Biblio File, 24 Frames per Second
Waiting for "Downton Abbey" 2015!
It’s been a tough month for Downton-ites as we recently learned that next season will be its last! Honestly, this past March was a tough pop culture news month for me all round: first Zayn left One Direction AND Downton announced its end?! I can't. Now we must find a way to somehow wait patiently for next January for new episodes and (hopefully) the answers to all our questions! The writers better make this last season the best one yet!
Will Lady Mary find love with Matthew Goode’s dreamy Henry Talbot? Will Edith finally get a guy and move on from her Jan Brady ways? Will Branson come back from America? Will Lady Rose? Will we get the best wedding ever featuring everyone's favorite characters? Will Anna and Bates finally get the happiness they’ve earned? Will the countess live forever? Will they jump ahead to post-WWII and let us know what happened to everyone? Like, I said, it’s going to be rough wait but we will do it together and somehow find something to fill the Downton-sized hole in our hearts.
(End of Spoilers)
Way back in 2012, I wrote my first “Waiting for Downton Abbey” blog post and I filled it with read and watchalikes that I’d found to help me get through the down time. Back then, I had to scour the library’s catalog for books and series that took place during the same time period as Downton Abbey. Luckily, publishers and TV producers got wise to the wants and needs of fans as there is now a WHOLE sub-genre of historical fiction specifically for us. They went through their back catalogs for old books and green-lit new stuff too—fiction and non-fiction. There is so much out there and what I’m listing here is just the tip of the iceberg. This goes for TV too. There are plenty of great new series and hidden gems to keep you occupied and lucky for you, I’m on top of it! No worries, I got your back.
History and Romance
There is so much fiction out there but my favorite in the multi-volume series category has to be Passing Bells by Phillip Rock. See if this sounds familiar: an aristocratic family and their servants live at Abingdon Priory in Yorkshire, outside the town of Ripon, and navigate the changing times, WWI and scandal (including a daughter that runs off with the chauffeur). I kid you not. Originally published in the ’70s, you have to wonder if Julian Fellows ever read it. However, it is wonderfully written with a lot of thoughtful commentary on the horrors of war and their effects on the family. Other great multi-book series full of Edwardian/post war family drama are Fay Weldon’s Habits of the House, Elizabeth Cooke’s Rutherford Park, T. J. Brown’s sudsy Summerset Abbey and Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Cavendon Hall.
If you prefer one and done, there’s Park Lane by Frances Osborne about life in one London house in 1914 and That Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn set at an idyllic country house during that last golden summer before the war started and the world fell apart. In the 1912 set, The Golden Prince we get a glimpse inside the life of a young Prince Edward. Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther gives readers the intersecting lives of three women travelling on an ocean liner in 1921. The well-crafted Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide spans the 230 year history of an English manor house and all those that lived in it. Well known author Tracy Chevalier brings us the life of one Edwardian family in Falling Angels and in Remains of the Day award-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro shows readers life in a manor between the wars from the point of view of the butler.
Takes on the period from early 20th century authors include: Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford about social upheaval, the lead up to the war and one man torn between two women; Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate is a satirical look at love and snobbery among two families during the ’20s and ’30s and finally, John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga takes the upper middle class Forsyte family from the Victorian era all the way through the 1920s. Unlike Mary and Edith, not all society women stayed at home during the war and in Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson, a young, aristocratic woman defies convention and finds love and adventure as a nurse at a field hospital. In the utterly perfect Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourne and equally divine The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig, two women find adventure and purpose in 1920s Kenya.
Mystery and Thrillers
One of my favorite new authors Simone St. James writes these amazing romantic, gothic mysteries set in England just after the great war. In last year's chilling Silence for the Dead a young nurse goes to work at a remote, veteran’s hospital filled with ghosts and shell shocked soldiers (you might want to buy a night light for this one). You can also try her brand new The Other Side of Midnight about a reluctant clairvoyant in 1925, the veteran trying to debunk her and a murder they must solve together.
