Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lady Almina And The Real Downton Abbey

I, like many people have become an avid fan of the show Downton Abbey. I love the storyline, and the characters. I became caught up in wondering what was going to be Bates' fate, would Mary and Matthew ever admit to being in love at the same time, and of course, the Dowager's hilarious lines. It is a show I always look forward to watching, and always hate when each episode ends.

I found out about this book a few months ago, and put it on my list to read. I am always intrigued when a show or story is based on "real" people, and decided that I wanted to know more about these characters I have come to love. I found my copy in one of the used book stores in Chapel Hill. I saw it, and had to get it.

For those expecting to read Downton instead of watching it, that is not what you will find here. This is Lady Almina's story. The show is based off her life, it is not her life. Naturally, there are differences that the writers for the show made to make an engaging storyline for viewers. In the book there are no worries about a male heir. The Carnarvons have a son and a daughter, and the son lives, marries, and has children. The show did get many of their story points from her life. Highclere is turned into a hospital during World War I, marriage for money, an involved Dowager, and even a man named Bates with a limp. There are a lot of details about the war in this book, because of the influence it had on Lady Almina's life. The details might put off people expecting a novel.

What I find most interesting that has not been portrayed in Downton, is Lord Carnarvon's influence in excavations in Egypt. He funded, and was present at digs almost every year. Lady Almina would often go with him.  He worked with, and funded Howard Carter. Together they found the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The book is written by the current Countess of Carnarvon. I thought she did a decent job maintaining objectivity. She uses the archives for many of her sources, letters etc. She is not overly harsh with Almina, and focuses much of the book on the war effort, which is where some of Almina's greatest achievements were made. She is not afraid to write about some of her and other family member's foibles. For example, Almina was used to having money (she was the daughter of Alfred de Rothschild), and would spend it with little thought to how much or where she would get more. The person presented seemed a realistic one.

I liked reading this book. Lady Almina worked very hard to make the things she was involved with a success. I enjoyed the moments while reading when I recognized something the writers used for the show Downton. I also liked the details about World War I, because I have not read a lot about that war.  


  1. I didn't realize Downton was based on Lord Carnarvon! I watch the show, but haven't looked into the historicity of the characters. That's interesting...

    1. It is loosely based off historical characters, so don't get angry if you read about them and everything doesn't line up. I do like learning more about what would have been going on during that period. Fun fact: The house that the Carnarvon's live in is the house they use in Downton.