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on March 12, 2016
This book was a delight. I love Rose and the simple way she describes her life with the Astors. She depicts everyone fairly, honestly, in a loving but detached way. There aren't any scandals here, except distant references to a couple incidents notorious back in the day.

It's a fascinating narrative, but especially Rose's relationship with Lady Astor. In the beginning, when Lady Astor was difficult or rude or acting out, Rose ignored it -- but it wore on her. One day, when she was alone and felt down, she had a kind of spiritual experience and became filled with wellbeing, suddenly knowing she needed to respond to Lady Astor in kind. From that moment on, and for the 35 years they were together, they got along just dandy. When Lady Astor acted out, Rose responded in a spirited fashion. She wouldn't take any of her nonsense and that's actually the way Lady Astor liked it. Lord Astor used to pull up his chair near her room if he heard the two of them going at it. He found it entertaining, and indeed, the conversations and situations between Lady Astor and Rose were often entertaining.

Though Lady Astor could be unkind, spoiled and selfish, she could also be uncommonly compassionate, generous, and thoughtful -- particularly in times of trouble, such as WWII.

It seemed to me Lady Astor loved Rose very much. I'm so glad they had a life together. They did each other good.
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on February 3, 2017
I was looking for a book on the life of Lady Nancy Astor--and found one of the most interesting and revealing accounts of her life in this book written by her lady's maid, Rosina Harrison. First of all, the relationship between the two outspoken, stubborn women is hilarious as each tries to outsmart the other. Rose gives a fair accounting of her employer, interspersing the brave, fun-loving Nancy who turned cartwheels in the Underground during WWII to cheer and distract the children as the German bombs fell outside with the cold, aloof woman who was distant and sometimes very thoughtless when it came to her loving husband, Lord Waldorf Astor, as well as their children. This is a highly entertaining, truthful story of two women actually--Lady Astor AND her right-hand woman, "Ina" as Rosina was called. I loved the history recounting life during WWII and the iconic figures from Churchill to the Royal Family who keep popping up. History buffs will enjoy as will those interested in famous families like the Astors and the way their households and lives were run. Above all, women will appreciate the remarkable building of the relationship between the two heroines of the story.
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on December 27, 2011
This book, under a slightly different title, is a reissue of Rosina Harrison's 1976 memoir, Rose: My Life in Service Recollections of Life in One of England's Grandest Households. This is a repeat of my review for it:

Rose Harrison's memoir might be of interest to fans of Downton Abbey, even though her experiences occurred a generation later. Rose's longtime employer, Nancy, Lady Astor, was, like Downton's fictional Cora, an American heiress who married into the British aristocracy. Rose, who served as Lady Astor's personal maid for 35 years, was a Yorkshire girl, born in a village near the town of Ripon.

While much is left unsaid, Rose gives plenty of fascinating details of the daily working life of a lady's maid in pre-war, wartime, and postwar Britain. In the first chapters she describes her childhood, education and home life and motivation for her decision to go into service - service as a ladies maid in particular, and why, with that as a goal, it was not a good idea to start out as a housemaid or kitchenmaid. She started out as a "young ladies' maid" - serving the daughter(s) of a household in 1918, then moved up (in both status and pay) to ladies' maid. Her motivations for changing employers and how it was accomplished are also discussed (her account of taking leave of her second mistress, after 5 years, is stunning). She entered service to the Astor's in 1928 and retired with a pension in 1964, on Lady Astor's death.

She describes her duties in detail for all three employers (two prior to Lady Astor). Though Rose worked upstairs, she had duties that took her below stairs, and she ate her meals there. She describes the inner-workings of the servant's halls, both at home and at other homes they visited (Particularly interesting is the description, though brief, of what it was like when most of the fighting-age male servants were away during WWI). She also gives an account of her (mostly non-existent) social life. As Rose notes, her picture of domestic service is typical as far as how servants lived and the way houses were run, and that "only the personalities and small details were different." She doesn't say a lot about class divisions, but the subject does crop up.

If life at Cliveden, the Astor's country estate, their homes in London, and their handful of other residences, changed after WWI, it isn't apparent from the memoir. Rose had the responsibility of caring for Lady Astor's clothes (fashions are naturally well-described), her furs, and her jewelry collection, an awesome responsibility. She also covers fascinating details about things I had never even thought of, such as, does a maid see her lady in the bath? There's a lengthy section on houseparties and what it was like, for all the staff, preparing for them (especially Ascot). She worked with the Astor's famous butler Mr. Lee, and their almost-as-famous under butler Charles Dean, and frequently turns the story-telling reins over to them, by recounting stories they told Rose of service in those prewar days. She describes some of the duties of Mr. Lee, as well as 2nd footman Gordon Grimmett, and other male staff: "odd-men," "linkmen (who called for the carriages/cars at parties), and decorators (the gardener who had charge of the flowers inside the house). She also discusses the human machine that was the chef and kitchen staff. She is fairly mum about leisure time (such as it was) below stairs but does describe the servants' Christmas fancy dress dances at Cliveden (attended by the family, as was typical), the huge Christmas tree in the hall, and presents for all the staff.

