Julian Fellowes's Belgravia
by Julian Fellowes
Hardcover- $16.76

FROM THE CREATOR OF DOWNTOWN ABBEY The New York Times bestselling novel about scandalous secrets and star-crossed lovers On the evening of ...

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  "I think this book should be read in its audiobook form. The narrator was superb! I was right there with them in the story!" by thewanderingjew (see profile) 11/10/16

Belgravia, Julian Fellowes, author; Juliet Stevenson, narrator
Fans of Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey will enjoy this book look-alike. English novels have a certain sophistication and sense of style that American authors often fail to lend to their novels. In this book, there was no sex, no foul language and no real violence; there was just a beautifully written book with a prose that was eloquent and expressive. The reader, Juliet Stevenson, provided each character with its own voice and speech pattern, its own appropriate accent and cadence bringing each to life individually.
This is an interesting novel about class distinction. The members of the aristocracy had their own way of life, and the lower classes basically served their needs. They looked down upon those that engaged in commerce and were not in their own society. The women had a social calendar. They had a life of tea parties, doing charity work, attending balls and entertaining. The men had their hunting and their club life. Women led quiet lives governed largely by a male member of the family who held sway over all of their choices and decisions. Money was passed down to the eldest son, and in some families, extraordinary jealousy arose between siblings, although there was often justification. A great disparity in lifestyle existed between those that inherited the major portion of their ancestor’s estate, and those that did not.
The novel takes place in the 1800’s. The reader is placed squarely into that atmosphere by the expert narrator. Her portrayal of the characters placed the aristocratic residents haughtily in their drawing rooms, perfectly at home there, with the readers watching them as if they were there, as well, allowing them a view into that world. The pompous attitude of those that lived in that rarefied environment was clearly on display. The arrogant tone of voice and condescension were often evident.
The obsequious behavior of the servants came to life as they interacted with their masters. Although they respected their employers and the employers respected their servants, albeit often to a lesser degree, each knew the other’s shortcomings. Those upstairs knew that their lives were the topic of discussion, ridicule and a source of pleasure below stairs. They were careful not to reveal too much when the servants were present, but often, the servants overheard private conversations and only too happily shared their tidbits with other servants. Although many were loyal, those upstairs and those downstairs often hatched plans to betray each other and their adversaries, some to insure their inheritances and some to simply gain an extra pound or two for their added “service” when they passed on information. Many characters could be bought for a price, and many of the landed gentry and the working class could be convinced to act impulsively and disloyally for selfish gain.
The Trenchard family, James and Anne, parents of Sophia and her brother Oliver, were not members of the upper class, but James aspired to be accepted by them. James was a merchant who became successful and attained a modest amount of wealth. When Sofia fell in love with a member of the aristocracy, Edmund Bellasis, who had secured them an invitation to his aunt’s ball, James was over the moon with happiness. Anne, on the other hand, was more realistic. She did not believe for a moment, that his intentions were entirely honorable since the classes simply did not mix. Although they had money, they were still not part of society.
It was 1815, in Brussels, when the family went to the ball arranged by Sophia’s sweetheart. On that night, Sophia made a tragic discovery that would affect the lives of her family for the next three decades. Although she believed she had been secretly married and therefore had been intimate with her “husband”, on that night she saw that the man who had married them was in uniform, and he was about to ride away with Edmund Bellasis into battle with the forces of Napoleon. Could he have impersonated a member of the clergy? Was she really married? Had she been tricked? When the death of Edmund is announced, Sophia is completely bereft. She had been compromised. She was whisked off with her lady’s maid so that her pregnancy could be concealed and her reputation preserved. Things did not work out exactly as planned, however, and after the birth of the child, he was placed in the home of a clergyman who, with his wife, raised him as their own. He was given the name of Charles Pope. Decades passed and although he was told he was adopted, he was never told of his true heritage.
Some thirty years later, in the mid 1840’s, Anne Trenchard, now the wife of a very successful husband, was invited to tea at the home of a Duchess. There she had the occasion to speak with Edmund Bellasis’s mother, Lady Brockenhurst, whom she now realized had no heir. Edmund had been her only child. She felt Caroline’s sadness. You see, although Anne had not met Mr. Pope, and knew little about his life, she had known that he was her grandson, and that gave her a degree of peace and happiness. She decided to reveal the secret of the child’s birth to Caroline to provide her with a degree of comfort. No good deed goes unpunished, however, and the consequences that follow threaten to tear the Trenchard family apart.
This book is compelling and each segment ends with a cliffhanger forcing the reader to keep turning the pages. What would happen to the memory of Sophia Trenchard? Would it be besmirched? How would the Brockenhursts handle this delicate situation? The Trenchards and the Brockenhursts normally did not mix as they were from different avenues of society so how would this dilemma resolve itself? The standards for the behavior of men and women were vastly different then. Would the parentage of Charles Pope be revealed? Was he illegitimate? Will that revelation have an effect on the inheritances of others? How will it involve the various lives of some who live upstairs and some residing below stairs?
This story kept me engaged throughout. The arrogance of the upper classes and the chattering gossip and behavior of those that lived below stairs was revealing. The mid 1800’s was a time of change for the world of the aristocratic, and the author brought the class distinctions, with its concomitant class warfare, to the fore, and it was evident that change was truly coming. The secrets and the betrayals were plausible. The acceptance of the idea that men were allowed their dalliances while women who engaged with them were fallen women, was the nature of the belief in those days. Some of the characters were not very likeable, and often their greed and petty jealousies prevailed, but in spite of their negative character traits, they were all interesting to contemplate. The resolution of all the conflicts and betrayals surprised me and I wondered, was Fellowes planning a sequel in the future?

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