In this memoir, Rose Harrison recounts her life in service, mostly to the formidable Lady Astor, an American heiress turned viscountess. Rose’s dream as a girl was to travel and when she told her mother of this dream, her mother hatched a plan. She did everything she could to get Rose into service as a lady’s maid, that was the way to do it at that time. A lady’s maid would have to travel with her mistress.
Rose didn’t start out with Lady Astor. In fact, Rose was sort of tricked into that position. Rose was aware of Lady Astor’s reputation and she didn’t want a part of that train wreck, but Lady Astor always got what she wanted and she wanted Rose. Things were unpleasant for Rose until she realized that she’d have to give as good as she got. Rose used the force of her own personality and often challenged her boss, which is what the Lady wanted anyway. Rose wasn’t a shrinking violet and because of this gained respect, but never thanks, from Lady Astor and a lifelong relationship began.
For all of Lady Astor’s tantrums and bullying, Rose did okay. The Lady depended on her and took her everywhere with her. Rose saw the world while travelling in style, met interesting people, and witnessed world events. It’s amusing to see these things through Rose’s eyes. Do you remember the story of Rasputin’s poisoning? How he supposedly survived a dose that would kill 10 men. There’s even a Boney M song about it. Rose learns the story through another servant who met a Russian prince claiming to have been there. Here is what she makes of it:
But, as Charles remarked, “It’s my bet they’d told that story for meals and drinks so long that they began to believe in it.” I’ve never found out whether what they said was the truth or not.
Rose was with the Astor’s during the Blitz. I can’t even imagine the terror she must have felt. The war brought the staff and the family closer together. Rose couldn’t see herself as anyone else’s maid after that. Lady Astor had become a heroine to her, even with all her theatrics. They had a relationship that is hard to fathom. It was almost a marriage.
Beyond the stories of Team Lady Astor and Rose, there are descriptions of what Lady Astor wore, her jewellery, the parties, and the trips that were made. It makes for fascinating reading. Rose doesn’t dish out the family secrets, anything she tells is in the public record. She doesn’t even reveal that much about her own private life.
Still, I didn’t neglect the romantic side by any means, and I got a lot of fun from it, but while it’s something I enjoy recalling, it’s a personal thing and in any case would make very dull reading.
Oh, Rose! Come on, I’m sure it wouldn’t be dull reading. This is typical of Rose’s writing. She’s very straightforward and no-nonsense. I did wonder though, if she was having a thing or two with some of the male servants she mentions. Wink-wink. Sorry, Rose, my mind is just going to go there anyway.
Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor is a story of an interesting life by a woman who tells it as she saw it. I highly recommend this one, especially to Downton Abbey fans.