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

Margaret Powell.
Publisher St. Martin's Griffin  
Format paperback
ISBN 9781250023216
Pages/Publication Date 212/2012
Daedalus Item Code 29748
This item is not available.
Originally published in 1968, Margaret Powell's remarkable memoir of her time in service to one of the great houses of England was a revelation to many and an inspiration for BBC series creators like Julian Fellowes: "Margaret Powell was the first person outside my family to introduce me to that world, so near and yet seemingly so far away, where servants and their employers would live their vividly different lives under one roof. Her memories, funny and poignant, angry and charming, haunted me until, many years later, I made my own attempts to capture those people for the camera. I certainly owe her a great debt." 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. 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, Powell's tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation.

"The popularity of Sunday school among the working classes had less to do with religion than parents' much-needed private time, according to Margaret Powell. Such revelations are rampant in Below Stairs, a fascinating and feisty memoir of Powell's life as a kitchen maid and cook in 1920s England. Originally published in the UK in 1968, it's again a bestseller there after the debut of the Emmy Award–winning series Downton Abbey, which, along with Upstairs Downstairs, took inspiration from the book. Powell writes conversationally, offering cutting and humorous insights. She piles on the details of a domestic servant's day—up at 5:30, work enough for six people, and don't forget to iron the bootlaces—but stops before she falls into self-pity. Running through it all is the divide between the servants and Them, manifesting itself in everything from the sad parade of practical Christmas gifts to the employer's order that nothing be served from a servant's bare hands. Powell reminds readers that these things shouldn't be forgotten, and she is an honest, saucy, and skilled storyteller."—Booklist

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