I watched Downton Abbey for all six seasons, and miss my Sunday night ritual of watching it. Here’s a list of books I recommend if you’re experiencing Downton Withdrawal like I am. I’ve tried to include a little bit of everything–some fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and a little Roaring Twenties.
Minding the Manor by Mollie Moran–the life story of Mollie, who leaves the English countryside at age fourteen to become a scullery maid in London. Her vivacious personality makes this memoir shine. Readable and fascinating, check out my original review here.
To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace–a good book for history buffs, the authors lay the foundation of New York and British society, which gives a broader understanding of what world the American heiresses were leaving, and what world they were entering.
There are a large number of photographs and drawings, which helps the reader visualize the events more clearly.
I admit that Downton is a well-dressed soap opera, but reality often has a way of being stranger than fiction, and these real life stories are full of scandal and intrigue, set in a world very different from our own.
Many additional resources are included, such as heiresses’ homes that are now open to the pubic, and a walking tour of the American heiresses’ London.
The Greville Family Saga by Phillip Rock (The Passing Bells, Circles of Time and A Future Arrived)–this trilogy of novels has several story lines which are similar to Downton’s, but were published in the 1970’s. Written by a male author, this series has more masculine influences and balances the mostly female subjects of To Marry an English Lord. Read my original review here.
House at Riverton by Kate Morton–this is Morton’s first book, so if you haven’t read it, you should–and then follow up with her four other novels. Each one is progressively better than the last.
Morton’s books are gothic and suspenseful, and always with a twist. The House at Riverton is the story of an aristocratic family, their English estate, and a mysterious death.
The Private Life of a Country House by Lesley Lewis–this book isn’t for everyone, but I had to include it because I love it. Gretchen Rubin mentions it in her first book, The Happiness Project (also a great book).
Lewis was born in 1909 in what she describes as a minor country house. The entire book describes their every day life, and the objects in the house they use for daily tasks. I wish the book included photographs, because some of their tools and appliances are now so obscure, I have a hard time picturing them by description alone. This book is for someone who has an interest in the time period, and/or old houses and antiques.
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon–the current Countess draws on materials from the archives of Highclere to share the story of its past residents. Many photographs and documents are included in the book, which helps one understand what life at Edwardian Highclere was like.
Lady Almina was probably the illegitimate child of Alfred de Rothschild, and married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who was deeply in debt. The money she brought to the marriage allowed them to live a luxurious life before the war, and much like her fictional Downton counterparts, she opened her home to wounded soldiers during WWI.
Unlike Robert and Cora Grantham, the 5th Earl and his wife spent a lot of time in Egypt, and the Earl helped discover the tomb of King Tutankhamun. This book shows both sides of people, flawed and virtuous, and also does a nice job of giving an overview of the state of the world’s affairs at the time.
The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig–Governess Rachel Woodley has been raised in a poor but respectable home, living a simple life. After her mother dies, she finds herself reinventing herself in Roaring Twenties London, in order to get in touch with family she never knew she had.
Below Stairs by Margaret Powell–a memoir about life in service from a different perspective. Similar to Mollie Moran, Powell was born in 1907, and left school at age thirteen to begin work. However, this memoir contrasts greatly to Minding the Manor; Powell doesn’t share Moran’s upbeat and chipper outlook on her time in service, but I think both perspectives balance each other out.
Do you have any Downton-esque books to add to my list?