From the Beacon: Books for 'Downton Abbey' fans
Recently, I have discovered the wonderful Masterpiece Classic series "Downton Abbey." If you are as captivated by this TV show as I am, you might find that you would like to extend the feel of the era, characters and storylines into your reading life. Here are a few suggestions for titles that are similar to "Downton Abbey:"
It is the fall of 1913 and Sir Randolph Nettleby has gathered a group of wealthy friends to his Oxfordshire estate for the biggest hunt of the season in "The Shooting Party" by Isabel Colegate. Full of class conflict, scandal, romances and intrigue on the eve of World War I, this slim novel is an absorbing portrayal of a way of life that will be irrevocably changed in the coming years.
Another depiction of this fascinating era and its eventual collapse is Vita Sackville-West's "The Edwardians," in which 19-year-old Sebastian, heir to a large country estate, is ambivalent about all that goes along with his title and inheritance.
Sackville-West's daughter, Juliet Nicolson, wrote an entertaining and informative account of the same time period called "The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm." Through a four-month timeframe, Nicolson assembles a variety of perspectives to demonstrate how this summer was an idyllic time for many, but by the same token there were many signs of the upheavals to come.
If you enjoy the plots involving the romantic entanglements of Ladies Mary, Edith and Sybil, then the novels of Jane Austen will be sure to please you. Although her novels take place a century prior to the era depicted in "Downton Abbey," Miss Austen wrote with superior insight about relationships, societal conventions, and honor and loyalty. "Pride and Prejudice" is an excellent introduction to Austen's works.
Another keen observer of people and society, Edith Wharton was a writer who often satirized the hypocrisies of the rich. "The Buccaneers" tells the story of the wealthy St. George sisters who, when they are not accepted by New York society, flee to London to find eligible bachelors to marry. Once settled, they find that a good marriage does not necessarily equate to a happy life.
"Below Stairs" by Margaret Powell and "Rose: My Life In Service" by Rosina Harrison are both captivating accounts about what it was like to be a servant "downstairs" in the great houses of England. These two memoirs allow us a behind-the-scenes look into life serving their extremely privileged employers. Ford Madox Ford's epic World War I masterpiece "Parade's End" follows privileged Christopher Tietjens from his life as a wealthy landowner to an officer in the British Army during the war. Expansive and astute, "Parade's End" has been ranked among the best novels of the 20th century.
If mystery is your genre of choice, I'd recommend "A Duty to the Dead" by Charles Todd. Bess Crawford is a British Army nurse during World War I and when she is tasked by a dying soldier to deliver a message to his family, she believes it is her duty to comply. When the family members claim the words are insignificant, she decides to investigate and becomes embroiled in a murder investigation.