As Rose notes, the book is no Astor tell-all, which is not a bad thing. I wish at times though that she would give more detail about her own personal life, such as her 9-year engagement, and her sister Olive going into service as a housemaid, which is referred to a couple of times but no other information. A chapter called "Coming to Terms with my Job" is interesting as it's the closest we get to what Rose's feelings and emotions were about working for the often `difficult' Lady Astor, and describes what it was like in unflattering detail. She describes her relationship with each of her ladies, but of course Lady Astor in greater detail than the others since they were together, every day, for 35 years. There is a chapter about other members of the Astor family, particularly the children, seen through the eyes of their longtime nanny; a chapter on life during WWII; a chapter on travel (which is also referred to throughout the book), and "Last Years," describing life in service after WWII, Lady Astor's retirement from public life, her declining years and death.

Though Lady Astor was a controversial figure in later years, Rose tells the story from her perspective, not as a political or social commentator. But I wouldn't call it a whitewash either; while Rose clearly became fond of her lady, her description of Lady Astor for the most part could hardly be called flattering. I consider the book a must-have because I'm very interested in the subject of ladies' maids and there are very few published accounts of, or by any; Rose's memoir is the only one I'm aware of. Fortunately she is an engaging and funny storyteller.
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on January 28, 2012
I am in love with the PBS series Downton Abbey right now, which led me to choose this book for my Kindle, mainly out of curiosity. It turned out to be a very special read. I was afraid it might be dry, like a history lesson. Especially when the author says right up front that she won't be "dishing any dirt" about the several ladies she served during her life. But it was told with such warmth, humor, and general good storytelling ability, it really kept my interest. You realize that Rose was not just "a maid," she was a true career person, worthy of a great deal of respect. What an incredible peek "behind the scenes" into some of the lives of England and America's rich and famous it is too!
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on February 27, 2017
I loved this book. It was very interesting to read Rose's story and get her perspective on life in service to the upper "echelon". This was especially poignant for me since my grandfather was a British butler and my grandmother was a Swedish maid who met at a "servants' ball" while working at estates in New York. It also peaked my interest in the life of Lady Astor. A very interesting woman.
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Compelling behind-the-scenes glimpse into the inner workings and lives of the people who kept the Astor's homes running smoothly, in particular, satisfying the constant needs of Lady Astor. The story is related by Lady Astor's personal maid of many, many years. The book is engrossing but not too lengthy. It's an enjoyable, easy reading but just a bit sad when Lady Astor acts like an arrogant bully. It has a good ending.
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on April 11, 2012
Rose (Rosina) Harrison had the incredible experience of working for one of the most brilliant and rich and privileged women of the 20th century, Nancy, Lady Astor. An American by birth, she married into the family bringing her fabulous wealth, inherited down the line from 19th-century master entrepeneur John Jacob Astor. This was not uncommon, as many British aristocrats had fallen on financial hard times. In many cases, including this, a marriage of minds and souls; history, taste and wealth, brought new life to the often staid aristocracy while postponing the inevitable decline of a class so privileged and isolated from the masses.

Other reviewers have addressed the book's specific contents. I was impressed by Harrison's plainspoken but shrewd and insightful analysis of both "Upstairs" and "Downstairs" life. She had the gift of finding the telling anecdotes to demonstrate her opinions, and to offer trivia that illuminated without becoming tiresome. I particularly liked the general lack of sentimentality; they weren't the "good old days" for the vast majority. Harrison was fond of her boss and she, in turn, cared for Harrison, but neither had any illusions about their allotted roles. If you're looking for gossip, it isn't here; for Harrison her job was a vocation.

A former Southerner, Lady Astor took to her elegant and not too dissimilar life wholeheartedly, as mistress of two houses in or near London (one just a few miles from Windsor Castle), and three elsewhere in Great Britain. She and faithful nannies reared five children and she kept up with her considerable entertaining duties. (The book is almost worth its price alone for the incredible organization chart identifying the scores of people employed by the Astors.)

Also interesting was her election to Parliament in the 1930s, the first woman to be so honored. By Harrison's account Lady Astor took her responsibilities very seriously and aligned herself with progressives. Lord Astor represented the area in and around Plymouth, on the western coast. When WWII broke out Plymouth was singled out for bombing as massive as that which befell London, as Plymouth had a major naval yard. Harrison's compelling descriptions of enduring days of these attacks are page-turners. Only the Astors' rank and persistence finally brought aid to the beseiged city.

One thread throughout the book in particular addresses the Astors' avowed strict adherence to Christian Science. Harrison is literally furious that even the simplest medical care is denied for ill members of the household (even Upstairs), and tells of at least three major instances where medical involvement should have been obtained immediately. In one case, that of a child, the parents eventually relented when their daughter suffered a spine injury, but Harrison believed both Lord and Lady Astor suffered unecessarily painful and early deaths.

For all of the reasons above, I can't praise this book enough for the fresh look it provides on a subject one might consider already done to death.
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on August 22, 2017
Entertaining account of the relationship of two very spirited, intelligent and confident women, well suited for the constant exchange between them. Lots of fun to read.
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on May 7, 2017
Enjoyed the book. Rosina was a pretty tough cookie and she certainly had some life. A glimpse into a different time, with super wealthy people who were pretty spoiled. History repeats itself... .I found many parallels to what goes on today with the top 1%. Interesting read.
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on July 22, 2017
Started out interesting, was at the point where I just thumbed thru the pages to get done. Was not my cup of tea.
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