It almost goes without saying that fans of “Downton Abbey” will love “Rutherford Park,” an above- and below-stairs story tracing the lives of the inhabitants of a Yorkshire country house. It’s a familiar story line – but one that is told here with grace and originality.
Elizabeth Cooke’s tale opens on a snowy Christmas Eve 1913, as Lord William and Lady Octavia Cavendish are hosting a holiday house party. While the family’s life is luxurious, it is bound by tradition. Everyone knows their place in this carefully ordered world – and it is a world that will soon be shattered by World War I. Young Harry Cavendish, at 19 yearns for more:
Everything was too old. . . He was the owner’s son or the seventh-generation Beckforth from some second or third wife two hundred years ago, carrying a cousin’s name. He had duties; he had a place. But he had nothing to do. . . . He felt like the whole of his existence was dragging him down.
Rutherford Park is a self-contained world where servants “were meant to be invisible to the inhabitants of the house, “ where the only person Octavia called by name was her maid.” Secrets can so easily be covered up by the smooth, well-oiled routines of a prescribed life. Yet, this Christmas, the very fabric of the Cavendish’s life begins to unravel when a housemaid dies and when Octavia sees her husband kiss one of their guests.
As winter moves into spring, William finds that his marriage has shattered. Louisa, their older daughter has her season in London, and John Gould, an American historian visits Rutherford to look at its library – and fall under the spell of Octavia, who yearns for a life of “value.”
“I’ve never known anything else,” she murmured. “I was the daughter. Now I’m the wife. I’ve simply moved form one protectorate to another. I’m a possession. . . . I long to go out, you know, and do anything at all. . . I would like to tend the gardens, for instance. But I am not supposed to. I may pick the flowers. . . . But I can’t work. I can’t do anything of value.”
Here is a sweeping saga that brilliantly captures the lives of those – from Lord and Lady Cavendish to the houseboy and scullery maid – who make their home at ‘Rutherford Park.’ As the story ends, war has begun – putting the scandals that have threatened to destroy the family into perspective and signaling the beginning of the end of a once seemingly unchangeable way of life.
“Rutherford Park” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.