Beating the ‘Downton Abbey’ hangover
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Recently someone passed on to me a cute article from The Albert Lea Tribune called “How to Cure a Downton Abbey Hangover” about waking up on Monday mornings feeling unusually graceful and refined. During the time Season 3 of the Masterpiece Classic mega-hit was on air, it seemed like every day someone was stopping me to dissect the latest plot twist, repeat Dowager Countess Lady Grantham’s latest zinger, or worry over what would become of Dan Stevens’ character in Season 4. So how do you pass those long days that fall between “Downton” seasons? What do you do about that “hangover”? Why, read something filled with fine manners and poise, of course!
“Habits of the House” by Fay Weldon
Set at the turn of the century, this is the first of a planned trilogy by the writer of the original “Upstairs, Downstairs” (Masterpiece Theater). With wit and marvelous storytelling, it includes the characters you’d expect: an Earl with financial problems, an heiress with a reputation and a lady’s maid who’s really running the house.
“Past Imperfect” by Julian Fellowes
This second novel by the “Downton Abbey” screenwriter is a detailed social history spanning several decades. A dying billionaire reflects back on the “glory days” as he tries to find an illegitimate child who can be named his heir.
“The American Heiress: a Novel” by Daisy Goodwin
Strong characters and a well-developed sense of place set this historical fiction apart from other tales of Gilded Age extravagance and American heiresses wedding British aristocrats to “buy” titles. The heiress and her maid have compelling story lines.
“Summerset Abbey” by T.J. Brown
The rules of society are tested by the three daughters of a bohemian aristocratic family, who must re-evaluate their way of life when their father dies, leaving their more traditional uncle heir to the family estate.
“Ashenden” by Elizabeth Wilhide
An English estate house is the main character in this family saga that takes place over two centuries. Each chapter divulges another vignette in the life of the house. A must-read for historical fiction readers with an interest in architecture and decorative arts.
“The Passing Bells” by Phillip Rock
An aristocratic love triangle is at the heart of this novel showing how World War I exploded the tranquility of an era and crumbled class barriers. It’s the first in a trilogy.
“The House at Tyneford” by Natasha Solomons
In 1938, an upper-class Jewess accepts a position as a housemaid at a British country estate to escape Vienna and soon falls under the spell of the house, the countryside and the aristocratic son.
“The House at Riverton” by Kate Morton
After 70 years of silence, a housemaid recounts the story behind events of an Edwardian-era house party that ended up tearing a family apart. This is a period drama with a suspenseful undertone.
“A Countess Below Stairs” by Eva Ibbotson
A historical romance about a young earl who falls in love with the new housemaid, a Russian countess exiled to England.
“Park Lane” by Frances Osborne
This historical novel explores woman’s suffrage and the struggling rise of women’s independence in 1914 Britain, told through the intertwined stories of a housemaid and the opinionated daughter of her wealthy employers.
“Netherwood” by Jane Sanderson
Another engaging, detailed period drama exploring interclass relationships.
If your taste leans more toward nonfiction, try:
• “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” by the Countess of Carnarvon.
• “Below Stairs: the Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir” by Margaret Powell.
• “Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor” by Rosina Harrison.
If you prefer classic works of fiction, you can’t go wrong with anything by Edith Wharton, E.M. Forster, or John Galsworthy’s incomparable “The Forsyste Saga.”
If you’d rather watch your period dramas on DVD, try:
• “The House of Eliot.”
• “Upstairs, Downstairs” (the original series from 1971-75, or the 2010-11 series).
• “Gosford Park” (written by Julian Fellowes and starring Maggie Smith).
• “The Edwardians.”
As always, the library is the place to come if you’d like to check out any of these titles, or would prefer suggestions for titles more to your taste. Our staff loves talking to you about what you like to read and helping you find something that will keep you up late at night frenetically turning pages.
And if you aren’t yet initiated into the world of the Granthams and Crawleys, check out “Downton Abbey” Seasons 1 and 2 so you know what everyone is talking about.