As I’m trying to catch up on my reviews from 2011, and now my
five six reviews from 2012, I thought I’d better start putting together some mini reviews for those books I can get out of the way quickly! Here are the two short, lighter non-fiction books I read at the end of 2011.
Life Below Stairs, Alison Maloney
Inspired by the success of Downton Abbey, Alison Maloney has composed a brief, easily digestible book about the lives of servants in Edwardian England, around when the period drama is set. The book covers a huge variety of topics and, for me, actually made some of the show’s choices more understandable. For instance, I now understand the purpose and history behind the difference between Miss O’Brien’s clothing and the rest of the maids’, the servant’s ball, and even why Mrs Hughes is a “Mrs” even though she’s not a married woman.
It also highlighted a few of the differences between the show and real life, and the genuine struggles and difficulties that servants had. Life was definitely not as rosy for these folks as it is for the below-stairs servants at Downton. The book has plenty of quotes illustrating this, including one of a poor girl who missed her day off because she was so exhausted from work that she slept through it!
Life Below Stairs also has a few illustrative photos and is a brief overview that will suit fans of the show perfectly, but it’s probably too shallow for anyone who has previously read about the Edwardian period.
The King’s Speech, Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
Like almost everyone else who has an interest in English history, I saw The King’s Speech in film form last year and absolutely adored it, so it was a no-brainer for me to pick up its written counterpart. Pleasantly, the book contains a few surprises even for those who have seen the film, particularly because it tells the story of Lionel Logue chronologically and includes plenty of background. Naturally, no one could or desires to fit all of this into a biopic framed around a speech, but I delighted in the extra details and in particular the genuine letters and photographs that accompanied the text.
One thing that struck me was that, even though this was less than 100 years ago, the social gap between Logue and George VI was massive. Just reading their letters to one another makes that clear – and also emphasizes how unusual and important their intimacy was. I found the book almost more valuable for that, in my mind, than for the extra details about that particular case. It’s a window into a world that hasn’t been gone for very long, but which is still utterly fascinating.
Highly recommended for those who enjoyed the movie and who are interested in social history.