Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

My runaway train of reading continues with this lovely book.  Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon is a look at a woman who lived an amazing life, using her talents and determination to become a formidable force of nature.

Almina was the illegitimate child of Alfred de Rothschild, but grew up loved and cosseted.  She maintained a loving relationship with her father--and he was rich beyond rich.  The Carnarvon family needed an influx of money to maintain the glorious estate of Highclere Castle, and luckily Almina was not only rich, but lovely, talented, and quickly in love with future 5th Earl of Carnarvon.  He would go on to become famous for discovering the tomb of King Tut.  

The two lived a live of glamour set against the ever increasing tensions of a Europe careening towards the horribleness of World War I.  When it quickly became obvious England was going to war, Almina used all her might ( and quite a bit of her father's money) to turn Highclere Castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers.  Her approach of individual care, home cooked meals, and holistic ideas were revolutionary at that time, and she found a natural talent for nursing.  For four long years she toiled at both Highclere and later in London, establishing another hospital and gathering the best equipment and talent to help heal soldiers dealing with wounds no one had ever seen before in the history of man.  

What I loved about this book was the effortless flow to it.  It was a pure joy to read, and humanized people who rubbed elbows with royalty.  The photos do little justice to Almina's vibrant personality.  The horror of World War I has, in my reading experience, never been quite so eloquently put into words.  I have a newfound respect for those brave men and women who kept going under such awful circumstances.  The world was changing so swiftly it was difficult to hang on, but hang on they did, weary and grief stricken through it all.

The relationship between Almina and her husband, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was one of warmth and loving affection.  She traveled extensively with him to Egypt and all across Europe, and they had a loving marriage until the Earl's tragic death shortly after discovering King Tut's tomb.  This fascination with Egypt was one of the most interesting parts of this book and has given me a reason to peruse my Egyptian history books once again.

This book has it all:  history, adventure, tragedy, and a look at the world of the privileged.  The only difference between them and the rest of us is money.  I hope to someday travel back to England. I'd like to see Highclere Castle- still in the Carnarvon family- thanks to Almina and her son, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon and all their efforts to preserve it.  

Rating:  4/5 enjoyable read with photos that complete the package.

1 comment :

  1. Your readers and visitors and book lovers generally may wish to know that in addition to highly sanitised "Lady Almina And The Real Downton Abbey..”… reviewed above, there is a much more controversial account of Almina’s nine decades of living in a book entitled “ The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon.” "A Candid biography of the 5th Countess of Carnarvon of Tutankhamun fame.” That version of Lady Almina's life strips away the idea of the match between her and Lord Carnarvon being "loving". It was anything but. It was purely an arranged marriage to ensure Almina was made a Countess and Carnarvon's debts were settled by Almina's godfather, Baron Alfred de Rothschild. Almina was ALWAYS AFRAID of Lord Carnarvon. She was affectionate, he was cold and irritable and a poor companion. Almina did his bidding and she was a successful hostess and chatelaine. She escaped the worst of Carnarvon's fury and hostility in establishing her role as hospital nurse and administrator at Highclere in the Great War , and this role served her too long after Carnarvon's death, and into her second marriage, to a caddish Colonel, who also pre-deceased her.

    There is also from the same author as "Secrets", a book entitled “ Lady Carnarvon’s Nursing Homes : Nursing the Privileged in Wartime and Peace” which deals with Almina’s role as the uncompromising matron of Highclere Military Hospital during the Great War, and her later years running private hospitals in London's Mayfair. Many of Almina’s famous patients are revealed in these books. Incidentally, the testimony within these other titles comes from the memories and recollections of one of Almina's godsons, whose mother was Almina's housekeeper and companion for over thirty years. The books reflect Almina's own voice...and observations from those who knew her at close quarters, when she was freed up to speak her mind.