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Best Books of the Year So Far
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for 2015's Best Books of the Year So Far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
bright, breezy and unpretentious in style. Guardian Comfort reading for fans eagerly awaiting the next instalment of Downtown Abbey to appear on our TV screens. Vogue (Australia A loving and faithful portrait of Almina and her world. BBC Countryfile Magazine
About the Author
Lady Fiona Carnarvon married the current Earl of Carnarvon in 1999, and they took over Highclere eight years ago.
I received this book as a Christmas gift and enjoyed it very much. I think the other reviewer's review is off the mark and it's duplicitous of "William" not to mention is that he is the author of a self-published bio of Lady Almina.
The author of this book, the current Countess of Carnarvon, drew largely from primary sources in the Highclere archives. She also examined contemporary periodicals and previous family memoirs and bios. The focus of the book is, as the subtitle indicates, Almina's connection with Highclere. So, it begins with her wedding to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and ends with his untimely death in 1923, as that event marked the end of Almina's time at Highclere.
There is a concise discussion of Almina's pre-countess life, including her paternity (that Almina was in all likelihood Alfred Rothschild's natural daughter is stated plainly). There is also some background on the 5th Earl: his parents and childhood, and a short history of the Highclere estate. The 5th Earl was in debt when he met Almina and in need of a large infusion of cash, which Rothschild provided.
The book goes on to cover Almina's arrival at Highclere as a 19-year-old bride and her triumphant success as a society hostess, which was something Edwardian women aspired to and were admired for. The visit by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) for one of Highclere's famous shoots in 1895 was a major event at Highclere and it is appropriate that it should be included here, even if written of previously in other works.Read more ›
I picked up this book because I'm a fan of Downton Abbey, although I knew before I bought the book that it had little to do with the fictional world of those characters. If you are looking for information on the Downton Abbey television show, there is a marvelous book by Jessica Fellowes which will probably better suit your needs. This is the story of Lady Almina Carnarvon who lived at Highclere Castle which is the real world setting for the fictional television program. If you want to know more about the lives of the real people who inhabited that world during that same era, keep reading.
Any biography is a story being told, and each story has a unique voice. In this case, the voice is a member of the Carnarvon family. She seems to draw from source documents such as journals, letters, and other historical references to create a picture of Almina Wombwell who became the wife of the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon. (Yes, this was the same Lord Carnarvon who worked with Howard Carter and discovered King Tut's tomb in Egypt.) This book is told primarily as Lady Almina's story after her marriage, although it can't help but touch on the story lines of many of the other principle players.
While the book is historical in nature, that doesn't make it dry reading. There is scandal (Almina was most likely the illegitimate daughter of the wealthy Alfred de Rothschild), wildly fabulous wealth (Almina lived a lavish and luxurious lifestyle prior to WWI), Egyptian adventures, and ultimately heartbreak as WWI touched almost every family in Britain.Read more ›
The lady before was most specific and to the point without any ambiguity.
I purchased the book not knowing just how much it was going to reveal about Downton Abbey which I have been following avidly.
As it turned out, it was fabulously written and told me so much more than I had ever expected. Thank the author profusely. Needless to tell that I highly recommend this to all who are enchanted by the TV series of Downton Abbey; It takes nothing away from this TV drama but greatly enhances the protrayal with so much background not out there for the average person.
Again, I am indeed glad that I took up on the whim and purchased this particular book when I was browsing the Amazon selections.
Some of the reviews herein are very disparaging of Downton Abbey fans. Since I count the adventures of those characters among my not-so-guilty pleasures, I'll certainly not do that. I will say it is interesting to read about the real people who made Highclere Castle their home. I have read (and reviewed) several books on Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon, et al, so to me this was simply intended as a source of inside material as well as the DA connection. I didn't know a lot about Lady Almina so as much as anything that connection with the Downton characters pulled me in. I wanted to see the story of the real hospital started by Her Ladyship. I was a little disappointed. Not just in the read - more on that in a moment, but in the hospital. The hospital at Highclere averaged between 12 and 20 patients at any given time. That's all. Over 24,000 British casualties a month were coming back to England. But Lady Almina's patients were special. All were officers, many of her social class. Lady Almina made sure she had a representative in Southampton screening prospective patients. She insisted also that her nurses be attractive on the premise that it made the boys more cheerful thereby healing quicker. Imagine that in a diversity context today. The biggest complaint about this book is the author's clear worship of Lady Almina. She is a candidate for sainthood in this book. She does no wrong. Many years ago, as a young man in college, I was taught to read critically, to look for bias in an author, to try to discern what ideology he/she is selling the reader. Works showing only gushing admiration in a biography leave out the human side of real people. In that respect Fiona Carnarvon does Lady Almina a great disservice.Read more ›