Book # 5 in the War Through the Generations WWI reading challenge: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.
I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to read this one. I knew it wouldn’t really have anything to do with Downton Abbey. What tipped the balance? This review on Amazon:
… did not think the book would be 3/4 about war war war and her nursing abilities.
And I was all: Sold! Because that’s exactly what I wanted to read about. This is also why authors shouldn’t sweat the negative reviews. That being said, there’s controversy in some of the other reviews about how sanitized this version of Lady Almina’s life happens to be.
I suspect there might be some truth to this. The narrative is fairly scandal free, the author glossing over the fact Lady Almina remarries in the same year Lord Carnarvon dies and only briefly mentions the court case she becomes involved in (see Wikipedia for more info).
However, I did enjoy learning more about what went into running a private hospital during WWI and the problems encountered. Although in Lady Almina’s case, she solved a great many of these problems by throwing money at them–which seems to have been her SOP. Also fascinating was the time the narrative spent on the Earl’s interest (more like an obsession) in Egyptology. I hadn’t realized he was Howard Carter’s backer, and that together they discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
Was the read worth it? From my point of view, yes. If you already know a bit about WWI, you won’t learn a lot here. And of course, the narrative doesn’t contain swoon-worthy scenes between Matthew and Mary or one liners delivered by Dame Maggie Smith. However, it is an interesting look at a certain strata of British society before, during, and after the war.
And just because the book doesn’t have any Maggie Smith doesn’t mean this blog post will go without. Enjoy.