countess-feature

A silly book for serious times – We review A Countess Below Stairs

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NOVEL: A Countess Below Stairs

AUTHOR: Eva Ibbotson

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1981

REVIEW:

This is not a serious book. It is, actually, a rather silly bit of fluff. Still, there are days (and years…2016 comes to mind) when a silly bit of fluff is exactly what is called for. So, if you are looking for some escapist romance, you could do far worse than this.

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Anna Grazinsky, young and beautiful, is accustomed to every luxury, until the Russian Revolution forces her (and what’s left of her family) to flee to England. In order to support her younger brother’s education, she hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as a servant in an English estate, where the staff is preparing for Rupert, Earl of Westerholme, to return for his wedding. Fortunately for the handsome war hero, Muriel Hardwicke, his bride to be, is both beautiful and wealthy, and her money will allow him to save his property, which had fallen on hard times. Unfortunately for Rupert (and everyone else at Mersham), she is also a social-climbing, manipulative, anti-Semitic villainess with a passion for eugenics.  Anna, in the meantime, much like an adult version of A Little Princess, wins hearts and minds both upstairs and downstairs with her intelligence, kindness, hard work, poise, and all-around elegance.

You’ll never guess what happens.

Well, yes, you probably will, although not in all of the particulars.

Miscommunications and intrigues abound, and a rather delightful array of secondary characters appear, including the Honorable Olive (an eight-year-old bridesmaid with mismatched legs and a great big personality), Mrs. Proom (the devoted butler’s mother, bedridden and confused, occasionally tossing flowerpots out of windows), James (a footman dedicated to bodybuilding), Sergei (Anna’s cousin, and an undercover Russian prince, working as a devastatingly handsome chauffeur), Lavinia Nettleford (the eldest of five nightmarish daughters of a duke, who resembles a boiling prawn in her wedding finery), and the Dowager Countess (who spends a great deal of time in communion with spirits, taking messages from the beyond about the sexton’s top hat and other such trivialities). Throw in the black sheep of the family (and his offspring), a Cambridge archaeologist, and some very faithful servants, and this predictable little story becomes quite a page-turner.

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In this fantasy of elegance and benevolent nobility (it just won’t do to examine the politics of it all), the good are rewarded, and the evil meet the fate they deserve. It’s not great literature, but it’s extremely well done.

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It occurs to me that, as all of the romances in A Countess Below Stairs are quite chaste, this would be perfectly fine entertainment for the young adult crowd, with one caveat: there’s an uncle with an unfortunate tendency to sexually harass the maids, which in this day and age is no longer considered a harmless peccadillo.  (And that, sadly, brings me right back to 2016.)

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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Lead-In Image Courtesy of

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