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Today the New York Times published the article, If You’re Mad for ‘Downton,’ Publishers Have Reading List which describes the phenomena of “Downton Fever” and how booksellers and publishers hope to cash in with Downton-related books convinced that viewers of the program are likely to be great book readers as well.
I am one of those mad people who when I become obsessed with something I tend to run out and devour every book I can lay my hands on, whether it be history, fiction, or pictorial. I enjoy reading the contemporary authors of the time. The period covered in Downton Abbey is an especially fruitful period in English literature with such authors as Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Ford Madox Ford, James Barrie, Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, E.M. Forster, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne leading the pack.
But the books I really love to read are the books on the history of a certain period. I religiously buy or borrow books to enhance my experience of a work of fiction or film or to learn more. For example my shelves are filled with books on the Regency because of my love of Jane Austen and I read any book that crosses my path on Tudor history because of my admiration for Elizabeth I. Downton Abbey has had a similar effect with one small twist; I already own many books about the period. Of course, I can always use more and I have recently placed on my “to-get” list: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Dutchess of Carnarvon, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate, Parade’s Endby Ford Madox Ford, and The Great Silence: Britain From the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicolson.
Inspired by the article in the Times I thought it would be fun to share some of the books from my personal library that I think will bring enjoyment and understanding of the society, politics, and history of the period inhabited by the characters of Downton Abbey.
The Proud Tower and The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman are two tome-like volumes which wonderfully describe the world during the years 1890–1914 and the years during World War I. They are highly readable despite their daunting size and I recommend them highly.
The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson is a well-written history of the English summer of 1911 before the world changed forever with the advent of World War I.
The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781–1997 by Piers Brendon a book which describes how after the loss of the American colonies Britain rebuilt itself to become one of the greatest and most diverse empires the world has ever seen. It is the Empire that the aristocratic families of the Downton Abbey era would have known and would have believed to be unassailable in world authority and power.
The Long Week-End: A Social History of Great Britain 1918–1939 by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge is a book describing the social history of Britain between the wars.
The Edwardians by Roy Hattersley is about the brief but golden period during the reign of Edward VII (r. 1901–1910). It was an era of stellar personalities, social and political change, advances in technology, and flourishing literature and music. A perfect back-drop to Downton Abbey.
The Polite Tourist: Four Centuries of Country House Visiting by Adrian Tinniswood recounts the history of tourism to England’s country homes.
The history of housekeeping in a large country house is the topic of Behind the Scenes: Domestic Arrangements in Historic Houses by Christina Hardyment. Many of the details in this book would be quite familiar to Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, Anna and the other servants of Downton Abbey.
The conventions of country house lifestyle and culture fill a few very informative chapters in British Tradition and Interior Design by Claudia Piras and Bernhard Roetzel.
And for an enticing smorgasbord of beautiful images and information about Seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey and its era The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes is a must!