Life Below Stairs

Life Below Stairs
Alison Maloney
Reviewed by Stacey Bartlett
Michael O'Mara
Thu, 15/09/2011
978-1843176978
£9.99

With the second series of ITV’s Downton Abbey welcoming us into autumn, Edwardian servants have never been so popular. Life Below Stairs is an accurate and fascinating portrayal of servant life in grand country houses, when the amount of servants you had signified your wealth; even normal middle class families employed at least one to keep up with the Joneses.  Maloney covers everyone from the butler to the maid-of-all-work, and all their tasks in-between, in a world without washing machines, vacuum cleaners or fridges.

If there was a class divide between family and servants (and there certainly was – Maloney recalls how often female and male servants were re-Christened generic names such as Emma and John in the workplace so the mistress of the house wouldn’t have to burden herself with remembering names), then the hierarchy ‘downstairs’ was even more apparent.

The pay gap between genders was astonishing – a typical housemaid aged between 21 and 25 would earn the modern equivalent of £927 per year, but a butler would earn £3500. Service was seen as a respectable career to enter into, and a lucky servant who was appreciated could end up staying for decades and even be included in the family’s will. Maloney also covers the not-so-nice parts of a life in service, such as homesickness, accidental pregnancies, and the fact that servants got on average one day off a month.

Maloney provides the facts behind the fiction, using real life stories of those from both upstairs and downstairs, in this captivating read for fans of Downton.
 

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