Review: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

It is no secret that I am a fan of the Masterpiece Classic series Downton Abbey (despite any annoyance with a certain conclusion of a certain third season). Neil gave me this book for my birthday. He said it was a book he knew I’d like, but that I’d probably never buy for myself. He was right on both accounts.

by the Countess of Carnarvon
by the Countess of Carnarvon

The book is written about the house in which Downton Abbey is actually filmed. The grand estate is named Highclere Castle in real life and it is inhabited by the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon to this day (no Crawleys to be found). The book was written by the present-day Countess Fiona about one of her predecessors, the indefatigable Almina, the fifth Countess of Carnarvon. The work is  primarily a history filtered through the point of view of Almina’s life and lifestyle. This means there is a lot of talk of her husband, her children, her children’s children, her children’s spouses, her father, her mother, her husband’s siblings, the staff of Highclere, and then, of course, dignitaries, notable people, and politicians.

The plot stretches from the 1890s through to  World War I and a little past it. There is also some nice summary at the end. It’s a fairly riveting history, particularly if you are interested in the goings on of the upper classes at the outbreak of the Great War. No family, even the richest, was unaffected by the war. Even Highclere was affected, having been turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers fresh from the front. I also discovered that the fifth Earl  was actually one of the benefactors of Howard Carter in Egypt. Together they discovered the sealed tomb of King Tut! It is interesting to hear the Earl’s side of the story.

If you are interested in English history or great English houses or lavish and frivolous spending that belongs to a different time, than this book is certainly for you. There is also a follow-up book about the sixth Countess, following linearly in time into the 20s and 30s. I am definitely considering picking it up.

In other and completely unrelated news, the third season of American Horror Story concluded. What a mess. I had such high expectations and the story began so STRONG, but it ended with more of a whimper than a bang. My roommates and I joked that we would watch entire episodes where nothing happened. In fact, watching the show was mostly watching nothing happen and having no consequences for any actions (so much resurrection!). I called weeks and weeks beforehand (I want to say around episode three or four) who the actual Supreme would turn out to be. I am quite proud actually of predicting that correctly. Though, with a program that poorly written and executed, should I be that proud? Who knows?

And the beat goes on! Until next time.



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