Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Upstairs & Downstairs: The Illustrated Guide to the Real World of Downton Abbey by Sarah Warwick

If, like me, you’re hooked on the continuing adventures of the Crawley family, you’re probably finding the wait for the American premiere of Downton Abbey Season 3 to be maddening.  Fortunately, the publishing industry has stepped in to fill the void, and you don’t have to wait for January 6, 2013 to return to the fascinating world of Edwardian and World War I era England.
Virginia Beach Public Library has a number of companion titles to this popular BBC series,  and Upstairs & Downstairs is one of the latest.  Want to know what it was really like in the kitchens of a great country house, or what a butler was paid, or the menu for a typical picnic in 1910?  It’s all here, accompanied by an amazing collection of photographs and illustrations that bring the period to life. 
While I’m interested in how the upper crust lived, it’s the servants’ stories that stand out for me, and their photographs that mesmerize me.   According to Warwick, at the turn of the last century, about 11% of the English working population was in domestic service.  That’s a lot of scullery maids and footmen.   Upstairs & Downstairs does not flinch from describing the unpleasant realities of their lives.  Expect realism with only a touch of romanticism. 
Upstairs & Downstairs is available through the Virginia Beach Public Library catalog.  For an overview of the period that also includes tidbits about the show and cast, try Jessica Fellowes’ The World of Downton Abbey.  If you want more on the lives of those below stairs, check out Below Stairs: the Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir that Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey by Margaret Powell and for an above stairs view, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon is a good bet.

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