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The Secret Countess,
This review is from: The Secret Countess (Paperback)
The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson was initially published as A Countess Below Stairs, which after reading it I think would be a better title. Eva Ibbotson was born in Vienna, Austria in 1925 but when the Nazis came to power, her family escaped to Britain. Many of her books allude to the struggles and loss experienced by people during the war and obviously she had first-hand experience of this.
The Secret Countess is the story of Anna Grazinsky, a Russian Countess who has to flee to Britain after World War I. Anna has come from a life of wealth and privilege, she was doted on by her father and had everything that she could ever have wished for. Her father is killed fighting and she and her mother make their way to Britain with Miss Pinfold, her governess. Anna's family has lost everything and she is too proud to live off the charity of Miss Pinfold and so she seeks a position as a housemaid at Mersham; family seat of the Westerholmes. Here she tries to fit in and works hard but it is clear to all that she has come from greater things. Ibbotson describes Merhsam in a very detailed way and the house is very much part of the story. Anna soon meets Rupert, the new Earl and he is totally mesmerised by her. However, Rupert has agreed to marry Muriel Hardwicke, an orphaned heiress who will provide the finances to secure Mersham's future. Hardwicke is the opposite of Anna; she is a snob and totally obsessed with Eugenics and the staff and Westeholme family members do not take kindly to her ways.
Rupert eventually finds out Anna's true identity and he is already in love with her, the situation seems hopeless with his impending nuptials fast approaching. However, the others surrounding Anna and Rupert devise a plan to save the future of both of them and also the house. The story is very reminiscent of Jane Eye except that Rupert has a much more affable character than Mr Rochester! I am so pleased that I have discovered Eva Ibbotson, her books have this fantastic romantic, fairytale quality to them but still have a lot of substance.