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Jane Austen, Anna Quindlen

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle - Fiona,  Countess of Carnarvon Yeah, I read this. Why? Because... http://www.e-subversive.net/soundboards/soundboards_files/sounds/imalady.mp3

This is the story of Highclere Castle at its prime. Specifically it focuses on Lady Almina, her husband Lord Carnarvon and their family. As the subtitle suggests, Highclere is the impressive house better known to the world these days as Downton Abbey, and that is why this book exists. There are marked similarities between what viewers of that hit television show will recognize and what actually happened at Highclere, especially during the Great War period, so DA fans will not be disappointed.

They may however be more bogged down with history than they expected. This is not the place to receive a full, erudite lecture upon Victorian and Edwardian England, but it is serviceable. In fact, the very beginning is somewhat hard to follow what with the lords and ladies with their numerous names, often French or German in origin, that come out marble-mouthed, as if your tongue has been stewing in a vat of anesthesia. Those who relish pomp will delight in chapter one's description of a wedding and marriage that only money could buy. However, those same people are probably going to be exhausted by the history lesson, which is why they may not like this book and why I enjoyed it more than I expected.

I didn't have high hopes that there was going to be anything of substance herein. In fact, I'm surprised to be writing this review, never mind giving it 4 stars, because I figured I would've given the book up as a waste of time about half way through. But I did read this smooth, yet workman-like book to the end and enjoyed its insights. The Carnarvon family were aristocrats and part of me is sickened by their excesses...buuut then I remember I live in America, I recall the fairly privileged life I've led and it humbles me. Looking beyond the entitlement, you can't help but like these people for their charity, the part they played in the war, the many philanthropic efforts, etc etc. Yes, yes, they had plenty of money that they didn't "earn" so of course they should give it back. But not all of them did...or do. The way the system works, I guess we should be glad of the Bill Gateses of the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_%26_Melinda_Gates_Foundation). Beyond all that, the family had long reaching contacts, not only in society and government, but in the world in general. There were fascinating connections to the Brideshead Revisited novelist Evelyn Waugh and the most incredible archaeological find of all time that made for interesting sidebars. I would've liked to have heard more about the building of the house and what it looks like on the inside, but then I suppose Fiona Carnarvon, the current lady of the house, didn't want to sap the tourism cash cow generated by visits to Highclere. Daily attendance must be through the roof lately!