World War I veterans take on the role of detective in other novels as well, including the wonderful Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd about a shell-shocked Scotland Yard detective getting back to work after the war, start with A Test of Wills and Elizabeth Speller’s newish Laurence Bartram series, a veteran and gentleman is urged back into life through crime solving, start with The Return of Captain John Emmett.
For something lighter, there’s the Phryne Fisher series set in 1920s Australia featuring a gutsy, smart, crime solving socialite, start with Cocaine Blues. Another fun treat is Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen in which an Edwardian lady teams up with her pragmatic housekeeper to investigate a murder and clear her son's name.
Lastly, there is the smart and atmospheric The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, set at a London boarding house in 1922 where a genteel family is forced to take in “lodgers.” This is a topsy-turvy love story and crime thriller that will keep you up all night!
The more I read about the British upper classes, the more I realize it wasn’t so much a glamorous life as much as a battle against constant ennui, the pressures of high society manners and an unyielding, if hypocritical, moral code. In To Marry an English Lord, we find out what it must have been like for all those freer-thinking American girls to come over and infiltrate British high society at the end of the 19th century. Did they thrive like Cora Crawley or did they more likely struggle to find their place?
Find the true stories behind the real life past countesses of Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), in Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey and Lady Catherine, both by Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the present countess. They tell the gripping stories of two American women who conquered British society first during the Edwardian period and again in the 1920s and ’30s. In The Secret Rooms, historian Catherine Bailey uncovers the secrets surrounding the mysterious life of the 9th Duke of Rutland. While set more in the Victorian Era, Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace stands out for its harrowing account of one upper class wife’s struggles as she’s put through the ringer during Britain’s first sensationalized divorce trial.
In Wait for Me the Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah Mitford-Cavendish (who passed away in 2014 at the age of 94), discusses her notorious family and what it was like to join one of the great aristocratic families. In the elegiac WWI memoir Testament of Youth, Oxford student Vera Brittain abandons her studies to become an army nurse. It is the story of her war and of all those she loved and lost. (Also, it's coming soon to a theater near you!)
Finally, House Unlocked a memoir by award winning novelist Penelope Lively. In graceful, absorbing prose, we get the first hand account of living at Golsconcott, the country house her grandparents bought in 1923. She charts her years there from the use of gongs and picnic rugs to being witness to the changing attitudes of the time.
Non-fiction perfect for DA fans has grown exponentially over the years particularly when it comes to the lives of servants. In Life Below Stairs by Alison Maloney you get detailed first hand accounts of what it was like to have so much grueling work and still witness all the glamor. In Real Life Downton Abbey we get a fun, inside look at all those that served the super rich and were privy to their darkest secrets. Full of full color photos, historic details and scandalous stories, Upstairs & Downstairs takes readers through a day in the life of an upper crust Edwardian household starting with servants hard at work at dawn and culminating with a lavish dinner party in the evening.
Get all the juicy dish from a real life British nanny in A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford. Former kitchen maid Margaret Powell, started work in a 1920s great house and her memoir Below Stairs became the inspiration for both Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton. She wrote a sequel called Servants Hall about the real life scandal of Rose, an under-parlour maid who eloped with her employer’s son. Ms. Powell has also written a fabulous cookbook full of 500 extravagant dishes, Margaret Powell’s Cookery Book. Also perfect for cookbook fans? Edwardian Cooking: 80 Recipes Inspired by Downton Abbey’s Elegant Meals by Larry Edwards and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines with recipes based on characters and situations from the show. If you plan to try your hand at the crab canapés, vol-a-vent and lamb noisettes recipes, please make sure to invite me to your next Edwardian dinner party.
Downton Abbey Books
The DA machine is churning out TV tie-ins like clockwork. They are all beautifully done and filled with gorgeous photographs, fun details on the show and the history of British society. There’s The World of Downton Abbey (season 1), The Chronicles of Downton Abbey (season 3), Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey (season 4) and my particular favorite, A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey (season 5). It chronicles a year in the life of the fictional Downton as well as fun snippets about the show and includes official recipes for your own festive occasions. I can totally vouch for the scone recipe which were huge, light, buttery perfection! Perfect for your next tea party.
