What’s Ashley Reading?: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon, the Countess of Carnarvon

First line: This is a book about an extraordinary woman called Almina Carnarvon, the family into which she married, the Castle that became her home, the people who worked there, and the transformation of the Castle when it became a hospital for wounded soldiers during the First World War.

Summary: Written by the current Countess of Carnarvon we are taken into the past to meet the woman that helped inspired the hit television series Downton Abbey. Almina was the daughter of Alfred de Rothschild. Her dowry was used to help support the struggling estate. Almina opened the house to be used as a hospital during World War I and her husband was part of the team who discovered the tomb of King Tut. Using information from letters and diaries of the occupants of Highclere Castle, we get the true story of this great house.

My Thoughts: I have been a fan of the series Downton Abbey from the start. I watched each season religiously. I even got my mother hooked on it. I knew that much of the inspiration for the story was drawn from real life events. I have been meaning to pick up this book for years and with the upcoming movie I figured it was the right time.

It is easy to see that author had access to many primary sources and a wealth of information. She fleshes out the woman who saved the family from ruin and brought them into the 20th century. I loved hearing about her life before and after her marriage. She did so much for the house but my favorite part by far was the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. From a hobby in the desert and a final chance to find something worth the money they find one of the greatest discoveries of all time.

There is a follow up book called Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey. It is next on my list.

FYI: The Downton Abbey movie is released in theaters on September 20, 2019. (Several of our staff plan to see it this weekend. Hope to see some of you there too!)

What’s Ashley Reading?: American Duchess

American Duchess by Karen Harper

First line: Everyone was calling it the wedding of the century.

Summary: Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress to the railroad empire, is marrying the future Duke of Marlborough. However, she is in love with someone else and is being forced into the marriage by her strong willed mother, Alva Smith Vanderbilt. The marriage is an unhappy one but Consuelo hopes to use her influence as the Duchess of Marlborough to help the lower classes living around Blenheim Palace.

My Thoughts: I have been a reader of Karen Harper for many years. I really enjoy her historical fiction even though she seems to elaborate her narratives a bit. Her most recent novel was a fast read about one of the American heiresses whose money helped sustain the British aristocracy. Having recently read, A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler, I was familiar with the Vanderbilt family at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Alva was a force to be dealt with but it sounds like her daughter learned a lot from her mother. I loved hearing about Consuelo’s life and the way she tried to improve her circumstances and those of the poor. I cannot imagine living her life though. She was forced into a marriage, had unimaginable wealth and was very unhappy for many years. Harper does a great job of breathing life into her characters. I loved “meeting” Winston Churchill. As with most historical novels, I googled many of the locations and people to see what they really looked like. This was a fun romp through the Gilded Age and into the time of the world wars.

FYI: This is perfect for fans of Downton Abbey!