Julian Fellowes Belgravia is an easy read - more satisfying than the very slow ITV adaptation
19th-century society brought to book
A TELEVISION adaptation of Belgravia by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, has just finished a six-week run on ITV.
If you didn't catch it, why not read the book instead - it'll be quicker and a probably a bit more fun.
It is Upstairs Downstairs meets Downton Abbey, only in book form.
The book begins at a fabulous ball thrown by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels, on June 15, 1815, the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. This proves to be a night to remember and not only for Napoleon’s advance.
The lives of Sophia Trenchard, and her parents, all of whom are at the ball, are about to be changed forever.
The story continues 25 years later, taking place in the in the newly-fashionable Belgravia, where Sophia’s parents, James and Anne, have now moved. However, they are at a social disadvantage within the rigid confines of wealthy upper-class Belgravia.
James is a self-made man who is determined to pass himself off as a gentleman and be accepted into high society, much to Anne’s exasperation.
To exacerbate and perpetuate this disadvantage, James and Anne are keenly guarding a tragic family secret.
At an afternoon tea party (the concept of this kind of party has just been introduced by the great and the good of London in the 1800s), Anne happens across the Countess of Brockenhurst, and a disturbing chain of events unfolds, jeopardising the Trenchards’ ability to conceal their terrible secret.
The families of both the Trenchards and the Countess of Brockenhurst are on a collision course; secrets and lies to be exposed, hearts to be broken, and fortunes to be fought over. This battle unleashes murderous intent and even pits servant against master. The scene is set with more upstairs than downstairs characters, although a significant downstairs character is the Trenchards’ maid, Speer, a crafty and enterprising woman.
The action takes place mainly in Belgravia and the Trenchards’ beautiful country house, Glanville.
An interesting side story that runs through the book focuses on the development of Belgravia. James Trenchard has made his considerable fortune through his involvement with the Cubitt brothers. Cleverly intertwined in the narrative are these two brothers, who are not fictional characters, but who were actually responsible for the development of some of the most well-known areas of London, including Bloomsbury, Tavistock Square and Belgravia.
Fellowes’ particular talent is describing the affluent upper classes in their fabulous mansions, wrestling with their secrets and their snobbery. However, none of his villains are without the possibility of redemption and his heroes and heroines are likeable and fallible.
He creates an enticing, yet divided, world full of gossip and scandal, pride and shame, wealth and extravagance.
The servants have few freedoms and there is a gross divide between master and servant, engendering disloyalty, petty grudges and thieving.
This is a book to devour entirely for pleasure.
The pace and plot deliver on all levels - unlike the television version, which was fairly slow and turgid.
The intrigues and illicit affairs, the sumptuous houses, the haughty, beautiful ladies, their handsome suitors and the wary, disgruntled servants are all present and accounted for in Belgravia.
A perfect lockdown read for a bit of harmless escapism.