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4.2 out of 5 stars139
4.2 out of 5 stars
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 2012
The review title pretty much sums it up. This is a real account, written by a real person who lived the life of a domestic servant in the early twentieth century. I do feel that other reviewers who criticise the lack of 'scandal' or complain that Ms Powell didn't push herself to have a better life are completely missing the point.

It is not a novel, designed to draw the reader into an intricate plot with twists and adventure. It is not the tale of 'rags to riches' or a romantic novel about the poor little servant girl who meets her Prince Charming and strolls off into the happy ever after. It is just one person's story about a world which no longer exists and which I believe, is a great little nugget of history which anyone can access. Seriously, if you or I were to write an honest account of our daily lives, how much of it would you consider to be of real interest except as a documentation of working life in the early 21st century?

Almost 100 years on, we have grown used to a society where boys and girls alike are educated to believe that they can reach the best of their potential in a career that provides both a healthy wage and job satisfaction (whether or not that is the reality in adulthood) Life for our grandmothers and great-grandmothers simply wasn't like that! You left school to start pulling your financial weight in the family home and most jobs were offered to those who asked provided the employer had the space, money and need for them - with employment law in its adolescence, CVs and references were rarely required. Margaret Powell's life was what it was; she would not have been encouraged to 'go for it' and even if she had the moral support from her family, she certainly wouldn't have had the financial backing to do so. She says herself she rarely had free time, which brings me on to the next point.

One reviewer accuses her of marrying the first man she met. Again, we are used to Disney and Hollywood, Bridget Jones and their ilk telling us that true love is just around the corner and it's all hearts and flowers when it comes together in the end. In the early twentieth century, while romance certainly existed, most young people were seeking a companion and a parent for their children - that's just what people did. With limited means to leisure time and privacy, and no reliable means of contraception, Margaret Powell and her peers didn't have the luxury of trying out a different boyfriend year in year out until they found Mr Right. Marriage was the next step in a young woman's life and usually signified an end to dead end drudgery jobs. This trend reduced gradually after the World Wars, but the concept of wives and mothers having a professional career is a very modern trait.

On the subject of Powell's 'moans' about modern life, yes I will admit that I found them a little tiresome at first. However in the context of the publication date, you have to remember that the world had moved very quickly in a short space of time and for Powell's generation, harking back to the 'good old days' was a common feature. I'd go so far as to say that older generations have always had rosy tinted specs views of their salad days, but would be more subtle in committing it to paper now for fear of coming across in the vein of the famous Monty Python sketch!

As a companion to the likes of Downton Abbey, this isn't going to enthrall the reader with tales of bed-hopping aristocrats and lovelorn servants, but as an understanding of real life in service, this is a wonderful piece of history.
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89 of 92 people found the following review helpful
This first part of Margaret Powell's memoirs was originally published in 1968. With the interest that has been shown in such things as Downton Abbey, and the Christmas special of Upstairs, Downstairs it was about time that this book was back in circulation.

Margaret Powell was born in 1907 and this book tells of her life growing up in Hove in a working class family, the need she had to leave school as early as possible to bring in money thus preventing her from higher education. After a few jobs at 15, Margaret went into the world of domestic service. If like me you come from a working class family then it is likely that you have had now deceased relatives that also were in the same position, and have probably heard stories such as Margaret's of growing up and going to work.

