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Within a few pages of starting Diamonds at Dinner, I was captivated by the story that author Hilda Newman laid out. Throughout the pages of this memoir written at the age of 97, she reflects on the memories of her early adult years working in a stately home as a lady’s maid.
In her early teenage years, Hilda’s family helped her get an apprenticeship with a seamstress. After paying the fee to allow her to learn from the seamstress and studying under her for four years, the seamstress died suddenly. At the age of nineteen, with full training as a seamstress but no job, Hilda began to work at a hotel. A friend mentioned that with her training she might make a good lady’s maid for one of the aristocracy. Intrigued and excited about this idea, she talked to her parents and wrote letters to two ladies hiring lady’s maids. When one wrote back and eventually hired her, she went to live at Croome Court. There, she became the lady’s maid for the Countess of Coventry, Nesta Donne Phillips.
She found the work to be difficult, although her new employer was kinder than many others. Despite some harsh reprimands, Hilda felt that she and the Countess had built up a bond. She even believed that the Countess had a fondness for her. When the Countess had gotten into an accident, she asked only to be attended to by Hilda while they waited on the doctor. At Christmas, Hilda received a broach from the Countess. Unfortunately, the second World War meant the end of Hilda’s working at Croome Court and the closing of that chapter in her life.
Hilda Newman’s memoir may be one of my favorites that I’ve read in a long time.
I will admit that historical biographies are not typically my favorite. If there are too many dates and names, I feel my eyes glazing over. However, this memoir captured my attention and had me enthusiastically chatting about it to my husband. While I tell him about the plots of most of the books I read, I frequently found myself saying, “This is one of the best books I’ve ever read!”
Finally, after having said that for about the fiftieth time, my husband asked exactly what made it so great. After reflecting further, I believe that four things made this memoir especially good:
- It was excellently written. The story was organized and edited together well. I thought that the writing style was both warm and readable, which is hard to find in many memoirs. Although reading British English can sometimes take a few pages to adjust to, that is only a minor thing. By the end of the book, it ends up being part of the charm.
- It was clean. Despite writing about the war, there was no swearing or explicit content.
- Hilda was very lovable. There are a lot of memoirs I enjoy, despite not liking the person the memoir is about. I enjoyed this book so much more because Hilda was very easy to love. It was easy to imagine her as both the young woman my age and the 97-year-old woman writing the book.
- The story was interesting. She wrote about a world I did not know about. Her perspectives on the wars, Hitler, and the changes in the last seventy years are so interesting because she has lived through all of those things. Even if I focus solely on her work as a lady’s maid, she wrote plenty to pique my interest.
If you are looking for an interesting read about those serving the English aristocracy in the 1930’s, Diamonds at Dinner by Hilda Newman is the perfect book. It is a charming story written by a lovable woman about a very interesting time in history. Even though it handles issues like poverty and war, it does them in a clean and dignified way, making this book suitable for teens as well as adults. Best of all, the reader does not need to sacrifice good writing for good content in this book. It really is one to read.