IOW, instead of focusing on the gentry, Baker focuses on the servants - how difficult their lives are, what they can and cannot have, how they have to behave. I appreciated the author's research into exactly how you make soap, what chilblains are, how disgusting those dresses were and why. It really brought home to me the reasons why we created the middle class! And what the innovations in technology were for.
As per her writing, Baker creates the English countryside particularly well and gives ample opportunity to describing its charms (well, she lives there herself, why wouldn't she?).
Three things I didn't care for:
- The carefree manner in which Sarah visits James whenever, plants kisses on him whereever, etc. If I've read my upstairs/downstairs appropriately, this never happened willy-nilly. And having a relationship or (god forbid) marrying another servant in the household was looked down upon or was grounds for dismissal.
- The effort Baker goes to to make sure we understand that James is a good guy. Despite some pretty obvious missteps and foibles! Also, why does he leave the Spanish seaside town again? No good reason given at all.
- Oh, and Sarah tramping all over the countryside as a woman on her own? Oops, my book is running long, better not give any details of that. That's a book in and of itself, I would bet. But the lack of details here is patently absurd.