A Countess Below Stairs – Eva Ibbotson

Anna Gravinsky was born before the Russian Revolution, the only daughter of a Count from St. Petersburg, and though she could have grown up spoiled, she grew into a charming girl beloved by everyone who met her.

When the Revolution comes, Anna’s father is killed, and she, her mother and her younger brother flee to England, where they move in with her old governess.    They’re able to send Peter to school, but there’s not enough money to set Anna up.      Responding to an ad, she takes a job as a temporary maid at Mersham, which has a new Earl, just back from the war, and needs help reopening the house.    The Butler and Housekeeper recognize that Anna is noble, but she’s so eager to work, and quick to learn, that they agree to take her on.

From here, the story could be incredibly derivative – the new Earl is young, and handsome, and is immediately taken with Anna, and Anna is taken with him.    But he’s become engaged to the girl that nursed him through his injuries from the war, and naturally, that girl turns out to be horrible, but he’s too much a gentlemen to go back on his word and end the engagement.

What makes this story work is the side characters – both the other servants, as well as the family members and friends of the Earl.   The story becomes positively mad cap by the end – I actually laughed out loud at one point and had to explain to the BF that I was not going insane, since he was watching a rather serious tv show at the time.    You will not at all be surprised by how this story ends, but you’ll thoroughly enjoy getting there.

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