Title: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey
Author: Fiona Carnarvon
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, History
Publication Date: December 27, 2011 (Original: January 1, 1994)
Publisher: Broadway Books
Current Countess of Carnarvon tells the historical events that has inspired the show, Downton Abbey. She speaks of Lady Almina who married young to Lord Carnarvon and eventually opened their castle to wounded World War I soldiers. Following this family and learning about their relationships with each other, the reader is given an inside scoop on what it was like at Highclere Castle. Photographs are included throughout the text.
I read this book for my in-person (virtual nowadays) book club. We loved the show and we were interested in what life was really like at the castle for which the show was inspired from. I must say that though there are aspects I found interesting, there were moments that I did not.
The parts I found interesting included: Almina’s relationship with her son versus her daughter, the life of the people who served at Highclere, Almina’s ambition and drive to nurse WWI soldiers at the castle, and King Tut’s discovery. To think of not being involved in your baby’s life and almost have an estranged relationship at a young age was both sad and fascinating to read. I also loved how Almina decided to use her money for good and house a hospital at the castle. This shows that she was a passionate individual and didn’t see money just for throwing parties (which did earlier on as the wife to the 5th Earl). It also took me by surprise the involvement that her family had in not only discovering King Tut’s tomb, but the funding for the discovery as well.
On the other hand, I did find the writing to be bland and unfocused. There were times when a series of names would be shared, most of which didn’t really have huge significance to the rest of the book, so I mostly glossed over them. Then, there were several side stories given that, at first, didn’t seem to relate to Almina. Most eventually did tie into her hospital, but it was almost as if the author just wanted to share several situations to show how great Almina and her hospital was. I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, but because of the way the stories were shared, it took me out of Highclere Castle and I almost forgot that I was reading about Almina and not just WWI. It was also a bit strange how quickly the book ended. So much time was spent on WWI, but once King Tut’s tomb was discovered and the Earl died, everything just seemed to fast forward to Almina moving out, her son and daughter-in-law moving in, having grandchildren, and witnessing three marriages (her son, her daughter, and even her new marriage). It seemed like an abrupt ending to this particular time in history.
Overall, this was a read that I found some parts interesting while others not so much. The writing and presentation of the information given, at times, didn’t grasp my attention enough. So much so that there were a few times when I thought about giving up on reading this entirely. However, I did enjoy learning about Almina’s role during WWI. It made me think and realize how many people out there have helped and made sacrifices for others in times of need.
Perhaps those who like to read about British history and enjoyed Downton Abbey may enjoy this read.