Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A Countess Below Stairs

A Countess Below Stairs

Eva Ibbotson
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Penguin, 2007   ISBN: 978-0142408650

Anna, as the daughter of the Count and Countess Grazinsky, has always had everything she has ever wanted. Her parents are companions to Alexandra and Nicholas, the Czar and Czarina of Russia, and they are well endowed with houses, lands, and wealth. All goes well for the Grazinsky family until the Great War breaks out. The Count is killed at the front and not long after the royal family finally realizes that they are not as beloved as they thought. All is not well in Russia and the whiff of revolution is in the air. In 1919 Anna, her mother, her governess, and her brother, flee from Russia and go to England. They arrive virtually penniless because all the jewels they had planned on selling have gone missing along with the nurse who had them on her person.

Not being willing to live off the charity of her English governess, Anna decides to get a job as a housemaid in a large country house called Mersham. Rupert, the Earl of Westerholme, is returning to the house after being absent for some time and his future wife, Muriel Hardwicke, will also be coming to stay at the house.

Using a book about how to be an exemplary housemaid, Anna does well at Mersham and is soon well liked by the household even though her ways are sometimes rather odd. Everyone can tell that she is not from the servant class but she works hard and tries hard to please. She is also kind, amusing, and intelligent and even Rupert finds himself getting interested in her. He cannot help wondering who this beautiful and mysterious Russian girl is.

Then Muriel arrives and the atmosphere at Mersham sours. Muriel has her own ideas about how a country house should be run and she is going to change things at Mersham no matter how much her plans hurt others. With great care she sets about arranging things to her liking, leaving broken lives in her wake. It isn’t long before Rupert comes to realize that he has made a dreadful mistake in agreeing to marry her. What on earth can be done about this awful woman who is going to make life at Mersham miserable for everyone?

   In this utterly enthralling book Eva Ibbotson has spun a story that is enthralling, often funny, and beautifully crafted. She captures the atmosphere of the Russian scene, the ruthlessness of the London marriage market, and the unrelenting rigidity of class structure which existed in England in the early 1900’s. By throwing in a dash of romance and a mystery or two, Eva Ibbotson gives her audience a story that has a little bit of everything and that is thoroughly satisfying to read.