From starting off in the lowest maids position Margaret eventually did become a cook, a highly important position. In this memoir we are shown how life really was, with no thrills added, what things had to be put up with, and the sheer drudgery of life. As the book progresses we do see a change in the way that the domestic staff are treated, which I know some may not think is much, but it was definitely a massive improvement. If you want some idea of what being in service meant, and not some glamourised tv drama version, then this book should interest you immensely.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 December 2011
I always enjoy these real life stories of people who lived (not always easy lives) in the early part of the twentieth century. I recently read Four Meals for Fourpence which was about growing up in London in poor and bitter circumstances. This book tells of Margaret, born in 1907, who leaves home at 13 to go into service. Her struggles to work her way up the ladder of those `downstairs' is fascinating reading - her indomitable spirit shows through the entire story. Never one to take her circumstances lying down, Margaret strives to better herself and pragmatically to make a life for herself outside of service. Margaret writes with wry humour and never fails to call a spade a spade - she sounds like a remarkable woman whom it would have been a privilege to meet. Highly recommended.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2011
I saw an article in my daily paper about the author and a small preview of the book and decided to buy it. It was an easy read and enjoyable.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2011
This book is quite wonderful. A superb accound of Margaret Powells life when she was a servant in days gone by. Funny, witty beautifully written - a unique look at below stairs life. I recomment this book to anyone! I promise you, you will really enjoy it. Lovely to see (after the come back of upstairs downstairs and the success of downton) a renewed interest in the wonderful Margaret Powell and the re-issue of her much loved book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2011
I first read this book just after it was published. Margaret Powell was a guest on many chat shows and was very funny. Although, many people have said that the book was "hilarious" I don't actually think it was. It is an excellent comment about life between the wars, and quite a sad story of a plain girl's journey into womanhood. There are the occasional parts that made me smile, but there was nothing to make me laugh out loud. Having said all this, I loved the book, I read it many times when I had the paperback years ago, and have read it twice since buying it for the Kindle. I sincerely hope all of her other books will soon appear on the Kindle list so I can buy them again too.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 15 June 2011
I couldn't put it down, have just finished reading this book and it was definitely an eye opening read into life in domestic service and how different they were treated from 'them upstairs'. Very interesting to read and was very well written. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes to read true stories.....
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2011
Many people talk about the `good old days', well, if you were a servant in the 20's there were very few good days. This book offers a startling and quite shocking insight into the real lives of those unlucky enough to slave from dawn to dusk in subterranean conditions for a pittance. I don't blame Mrs Powell for sounding off about the unfairness of life then. All credit to her, she made her own way from being a kitchen maid to cook, then wife and mother and then turned what could have been everyday memories into a bestseller. Thoroughly recommended.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Before reading Margaret Powell's book Below Stairs I think it is prudent to note that the book was first published in 1968. And although the same comments in reference to her looking back, e.g. 'it would be different now' still applies, some 30 years had only passed since these real life events had happened. If you pick up the book now you are reading these reflections then note it is some 70 years ago.

Powell gives us a VERY brief overview of life in Hove, as a small child in a poor working class family, where there was no money but plenty of warmth and connection with each other. Through to her progression out of that life as a kitchen maid and then cook, her obvious outward ambition.

However, there is no depth to any of the recollections and if anything is becomes merely a passage of how the servants were the underdogs by them "upstairs" and called "skivves" by their contemporaries. Powell was forthright in her opinion and manner and certainly did not like to think she was being treated badly. Ironically enough she seemed to always be suspicious when she was treated as more than a servant by at some of the houses she worked in.

This book is ideal for those who perhaps know nothing or very little about servants in early 20th century Britain. If like me you think you are going to get a more in depth insight into servants then you will be sadly disappointed.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 2011
As you may guess from the heading I read this book some years ago & it was worth reading again just to show what life was like without the T.V.glamour. It was very physically hard , long hours, very strict conditions, & began at a very young age. Most of her employers were unkind to say the least. This is why the author comes across sometimes as rather bitter. This is more down to her lack of sufficient education to enable her to make the best use of her talents, which she changed in later life by taking many classes & obtaining qualifications. I was left wondering what she could have been if these opportunities had arisen earlier, & how many youngsters are wasting their talents by not taking their educational opportunities seriously. She did have a lot in common with the"them" as she refers to the upstairs people , when it comes to her admiring the spirit of those who became much poorer later on. How? She had the same spirit but didn't seem to realise it. More of this authors books on Kindle please.
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