Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dry Your Tears Downton Abbey Mourners

Proving once again that this column will go to no end to provide readers with succor in times of trouble,  we present a book that will (no doubt) continue your obsession with Great Britain Once Upon a Time.

"Rose: My Life in Service; Recollections of Life in One of England's Grandest Households by the Personal Maid to Nancy, Lady Astor" by Rosina Harrison   Viking Press   237 pages   $8.95

Rosina was a self-described Yorkshire lass and as such, wasn't apt to take a lot of (or any) guff from others.  She met her alter ego in Nancy, Lady Astor, who was equally strong-willed in addition to being something of a dictatorial bitch.  The entire household (more than 40 indoor servants and many more working outdoors in the gardens and stables,  quailed and hid as much as they could from her biting tongue.  Her usual response to Rosina was "Shut up, Rose!"  And that was when she was in a good mood!

Rosina was born in 1899 and died, age 90, in 1989.  Lady Astor was born May 19, 1879 -- interestingly enough husband Waldorf Astoria was born on the same day and year -- she died in 1964.  Rosina began working for her in 1929 and was still toiling for her 35 years later when Nancy died. 

Rosina had a good eye for details and ably describes the various houses the family owned, Cliveden, 25 miles from London, being the most frequent weekend destination. There the ladies changed clothes no less than five times per day, depending on the activity planned.  Ladies maids had to present a spotless riding attire the next morning after the rider came home covered in mud and brambles the day before.   Cleaning tips were eagerly shared.   

 Further, she gives penetrating looks at life among the servants and their hierarchy.  She says she had no interest in Nancy's politics or friends as the class distinction between them was too vast.  Instead, this is a recounting of life working for Astor.

She had tremendous responsibilities, among them being handed a 5-page list of the jewels Astor owned along with a precise description of each.  It was her job to keep track of them as Nancy had a bad habit of misplacing them and then accusing a servant.  Astor and her daughter routinely traveled with 20 pieces of luggage and expected Rosina to never lose any of them.  She never "lost so much as a ribbon" says Rosina.. 

All in all, it's a riveting account of life behind the green baize curtain and I am enjoying it hugely even though I only watched one episode of Downton Abbey.   Another book you enthusiasts might like is The Little Princesses by "Crawfie," nurse to the then-Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

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