If you want the actual scripts from the show, NYPL has those too. Need to know a great, sarcastic, Mary monologue or want to perfect Edith’s best strop? Maybe, you want to see if you can outdo Maggie Smith’s best put downs and withering glances as the countess or Mrs. Hughes's kindly speeches and eye-rolls? These scripts should do the trick. We have Downton Abbey: The Complete Scripts for season one, season 2 and season 3.
TV Series, Movies and Documentaries
TV Series and Films
If you need old or new seasons of Downton Abbey, NYPL has you well sorted. There’s also still some great viewing choices in my old 2012 blog available but if you've already watched those than here are some new ones for you. My favorite has to be Flambards. Originally airing on PBS in the ’80s, it’s the story of one orphaned, young women during the early 1900s who finds a place to belong at the ramshackle manor home of a drunken, horse mad uncle and his two, very different, sons. The series takes you up through the war and after and is witty, heartfelt and beautifully done.
A newer series is The Village, season one is set in a rural English village 1914-1920 and is the story of all the different classes who live there and the effects the great war has on all their lives. While well done, it is nowhere near as sudsy or fun as Downton but very much worth watching. Along the same lines is Steven Spielberg’s breathtakingly filmed War Horse. For a closer look at the war try the Eddie Redmayne starring Birdsong based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks (bonus: it also stars the dreamy, long-lashed Scottish actor Richard Madden). And I can't forget to tell you about the great adaption of Parade's End starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The Australian series ANZAC Girls gives us the inspiring true story of five WW1 nurses, from Australia and New Zealand, based on their real diaries and letters. We get the stories of British nurses, doctors & orderlies in the fabulous The Crimson Field.
As an anecdote to all the war dramas try the series, Mr. Selfridge. Now in its third season it stars Jeremy Piven as the American maverick entrepreneur who revolutionized shopping with his London dept. store Selfridges and delves into the lives of his family and the store’s employees. For more breezy fun try the Australian detective series Miss Fisher mysteries, the satirical Love in a Cold Climate and the deliciously fun Cold Comfort Farm, about a 1920s bright young thing who solves the problems of her distant cousins with perfect aplomb. I can't forget to mention the sweet Lark Rise to Candleford about life in two, small countryside towns during the late 1800s. Another favorite series is the epic Forsyte Saga, starring the always amazing Damian Lewis as the very Victorian Soames Forsyte, a husband and father who can’t quite change with the times. While we’re in the Victorian era I might as well mention my all-time favorite British mini-series ever(!), North and South. Based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, it’s an epic love story of class divides, mill factories and one very domineering mother. While we’re already in a Victorian mill town you should also try the fascinating, new docu-series The Mill and the breezier, The Paradise, a wonderful series set around a department store in Northern England in 1875 and loosely based on a Emile Zola novel.
Want something more non-fictiony? Try The Secrets of Highclere Castle, a documentary about the house where Downton is filmed. For even more juicy history there's Secrets of the Manor House: Inside British Country Homes in the Early 1900s . If you want to know about Edwardian society etiquette try this informative doc The Manners of Downton Abbey which gives you the low down on all you need to know when attending your next high society do. Make like Mary in a hog pit with Edwardian Farm, a 12 part doc, that has two archeologists and a historian spending a full year recreating life on a historically accurate farm. From farm life we turn to manor life with the brilliant, must watch reality series, Manor House. For two months, modern day Brits volunteered to live the life of upstairs/downstairs with varying, hilarious results. The lord of the manner, the flirty footmen and the butler enjoyed themselves immensely but the scullery maid, lady of the manor and the unmarried sister-in-law… not so much. Whenever I think I want to be an Edwardian lady of leisure I remember this series and thank heaven for the suffragettes.
While clearly there is still more, these are all the options I have for now. For more read and watch recommendations, you can always try my 2012 post, if you haven’t already, or maybe you have something to recommend to the rest of us. If so, please put it in the comments below.
And if you’re still bereft about a Downton-less future or a Zayn-less One Direction, know that we will get through it together. See you in 2016!