Sunday, June 3, 2012

Above the Stairs by Margaret Powell

This is Powell's follow up to her highly successful Below Stairs.  This volume recounts what the social scene was like amongst domestic servants in the 1920's.  With their crazy schedule and the unappealing label of "skivvie" how in the world did they meet men and go courting enough to find one that they could and would marry.
Once again, Powell's touch of humour and grace gently guides you through this lost era.  She also recounts some of her experiences post service as a married woman in England.  An absolutely delightful read.

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

I picked up this book at Costco a couple of weeks ago.  It looked interesting to me.  The memoirs of a 1920's kitchen maid.  At first I didn't know if it was someone's real memoirs, or, just a book that was written from such a point of view.  After I brought it home, I found out this was a reprint of a book that first came out in the 1960's.  Indeed Margaret Powell went into service as a teenager in the 1920's in England.  This turned into a very fascinating read about what life was like back then and the class differences of the time.  Really, this book is more than that.  Powell accounts for her childhood in Hove as one of 8 or 9 children with a father who floated from job to job.  She left school at 14, not because she couldn't have achieved higher levels, but because her family simply couldn't afford the fees.  Powell started in laundry service before moving into domestic service as a kitchen maid, the lowest ranked in the household. 
She writes with humour and grace as she recounts her experiences, capturing the time beautifully.  You can picture how life was back then.  This book was one that was used as inspiration for Upstairs, Downstairs.  I now have a longing to watch those shows again, having a vague memory of them in my childhood.  I highly recommend this book.