It is soap opera writ enormous, stuffed to its glorious rafters with melodrama, cliché and preposterous plotting. It posits relationships between the lordly and the lowly that stretch credulity; it sometimes employs anachronistic language.
And yet Downton Abbey has riveted not only the more than 10 million Brits who tuned into the final episode of the second season of Julian Fellowes’s upstairs-downstairs saga, but millions of North Americans who can’t wait to find out what happens to Lady Mary and Matthew, to the valet Bates and the lady’s maid Anna, and the great house they and the rest of the large cast inhabit.
Not to be left out of the excitement, the publishing world is staking out its corner of the Abbey.
The World of Downton Abbey By Jessica Fellowes, St. Martin’s, 301 pages, $34.50
This suitably lavish companion to a lavish series is written, suitably, by a former deputy editor of Country Life. Jessica Fellowes not only provides details about how such a magnificent pile as Downton Abbey would have functioned (and what it would have cost to keep up: plenty), but gives us considerable information about the large cast of characters and the actors who play them. The excellent, and extensive, photography is by Nick Briggs, more than usefully supplemented by period photography, drawings of contemporary dress and sidebars on manners of the time.
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, by the Countess of Carnarvon, Hodder, 310 pages, $24.99
For a real taste of Edwardian life among the toffs, try this work by the real-life equivalent of Lady Cora Crawley – and the current owner of Highclere Castle, both the inspiration for and the magnificent setting of Downton Abbey. Drawing on the castle’s rich archives, Lady Fiona tells the story of her predecessor, Lady Almina, and of a great house on the brink of, and during, the First World War. And yes, she really did open the house as a hospital for the wounded.