Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor
Rosina Harrison (Autobiography)
Rosina (Rose) Harrison was born in 1899 in a little village near Ripon in Yorkshire. The daughter of a stonesman and a laundrymaid and the eldest of four children, Rose had but one desire in life: to travel. In her 35 years of service to Lady Astor—Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor, Viscountess Astor—Rose would not only travel the world, but she would become an integral part of the prestigious Astor family (“the landlords of New York”). This is Rose’s life—told in her own words—that spans several wars, a coronation, 1,000-person receptions, misplaced jewelry, a missing sable tie, and a loving friendship that would endure all of these and more.
Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor is a lady maid’s personal account of a life filled with dignitaries, disagreements, devotion, and discovery. Fans of the British television series Upstairs, Downstairs or Amazon Prime’s Downton Abbey will appreciate this behind-the-scenes perspective into the lives of both the aristocracy and their attendants. Through Rose, we gain an appreciation of what it is to work for someone whose heart is charitable, but whose tongue is often sharp and cruel; we experience dinners with Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and George Bernard Shaw; we see how entertaining is not just an event, but an industry; we understand that the key to a beautiful floral arrangement is to consult with Nature herself; and we learn the correct way to “pop” a champagne cork (gently unscrew the cork, cover it with a napkin, and then by tilting the bottle to one side, the cork will come out easily and quietly).
Rose is an entertaining look into the innerworkings of the wealthy and those who keep the gears of this expensive and vast machine greased and operating flawlessly. While no employer/employee relationship is without its ups and downs, the respect, dependency, and devotion between Rose and Lady Astor spanned over three decades and showed us the meaning of perseverance and the value of loyalty.
Rose Harrison died at the age of 90 in 1989. Although she never married nor had any children, hers was a life fulfilled and a dream attained. When Rose was asked by Bobbie Shaw (Lady Astor’s son by her first marriage) what she would like most in this world, Rose replied, after a moment’s hesitation, “To live my life over again”. In her autobiography, published in 1975, she wrote that her answer would be the same.
Lady Astor enjoyed a close twenty-year friendship with playwright George Bernard Shaw and so it seems fitting that I end this review with a quote of his that I think adequately sums up the life of Rosina Harrison: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Rose created a full and satisfying life through her employment and friendship with Lady Astor. She gave as good as she got and quickly became a respected and trusted confidante to a woman who was the second elected female Member of Parliament, but the first to take her seat. Not bad for a spunky Yorkshire girl who thought that life couldn’t get any better than luxuriating in the family’s hip bath.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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