Book Review

Downton Abby is the PBS Emmy Award winning smash hit that has shattered all the records since Brideshead Revisited in 1981.  First hitting the airwaves last year, DA’s season two is captivating millions of viewers.  The story follows the fictional Lord & Lady Granthom, their retinue of servants and life at their ancestral home, Downton Abby – a main character in its own right.  The setting is the demise of Victorian /Edwardian England –  the back drop is Word War I and Socialism is creeping into a British standard of living that we’re still romanticizing. 

However.   As so often is the case, reality is far more interesting than a chopped up fictionalized version.  Being an unabashed anglophile (due to a thrilling three-year stint in the UK) I recently stumbled over a book called Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. 

Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschield, who showered her with his extraordinary wealth, which went toward sustaining the real Downton Abby –  Highclere Castle, when Almina married the 5th Earl of Carnavon,  who incidentally bank rolled Howard Carter and aided him in the discovery of Tutankhamun.  (He also of the famed curse, who died of blood poisoning from a shaving nick,  shortly after the tomb was opened. ) 

Now that’s a story!  But more important, Lady Almina put more of her vast wealth  to work turning Highclere Castle into a first rate hospital during World War I.  She found a true calling in nursing and her single-minded determination,  skill and approach to healing became a standard at that time. 

What an amazing woman, loved and respected by both sexes and liberated in her own way in her own time.  One of her quotes struck me so, given the age, it caused me to dog ear the page and underline it.  In a speech to the Newbury Unionist Women’s Association, she said :  

“In the dark ages, which are not very far behind us, we used to be called the weaker sex.  We never were, and we never shall be weaker in our patriotism.  In this as in all similar  matters we are neither inferior nor superior, but only very different and I am convinced that we shall do most good to our country and her cause if instead of imitating men we endeavor to widen and perhaps enrich the spirit of public life by being simply ourselves.”   

My mantra exactly.  I have always believed woman were equal to men, but decidedly different.  I had no need to burn my bra or emasculate my male friends – I just figured out what I wanted, or what was needed, and then figured out a way to get it or do it.    Barriers only exist if you think they do.

Lady Almina was remarkable without ever meaning to be so.