Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor
By Rosina Harrison
Penguin Books, $15.00
In 1928, Rosina Harrison arrived at the illustrious household of the Astor family to take up her new position as personal maid to the infamously temperamental Lady Nancy Astor, who sat in Parliament, entertained royalty, and traveled the world. "She's not a lady as you would understand a lady" was the butler's ominous warning. But what no one expected was that the iron-willed Lady Astor was about to meet her match in the no-nonsense, whip-smart girl from the country.
For 35 years, from the parties thrown for royalty and trips across the globe, to the air raids during WWII, Rose was by Lady Astor's side and behind the scenes, keeping everything running smoothly. In charge of everything from the clothes and furs to the baggage to the priceless diamond "sparklers," Rose was closer to Lady Astor than anyone else. In her decades of service she received one £5 raise, but she traveled the world in style and retired with a lifetime's worth of stories. Like Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, ROSE is a captivating insight into the great wealth 'upstairs' and the endless work 'downstairs', but it is also the story of an unlikely decades-long friendship that grew between Her Ladyship and her spirited Yorkshire maid.
Rosina Harrison's 1976 memoir was re-issued in December of 2011, right in the middle of the frenzy surrounding our fascination with the BBC's mega-hit series Downton Abbey! Being a fan not only of Downton Abbey, but also Gosford Park and Remains of the Day, I wasted no time in requesting this e-galley through NetGalley!
I was prepared to like this book and the author did not let me down! I did keep reminding myself that Ms. Harrison published her memoirs thirty six years ago, she wrote of experiences and memories dating back over ninety years ago. I add that, because I consider this to be a bit of a time warp-ish education in the way people spoke and in the way things really were back then. A couple of words threw me a bit and I found myself on the search engines, learning new "old" terms. What I also was amazed at was the real physicality of house work done back then. And I gripe about having to rinse the dishes before I load the dishwasher. The kitchen staff scrubbed with products that made their hands bleed. Being a fan of period British books and movies, I was still astounded by how many people those big estates employed! The series 1900 House, a few years ago, illustrated just how far we've come!
Rose tells things the way they were, in her own words, she doesn't "white wash" Lady Astor or her life with any of her other employers. Rose had a clear and precise picture of people as they were. As she was in service as a lady's maid, she saw the good, the bad and the ugly. I thought Rose was a great observer, and people who are great observers, in my opinion, are excellent writers. They don't embellish. They report. And that's what Harrison did. She reported in great detail, always being careful to respect her employers, their guests and the people she worked along side.
I really enjoyed this book, it's a slice of a life lived a long time ago. It's well written, entertaining and it kept my interest. Almost too much, I never wanted to put it down. Harrison's My Life In Service to Lady Astor, thirty six years later, is still worth a read, it's the story of a life well told and well structured. It's a look into a time gone by, and shouldn't be missed. What a great lesson in life and history!
I really recommend My Life In Service to Lady Astor! Brava Rose Harrison!
I give it 4 out of 5 stars!!
** This book was provided to me by the publishers through NetGalley, and in no way affected my review.