Saturday, July 14, 2012

Royal Book Challenge: Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison


Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison
Originally published in 1975
368 Pages
ISBN: 9780143120865

Capitalizing on the success of the television series Downton Abbey, publishers are rushing to release books about the lives of servants in Edwardian times. Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison, is one of them. 

Rosina (Rose) Harrison was born in Yorkshire with a desire to see the world. Destined to a life of service, she became a lady's maid, joining the service of Lady Astor in 1925.There she would remain for the next 35 years, until her ladyship's death. 

Lady Astor was one of the most interesting women of her time, being the first woman to take a seat as a Member of Parliament. This book does not give an idea of just how remarkable Lady Astor was because that side of her is barely depicted. Instead Rose focuses on her experience as Lady Astor's dresser for some of these important events. Though Rose obviously holds affection for her, Lady Astor could be a demanding and mercurial employer.

While it's interesting to read, at first, there's a repetitiveness to this memoir. Rose travelled all over the world with Lady Astor, resulting in endless rounds of packing and unpacking. Rose experiences stresses with Lady Astor's jewels and grumbles about travelling about too many of Lady Astor's hats. She does not glamorize her work but it is difficult to gain any insight into the experiences of a true Edwardian servant, who were not nearly as fortunate in the positions they held.

Other than Rose being on the receiving end of 'Shut up, Rose' from Lady Astor on more than one occasion, there's little conflict between the two. The description reads that Lady Astor has 'met her match', but any battle of the wills is anticlimactic at best.

Although Rose does not come across as a prude,  towards the end she opines on religion, raising children, alcohol and the excesses of wealth, offering nothing controversial or juicy in the process. If you want to get an idea of the experience of a servant who travelled the world first class, packing and unpacking clothing, with a wry observation thrown in for good measure, then this book is for you.

© Marilyn Braun 2012

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