the time when you were actually making the children. The fact that it would cost you something later on, well, the working-class people never looked ahead in those days.” 10 likes
“They knew that you breathed and you slept and you worked, but they didn’t know that you read. Such a thing was beyond comprehension. They thought that in your spare time you sat and gazed into space, or looked at Peg’s Paper or the Crimson Circle. You could almost see them reporting you to their friends. ‘Margaret’s a good cook, but unfortunately she reads. Books, you know.” 6 likes
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