This was such a wonderful book, I absolutely loved it! I had read Eva Ibbotson’s children’s books when I was younger, in particular The Secret of Platform 13, but I missed that she also did young adult historical romances, which was a huge oversight on my part. Based off how much I loved this book, I will definitely be getting the other ones. I recommended this so highly to my mom that she bought all of Ibbotson’s other romances and I’ll steal them from her after she’s done. The magic of the reading family with Media Mail postage to support our habits!
A Countess Below Stairs follows Anna as she and her mother and brother flee Russia during the Revolution. Their fall from extraordinarily wealthy nobles to penniless refugees leads Anna to go to work at a British estate as a maid. There she wins over the staff with her cheerful, kind, and hard working nature. During WWI the heir was killed and the estate is on the break of financial collapse, but the new Earl (Rupert) is set to return home with his wealthy non-titled fiancee, Muriel. Rupert and Anna have an instant connection but both of them are too morally upstanding and honorable to do anything about it, and the book is about their relationship and the community that surrounds them.
I think the thing that took me by surprise about this book is how humane and loving it is. All the characters in it are fully alive and realized. It’s also very funny and has a strong wit, and Ibbotson’s writing is just a delight to read. It is also a book that is in complete opposition to eugenics but lets the terrible conclusions of that philosophy speak for themselves. I really appreciated that, as I feel like this might be one of the only fiction books I’ve read with such an explicit moral stance against eugenics. All of the disabled characters are integral members of the community, and that image of community based care working is always heartening to read about. The book also grapples with the issue of anti-Semitism in Britain in a well done manner. And the romance is wonderful! It is a strongly humanist work, which spoke to me very deeply.
Overall super super highly recommended, it’s such a treat and I see why this book is so beloved.
Warnings for: eugenic/ableist language, cruelty to a child, forced institutionalization, anti-Semitism