This the the story of three women, in three eras, at one of the large estate houses in England. The first volume, Polly’s Story, begins in 1890 when 14-year-old Polly was employed as an underhousemaid at Swallowcliffe Hall. I started the series because I had always liked Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abby, and have been fascinated with the aristocratic and monied life of turn of the century England. We follow Polly’s progress in her life, as various secrets of the house are revealed, as well as the different qualities of life of the gentry vs. the mostly unseen staff that kept life pleasant in the grand houses of the time.
The second volume, Grace’s Story, follows the life of Grace, one of Polly’s daughters, and begins in 1914, the eve of the First World War. Grace hates the life of service to the rich, and leaves her hated job as kitchen maid to eventually become a teacher in London, much to the dismay of her mother. The war changes everything, and although the aristocracy of the time tried to carry on as ever before, the days of Polly’s life in service are moving relentlessly forward, and as the household help leaves for the war effort, and the large house is left to the care of a skeleton crew.
Finally, in Isobel’s Story, set in 1939, Isobel, the daughter of Grace, and the granddaughter of Polly, comes back to the deteriorating manor, staffed now only by her grandmother and a couple of other workers, in a house that used to employ over 30 servants. The grounds are uncared for, and only a few rooms in the sprawling house are in use, with the owners preparing to move out altogether. We are now on the eve of the second World War, and in this story, we meet a young German refugee, sent to England by his mother for safety, and he works for the rather nasty general store owner in the local town. Isobel comes upon him sketching the grounds of the house, and a friendship develops, which allows the author to examine the concepts of immigrants, refugees and the horrors of war.
All in all, a very satisfactory chick lit story, each volume unique, but with plenty of references to the previous storyline to keep it all very interesting. It is a story of how we are like and unlike our parents and grandparents and how each generation has its own problems and issues to solve, but that we can use our roots for their solutions. I read the entire trilogy in a very short time, which is why I wanted to talk about them as a unit, rather than as separate books.
There is now out a fourth volume, Eugenie’s Story, which goes back to the time of Polly’s service. Eugenie is the daughter of that family that Polly worked for.