Servants’ Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance
by Margaret Powell
Narrated by Susan Lyons
Published by Audible Studios, 2013 (originally published 1979)
7 hours, 3 minutes
Narrator grade: B
Synopsis: Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs, a servant’s firsthand account of life in the great houses of England, became a sensation among readers reveling in the luxury and subtle class warfare of Masterpiece Theatre’s hit television series Downton Abbey. In Servants’ Hall, another true slice of life from a time when armies of servants lived below stairs simply to support the lives of those above, Powell tells the true story of Rose, the under-parlourmaid to the Wardham Family at Redlands, who took a shocking step: She eloped with the family’s only son, Mr. Gerald.
Going from rags to riches, Rose finds herself caught up in a maelstrom of gossip, incredulity and envy among her fellow servants. The reaction from upstairs was no better: Mr. Wardham, the master of the house, disdained the match so completely that he refused ever to have contact with the young couple again. Gerald and Rose marry, leave Redlands and Powell looks on with envy, even as the marriage hits on bumpy times: “To us in the servants’ hall, it was just like a fairy tale . . . How I wished I was in her shoes.”
Once again bringing that lost world to life, Margaret Powell trains her pen and her gimlet eye on her “betters” in this next chapter from a life spent in service. Servants’ Hall is Margaret Powell at her best—a warm, funny and sometimes hilarious memoir of life at a time when wealthy families like ruled England.
In 1922 when at the age of 15 I entered domestic service after two years as a daily, servants were considered less than dusty by those who employed them; and ignorant, even positively not all there by that section of the working class–male and female alike–who wouldn’t have been seen alive or dead as a servant below stairs.
- I found the story fascinating. I liked reading (listening) to a memoir about a particular era and way of life.
- The narrator was good. I have no idea how Margaret Powell may have sounded and know very little about English accents, so all I know is the narrator has an English accent and read the story well!
- Margaret Powell is so interesting and her narrative of servants’ lives in the 1920’s and 1930’s is a great story.
- Margaret starts as a kitchen maid and becomes a cook. The part where she works with Rose is at the beginning of the book and only a small part of the overall story.
- Margaret doesn’t start as a very happy kitchen maid. She loves to read and wanted to continue with her schooling, but that wasn’t an option in her family. However, she continues to read and enjoys learning and ultimately goes to school and passes her O-levels and A-levels (after she was well into her 50’s), writes a number of books and becomes a TV personality. Quite an accomplishment.
- Includes a discussion of class differences. There’s a definite pecking order among the servants just as there is “above stairs.”
- I enjoyed the descriptions of the dances the young servants attend and the romances which sometimes occur. For many of the servants there may be a bit of romance, but never any “fairytale marriage.” Though some of the young maid’s think Rose’s elopement is like a fairytale, the older, more experienced and cynical servants insist it isn’t.
- The story tells the poverty many servants lived through after they were too old to work.
- This is advertised as story about a maid who elopes with her employer’s son. Yes, it does tell that story, but it’s not really the most interesting part of the book.
- This is mostly the story of the 1920’s and 1930’s until the last few minutes–used to wrap up everyone’s lives after WWII. That was rather abrupt.
And a few thoughts . . .
- Apparently Margaret Powell’s books were used for creating Upstairs, Downstairs (a British TV series in the 1970’s).
- I had never heard of her before and was happy to find this book on sale at Audible.
About the author
- 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. (from Wikipedia)
Have you read this book? How did you like it?
- 2015 Goodreads Challenge
- Audiobook Challenge–hosted by Hot Listens and The Book Nympho blogs
- New Author Challenge–hosted by the Literary Escapism blog
- Ultimate Reading Challenge–hosted by the Popsugar blog (A memoir)
- COYER Winter Reading Challenge–hosted by Berls @ Fantasy is More Fun and Michelle @ Because Reading (an audiobook–$4.95)