The New Countess

Written by Fay Weldon
Review by Kate Braithwaite

In The New Countess, Fay Weldon completes her trilogy (Habits of the House in the U.S., Love and Inheritance in the U.K.) of an upper-class Edwardian family and their servants.

The Earl of Dilberne’s great friend King Edward VII decides to spend a weekend shooting at the Earl’s estate, throwing Lady Isobel into a flurry of major renovations and redecoration. Their daughter Rosina returns from Australia but not to the family home. Minnie and Arthur, meanwhile, have become parents: but American Minnie’s ideas of childcare do not sit well with Lady Isobel or Nanny, and Arthur’s preoccupation with his fledgling automobile business leaves Minnie isolated and unhappy. This is a humorous story, but there is also a strong sense of the changing generations. The younger characters want to live and love differently and more freely than their parents, and for Lady Isobel, in particular, there is a struggle to let go.

Fay Weldon wrote the pilot episode of Upstairs Downstairs and has returned to the period with much wit and aplomb. The trilogy comes to a satisfying and dramatic climax in The New Countess. The twists and turns of the lives and loves of the Dilbernes should appeal to Downton Abbey fans, but readers of Fay Weldon may be assured that although this is a lighthearted tale, serious themes around women’s roles and sex within marriage are as much part of these novels as one might hope for and expect.