Sunday, December 23, 2012

Books like Downton Abbey?

Greetings, all!  I've been absent for a few days because, with all of the undergraduates gone, I finally managed to get my hands on season two of Downton Abbey from the campus library!  Naturally, we've been watching it fairly nonstop, usually accompanied by many cups of tea and much shouting at the screen when people are being unreasonably unreasonable.  (Our battle cry this season has been "Kiss her now!")

We loved it just as much as the first season, though for different reasons. Season two didn't have the same magic of first seeing the gorgeous house, outfits, food and all, meeting the characters, and learning how the society worked, but it also didn't have quite as much soap-opera melodrama, and the show grew up a little. It wasn't all contained within a single house anymore; we got to see how individual lives and places played into and were affected by the larger tapestry of war-torn England.

Now I need to go read some early twentieth-century British fiction to fill the days until we can see season three.  Unfortunately, it might be a while before my husband and I can see any more Downton Abbey - I know you Brits have already seen it (please, no spoilers!) but as we don't even have cable, we have to rely on individual episodes coming out on the PBS website, or else bribe Divinity School friends with scones so that we can go watch it with them.

So, dear bookish friends, my question is this: to which books should I turn?  I'm desperate for more of the upstairs/downstairs dynamic and the impact of the First World War on individual families and places.  The heartiest recommendation I've seen is Rachel's plug for Isabel Colegate's The Shooting Party, which I've just requested via my campus library.  Is there anything else I should definitely try?  Anything else as grand and elegant?  Are there any books with a butler as awesome as Carson?


  1. A few ideas though, much like Downton Abbey, they can get a bit soap-y and melodramatic:

    The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett - about an American heiress who marries an English lord and is badly treated. Years later, her younger sister comes to her rescue. It is all very ridiculous and wonderfully entertaining.

    The Passing Bells by Philip Rock - a family saga beginning just before the start of WWI

    A Horseman Riding By by R.F. Delderfield - particularly good at capturing the end of the Edwardian era

    A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson - a light romance by the always wonderful Ibbotson about a Russian countess who, on arriving in England after WWI, works as a maid in a large country house

    Though it starts a bit earlier, it is hard to beat The Forstye Saga when it comes to family dramas.

    1. Thanks so much, Claire! I'll definitely have to check them out. I recognize several of your favorite authors in here (Delderfield, Ibbotson) and appreciate your passing these names and titles along. :-)