Hello, welcome to another issue of Carol’s Comments. I am a volunteer at the River Park Branch. Like over 5 million other PBS viewers, I absolutely adore Downton Abbey. In fact, I’m quite obsessed with the show. I have both seasons on DVD which I watch regularly and own the soundtrack album. I’m also really looking forward to the third season which will take place in the 1920’s, my all-time favorite decade. To ease my withdrawal from the program, I read three books that dealt with different aspects related to the series.
The first book I selected was Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon. In this well researched quasi-biography, Lady Fiona Carnarvon not only chronicles Lady Almina’s life as the 5th Countess of Carnarvon but also describes how modern technology and World War I dramatically transformed the lives of all the residents of Highclere Castle, the real-life setting of Downton Abbey. For instance, the book’s very readable narrative discusses how Lady Almina used her fortune inherited from her father, Alfred de Rothschild to convert Highclere Castle into a hospital for wounded officers during the First World War.
Interestingly, the book also extensively describes her husband George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon’s discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb with his friend, archaeologist Howard Carter in November 1922. Unfortunately, he never got to see the sarcophagus itself because he tragically died of blood poisoning from an infected mosquito bite in April 1923.
Ultimately, this fascinating and comprehensive biography vividly gives the reader a compelling glimpse of how Edwardian society was irrevocably changed forever by the Great War.
Next I wanted to find some fiction that explored the same themes depicted in Downton Abbey. After skimming through The New York Times Hardcover and Trade Paperback Bestseller Lists, I found The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin.
Set in the early 1890’s, Goodwin’s debut novel centers on Cora Cash, a vivacious and spoiled nouveau riche heiress from Newport, Rhode Island. When she marries the Duke of Wareham and becomes the mistress of Lulworth, her husband’s ancestral estate, she quickly learns about the idiosyncrasies and pretentiousness of the British aristocracy during the Edwardian era. This romantic and very enjoyable book is an extremely satisfying summer guilty pleasure. It reminded me a lot of Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers.
Incidentally, in 1995, BBC Television produced a marvelous screen adaptation of The Buccaneers which originally aired on Masterpiece Theatre. If you don’t have time to read Wharton’s original novel, I highly recommend viewing this captivating five part miniseries on DVD.
Finally, the third book I chose was The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (series creator Julian Fellowes niece). This definitive guide to the series includes complete cast and character lists, a timeline, gorgeous color footage from the show along with extensive archival photographs from the early 20th century. Each chapter features such topics as family life, society, life in service, house and estate, romance and war.
Interestingly, the author cleverly interweaves the personal impressions of each character in the miniseries into every chapter’s subject description. This scrumptious treat is the essential companion for either the casual or the most ardent Downton Abbey fan.
These books and both miniseries can be found at all SJCPL locations. For more information, visit the library’s web site at www.libraryforlife.org . Thanks for reading! See you next time.