Reviews for Below Stairs : The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey


Booklist Reviews 2012 January #1
The popularity of Sunday school among the working classes had less to do with religion than parents' much-needed private time, according to Margaret Powell. Such revelations are rampant in Below Stairs, a fascinating and feisty memoir of Powell's life as a kitchen maid and cook in 1920s England. Originally published in the UK in 1968, it's again a best-seller there after the debut of the Emmy Award-winning series, Downton Abbey, which, along with Upstairs Downstairs, took inspiration from the book. Powell writes conversationally, offering cutting and humorous insights. She piles on the details of a domestic servant's day--up at 5:30, work enough for six people, and don't forget to iron the bootlaces--but stops before she falls into self-pity. Running through it all is the divide between the servants and Them, manifesting itself in everything from the sad parade of practical Christmas gifts to the employer's order that nothing be served from a servant's bare hands. Powell reminds readers that these things shouldn't be forgotten, and she is an honest, saucy, and skilled storyteller. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2011 December #2
What the kitchen maid saw. Powell's account of her time "in service"--employed as a servant in several stately English homes in 1920s England--is a key inspiration for such entertainments as the TV series Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, programs that relish in the dynamic between the lordly masters of the house and the earthier workers who toil down below. The author's voice is instantly compelling, salty and unsentimental about the many difficulties and small satisfactions she encountered as an impoverished young girl and woman struggling to make her way. Sex is much on Powell's mind, both as a source of wry amusement and a mercenary desire to marry and escape a life of domestic drudgery, and her plainspoken bluntness on the topic is bracing. She is also amusing on the eccentricities of various employers and colleagues, the rigors of working to unreasonable standards and the social structures and mores of both the servant classes and their putative betters. But it's Powell's nascent social conscience--an evolving rage at the inequities and institutional humiliation inherent in the English class system--that makes the strongest impression and elevates the memoir from a quaint look back to an affecting portrait of a vital, intelligent young woman struggling to assert herself against a system that would prefer she keep her head down and her mouth shut. It's to her credit and the reader's good fortune that she did neither. An irresistible inside account of life "in service" and a fascinating document of a vanished--if fetishistically longed-for--time and place. Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2011 September #1

Born in 1907, Powell began working at age 13, soon becoming a kitchen maid and eventually cook in a grand old home. Her 1968 memoir, now being reissued (Powell died in 1984), brought her fame and led to the Masterpiece classic Upstairs, Downstairs. Great fun but also the personal details of history that are often hidden. With a reading group guide

[Page 88]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 December #1

If this book was the basis for the wildly successful Upstairs, Downstairs television series, then we must ensure that the show's writers and producers get all the credit they deserve. Here, the stories are lackluster and occasionally insulting to anyone under the age of 65, when Powell starts in on "kids these days." Powell, the second of seven children, grew up in a small English town where class separation was rampant. Despite her claims that it was better back then, money was tight, the family was too big, and she was ushered into domestic service at 15. Her use of many oblique references-- like "hair sieves" and "aspic jelly"--will likely leave her readers cool or confused; the book is, above all, a litany of work the author hated to do. Powell fulfilled her lifelong ambition by marrying and, fortunately for us, left domestic service soon after that. Fans of the TV show who hope to find the same illuminating detail and descriptions of period life will be sorely disappointed. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM. (Jan.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

If this book was the basis for the wildly successful Upstairs, Downstairs television series, then we must ensure that the show's writers and producers get all the credit they deserve. Here, the stories are lackluster and occasionally insulting to anyone under the age of 65, when Powell starts in on "kids these days." Powell, the second of seven children, grew up in a small English town where class separation was rampant. Despite her claims that it was better back then, money was tight, the family was too big, and she was ushered into domestic service at 15. Her use of many oblique references-- like "hair sieves" and "aspic jelly"--will likely leave her readers cool or confused; the book is, above all, a litany of work the author hated to do. Powell fulfilled her lifelong ambition by marrying and, fortunately for us, left domestic service soon after that. Fans of the TV show who hope to find the same illuminating detail and descriptions of period life will be sorely disappointed. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM. (Jan.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

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