Three Downton Abbey Readarounds, Including a new Fay Weldon Novel

Maloney, Alison. Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9781250017659. $23.99. HISTORY
Ah, the grand homes, gorgeous clothes, and stately manners of England before two world wars changed everything. But as we know, it was all sustained by hard work from an army of servants downstairs. Kent-based Maloney, author of the best-selling The Mum’s Book, offers a detailed look at the servant’s life in early 20th-century England, reporting first-hand anecdotes and drumming up numerous black-and-white illustrations as well. The British press was impressed.

Powell, Margaret. Servants’ Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9781250029294. $22.99. HISTORY
Born in 1907, Powell entered service in her teens; Below Stairs, the first volume of her memoirs, was published in 1968 and reissued at the beginning of this year to great acclaim. (Powell died in 1984.) This continuation focuses on Rose, the underparlour maid to the Wardham family at Redlands, who elopes with the family’s only son. Scandal! As Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes says, Powell was the first person outside my family to introduce me to that world. ‚ĶI certainly owe her a great debt.

Weldon, Fay. Habits of the House. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250026620. $25.99. HISTORICAL FICTION
First in a trilogy, Weldon’s new work opens in 1899‚ not the Downton Abbey era but directly before; it’s being marketed as an enticing prequel. Weldon in fact wrote the pilot for Upstairs, Downstairs, for which she won a Writers’ Guild Award, and has this comment to make: I was a girl from Downstairs. When I was 16, my bedroom was in the basement of a posh house in London, where my mother was the housekeeper. …Odd, this class business. Class business is right; here, the Earl of Dilberne faces serious financial difficulty after a bad stock-market gamble and is eager to marry off his son to an heiress, which makes rich, gorgeous Minnie from Chicago seem so appealing. (Sounds as if we are in Edith Wharton territory.) Here you’ll also meet the earl’s wife, Isobel; her in-control lady’s maid, Grace; and the unconventional daughter of the family, who has a parrot‚ all nestled in the house in Belgravia Square. A big blog/bookclub campaign.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.