Habits of the House

Written by Fay Weldon

Fay Weldon of Upstairs Downstairs fame has written this first of a trilogy, “delving into the decadent lives of masters and their servants in turn-of-the-century London.” The year is 1899. The cast of characters includes Lord and Lady Dilberne and their two children, Arthur and Rosina (also known as Minnie), Grace, lady’s maid to Lady Dilberne and the power below stairs, Reginald, the footman, and Eric Baum, Lord Dilberne’s financial advisor.

Lovers of plays by Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw will be delighted with the interplay between upstairs and downstairs, man and woman, aristocracy and those of the emerging, successful business class. The story is told in a lightly frivolous manner punctuated by witty observations such as: “The girl seemed determined to exhibit her body as nature made it, not as garments rendered it decent” and “English men spoke as if through some emotional filter made of flannel: it was hard to know what they were about.”

Weldon conveys the era’s politics, prejudices, class structure, fashion, social norms and economic uncertainties with ease and shows us that often those downstairs clung to the past more than the aristocrats they served.