A countess below stairs by Eva Ibbotson
Speak, 2007. ISBN 9780142408650
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Romance. Feel good book. The Russian aristocracy have been forced to flee abroad by the Russian Revolution. Anna Grazinsky, a young countess, has been left penniless and decides that she can no longer live with her English governess Miss Pinfold and takes a job as a domestic servant in the household of the Westerholme family. Rupert, the Earl of Westerholme, has recently become engaged to a beautiful heiress and his country house must be made fitting for the new bride. Anna, armed only with The domestic servant's compendium by Selina Strickland, arrives at Mersham where she tries to hide her identity while falling in love with Mersham and the earl.
Anna is perhaps Ibbotson's most memorable heroine. She is that rare person who has a natural goodness that wealth and gifts couldn't spoil. Wherever she goes, her joy and ability to really see and enjoy what is around her, spreads to those she comes in contact with and enhances their lives. Rupert, too, is a memorable character. Wounded in the war, he has been nursed back to health by Muriel, a wealthy VAD, who on the surface is beautiful and generous. However as Rupert gets to know her in his own home, her belief in eugenics leads her to treat badly those loved members of the community around her who are not perfect. Rupert is an honourable man and is torn between doing what he considers is his duty and his growing love for the strange Russian girl who is acting as a maid.
Minor characters are beautifully portrayed and the reader becomes caught up in their lives as well as learning much about their environment. Ollie is the brave little girl who lives nearby and who has struggled with a damaged leg and Ibbotson tugs at the heartstrings of her reader as she is chosen to become a bridesmaid. Mrs Park the cook brings wonderful delicacies to the table and Mr Proom the butler is a wily and canny man who has a vital role to play in the story. The life of the Russian emigres as they struggle against poverty and bias is also vividly described and adds detail and interest to the story.
Eva Ibbotson has written a beautiful, intelligent romance that is perfect for the reader who enjoy books by Georgette Heyer or who wants a feel good, comfort book that challenges thinking and enlivens understanding of how vividly language can be used. First published as an adult book, other romances by Ibbotson have also been re-issued for the teen market and titles include A song for summer, A company of swans, The reluctant heiress and The morning gift.