New York, New York
With all the "Downton Abbey" attention lately, it seems like anything British regarding the same time period can instantaneously be a best seller. However, author Catherine Bailey was looking for a story when she was allowed access to rooms that had been sealed for years in Belvoir Castle. Little did she realize that her research could unearth some family "skeletons" that she had not planned on discovering and many more questions than answers.
The author was allowed into the sealed rooms where the 9th Duke of Rutland had died in the year 1940. Apparently the Duke had been sorting through all his family letters saved from his entire life during his final days. The Duke's son, Charles had sealed the rooms when his father died. In those sixty years, no one had been given access to these rooms which even while in use years ago, were cold and sparsely furnished. Why had a man of such wealth lived in these isolated rooms with little heat and comforts? What secrets did he feel needed to remain hidden?
As the author, Catherine Bailey read through a multitude of boxes of letters she quickly realized that there were gaps in the life of the 9th Duke of Rutland. She quickly discovered that there appeared to be three time periods were no correspondence existed. It quickly seemed as it the Duke had purposefully destroyed all records during these times. Why? What secrets did he take to his grave? What was so terrible that he desired to have certain events erased from history?
The Secret Rooms describes the life of John Rutland as the 9th Duke and his family prior to the first World War, during World War I and afterwards. As the secrets are somewhat revealed, what is fascinating is the lifestyle of the Duke and his family, their choices, their actions, their successes, and even somewhat, their failures. Revealing the true actions and secrets of this family succeeds in giving the reader an insight into life in the early twentieth century through the eyes of the elite in British society.
The description of this book is "a true story of a haunted castle, a plotting duchess, and a family secret." Much of the book is devoted to the Duke's mother who unquestionably was the plotting duchess in attempt to save her son from harm during the War. The family secret was somewhat revealed but more than likely died with the Duke and his staff. The haunting though is barely mentioned and is never completely explained or identified.
The Secret Rooms is a page-turning non-fiction account about the Rutland family turning the individuals into real people who led a life of privilege with many of the same problems that trouble everyone. Included in the book are actual pictures of the people and the places of the book as well as an index, map of the castle, as well as a family tree.
I was slightly disappointed that the haunting was never explained but seemed to be a teaser for the book cover. Also the first time gap was never completely explained since the author was unsuccessful with discovering the true explanation but did attempt to fill-in the gaps. Her explanation is a possibility but it could be very misleading into the actual events.
The story was interesting even when it became focused more on gossip than actual records. Yes, the letters were revealing but only stated whatever the family had wanted recorded. However, the story succeeds in placing the reader in the center of life during World War I.