The Real Life Downton Abbey: How Life Was Really Lived In Stately Homes A Century Ago by Jacky Hyams
London : John Blake Publishing Ltd, 2011.
Katherine gives this book 3 stars — read it to find out tidbits and facts about upstairs and downstairs life in the Edwardian manor.
It does seem that these days you need to throw in the words “English Manor” or “Downton Abbey” if you want to sell a book or video. The hit PBS series Downton Abbey has done so much to promote interest in another time and era just like Upstairs Downstairs did in the 1970’s. Many viewers are suddenly interested in reading about and watching the English manor life of the early 1900’s. This book, The Real Life Downton Abbey, tries to tell you how life really was for both the upstairs and downstairs people.
As the author states in the Introduction “So who were these toffs and servants that hold so much fascination for us? How did they live, what did they wear, what did they eat, how did they play or form relationships – and how much – or how little – did they spend or earn? In this book I answer many of these questions and reveal, too, a lot more about what went on behind those huge front doors to the grand country house.” So I picked up this book to just find out what life was really like in the Edwardian era and how close does Downton Abbey come to portraying those lives.
While I did read and learn much (and then applied some of that knowledge to Season 3 Downton Abbey to decide what was and was not possible) this book had just a bit too much detail. There were times I felt as if I was slogging through a thick mire of information. And some of that information would be repeated in another chapter. At the same time I am not sure I would call this book a scholarly piece of work. It falls in that in-between stage of easy reading and scholarly text. While the author does write in that light tone of voice it can’t always help if you feel like it is too much information. Anyway, I was struggling towards the end to just finish the book (I started to jump to chapters that sounded interesting). And this is from someone who loves to read non-fiction books that sometimes weigh more than a brick!
Chapters are written around a basic subject. These include The House, Money, The Pecking Order, The Rules, Who Runs this House Anyway?, Relationships, Food & Drink, Entertainment & Sport, Getting Around, Morals & Manners, How to Wear It, and Health. And each chapter includes both the upstairs and downstairs life. As an example, the “Pecking Order” chapter starts with upstairs life by discussing The Father and The Mother (caps are the authors). Then it delves into the Servant Roles of Upper Servants (broken up into Butler, Housekeeper, Cook, Valet, Ladies Maid, Nursery Staff, and Chauffeur) and Lower Servants (again broken up by Footman, Housemaid, and Scullery Maid). To end chapters the author throws in some facts that sometimes are part of the chapter subject, and sometimes they are just facts.
The London based Hyams is a journalist, editor, author, columnist and communications consultant according to her bio. She writes for many of the UK and Australia magazine and newspaper brands, writing on social and historical issues besides in depth profiles. Other books written before The Real Life Downton Abbey include the nonfiction titles written Time to Help Your Parents and Bombsites & Lollipops: My 1950’s East End Childhood. And afterward she wrote Jennifer Saunders: The Biography, The Female Few: Spitfire Heroines of the Air Transport Auxiliary, and White Boots & Miniskirts: A True Story of Life in the Swinging Sixties.