Novels from the Downton Abbey Era
By Beth Goehring
The sixth season has hardly begun, but I’m already dreading my inevitable “Downton Abbey” withdrawal. As Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson unite and Daisy makes her way in the world, I keep repeating, “Live in the moment. Live in the moment!”
If you’re like me and you can never get enough of these complex rules of engagement at home and abroad, here are five novels that will show you yet more facets of this fascinating era.
The most recent is a trilogy by Elizabeth Cooke which starts in 1913 with Rutherford Park, the stately home inhabited by Octavia and William Cavendish. You’ll live with them through the Great War in The Wild Dark Flowers and into the war’s unsettling aftermath in The Gates of Rutherford. I’ve been known to complain that “Downton Abbey” has gone soapy; this too is pop literature, but it’s rich with detail (the author’s grandfather worked for a titled family in a big house in Yorkshire) and incident and characters you’ll come to care about. Get it now at Amazon.
I always love the chance to go on about one of my favorite novels of the last twenty-five years: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Lord Darlington’s great house is as much a character as Stevens, its butler. Each has suffered a shattering loss, an upheaval that changes everything, a shock that will send its waves far and wide. When Stevens, after a revelation by his lost love Mrs. Benn, the former housekeeper Miss Kenton, narrates, “At that moment, my heart was breaking,” yours will do the same. The film starring Antony Hopkins and Emma Thompson is one of the truest translations of a novel to the screen that I’ve ever seen. If you love the customs of a country house, this novel doesn’t miss a thing. Get it now on Amazon.
For a first-hand account of a nurse’s life like Sybil’s, there’s Vera Brittain’s 1933 memoir, Testament of Youth (also made into a recent film starring Alicia Vikander). She left a very rare opportunity to attend Oxford for work as a nurse in 1914. She survived; her lover, her brothers, and too many patients to count did not.
It feels almost like ancient history now, but we should never forget. And we won’t, thanks to the incredible talents of writers like these and Julian Fellowes. Get it now on Amazon.
Beth Goehring believes, with apologies to Lorelei Lee, that rather than diamonds books are a girl’s best friend…and a boy’s, a man’s and a woman’s. For more than twenty-five years, through Book-of-the-Month Club and its related clubs, she’s sold popular fiction, mysteries, romances, cookbooks, children’s books, play scripts, behind-the-scenes tales of the movies and theatre, and lifestyle books. She lives with her husband and corgi in Manhattan.