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

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell
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's review
Jul 07, 2012

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bookshelves: 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 married to escape domestic service, but says surprisingly little about her husband. The historical detail is interesting, as is her comments about the class differences. She notices they change over time, but doesn't explain why.

Relevant to school people, perhaps, because she talks about her smart boys getting into an elite grammar school, but then not having money for the "things that mattered" like allowance, proper shoes, or gear for sports. Poignant quote:
I couldn't buy cricket flannels or cricket boots. I ran up football shorts for them, but I couldn't afford the journeys for away matches. I thought, it doesn't matter, they're getting a good education, that's what matters. But those other things did matter. I think that one can be too ambitious. You educate them, you send them into a social community of which they can't be one. People have the same herd instinct as animals. There's only got to be one that's different and they kick hell out of him. (202)

She took university night classes at age 58 and wrote this book at 61.
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