When my husband saw that I was reading The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, he scoffed a bit. Reading a book about a television show is, to him, the equivalent of reading the junior novelization of a movie. Then I explained to him that it's not really about the show at all. It is about all of the history upon which the show is based. Throughout the book, information is shared about the culture of the Edwardian time period and all the details that twenty-first century viewers may not know. For instance, did you know that 9 million people worldwide died in World War I and that shortly thereafter 50 million people were victims of the Spanish Influenza epidemic? This may be something I had learned in a past history class, but when put into the context of characters that I have come to know, these facts come alive. I also learned about how Cora's character is based on the influx of rich American young women who came to Britain in search of titled young men to marry from the late 1870s, continuing for the next fifty years. These young women were referred to as the "Buccaneers'' and they injected a significant amount of American money into the great estates.
...More determined matriarchs made their way to Europe, where the aristocrats were secure enough in their titles and estates to welcome the pretty, rich and fun young women to the party. And, they liked the smell of the American girls' money.
Also especially enjoyable to learn are all the ways in which young women were expected to behave, the manners that were thrust upon them as a necessity of daily life. Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, recalls in the book a member of his own family sharing this:
My great-aunts would be taken round the gardens by their governess and at every shrub they would have to introduce a new subject. The idea was that you could keep a conversation going even with someone who was completely socially incapable.
I really enjoyed gaining a deeper understanding behind one of my favorite shows. The only drawback of this book is that it was published at the beginning of series two and so it doesn't contain all the information on the remaining series. There is a new book, Downton Abbey: A Celebration, that covers all six series and I'd really like to read it as well.
I also came across a Downton Abbey Script Book at a local book store that really just called my name. It is a collection of each series' scripts as well as notes on the motivation as well as historical notes to further inform the reader. It was fascinating and I'd really like to have that as well, but I'm trying not to get over my head. Oh, so many books, so little time. You know how it is.