Fiction Addiction: Books for fans of Downton Abbey

2 comments
Lady Mary and Sir Richard Carlisle in Downton Abbey.
Photo / File
Lady Mary and Sir Richard Carlisle in Downton Abbey. Photo / File

The series which brought in record ratings for Prime TV is also enormously popular in the UK and the US, prompting a surge in demand for Edwardian and Downton-related literature.

The internet is awash with Downton Abbey reading lists compiled by literary bloggers, publishers, book shops and libraries.

Books about the British aristocracy such as Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited rank highly on most lists. Other recommendations cover almost anything that receives a mention in the series, from memoirs of Titanic survivors, to tales of the 1918 flu pandemic.

Poetry loving fans are directed to the likes of Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen, most commonly known for their poems about World War I.

Even universities are taking advantage of the trend. "What better time to dust off antiquated property law?" asks the Seattle University Law Library referring to the Downton Abbey entail, by which the estate must pass to a male heir.

Er, I think I'll pass.

If you feel the need to maintain your dose of country houses, aristocratic society, upstairs/downstairs shenanigans, or World War I drama until series three arrives on our screens, here are a few titles to keep you going:

1. Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon

It's a coincidence according to series creator Julian Fellowes, but the inspiration for the character Lady Cora could easily have come from within the walls of Highclere Castle, the Berkshire stately home which provided the location for the 'upstairs' scenes of Downton Abbey. Almina Wombwell was just a teenager when she married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon in 1895, but like Cora, she was also a wealthy foreign heiress and their fortuitous alliance saved the estate from financial ruin. Thanks to the generosity of her father Albert de Rothschild, the Carnarvon family took a pragmatic approach to the fact that Almina was born illegitimate. In this illustrated volume, Almina's story is told by Fiona, the current Countess of Carnarvon, with plenty of family and house history thrown in.

2. Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

The moment Bates' back was turned in season two, in stepped Matthew Crawley's valet Molesley, attempting to woo housemaid Anna with a copy of this popular Edwardian memoir-slash-novel. Australian-born von Arnim was Katherine Mansfield's cousin. In 1891 she married Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin, a Prussian aristocrat she had met on a tour of Italy and whom she would later refer to as "The Man of Wrath". The satirical style of this loosely autobiographical story of life on her husband's estate in Pomerania created a literary sensation when it was first published in 1898.

3. Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Powell's memoir of life as a housemaid in one of England's stately homes is said to have inspired both Downton Abbey and the hugely popular 1970s television series, Upstairs Downstairs. Margaret entered service in 1921 at the age of 14, working her way up to cook, before marrying a milkman named Albert. Her frank and witty memoir was an instant bestseller when first published in 1968 and offers an intriguing social history of life below and above stairs.

4. Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

This classic series of four related novels follows Christopher Tietjens, a government statistician from a wealthy landowning family, from the security of Edwardian society to the horror of the Western Front during World War I. Alongside the devastation of war, Parade's End explores the destruction of a way of life and the complexity of Tietjen's marriage to provocative socialite Sylvia. The series has been re-released in the US ahead of a BBC television adaptation by Sir Tom Stoppard currently in production.

5. Loving by Henry Green

Set on an absurdly elaborate Irish country estate while World War II echoes somewhere in the background, this tale of an aristocracy in decline tells of scheming servants and the world they create while their masters are away. Chosen by Time magazine as one of the top 100 English language novels published since 1923, writer Garth Risk Hallberg calls it "the single most Downton-y book I know".

6. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

This series of three novels and two interludes tells the story of three generations of the upper-middle class Forsyte family. Soames Forsyte is a lawyer and a man of property, descended from Dorset farmers, and acutely aware of his "new money" status. His desire to possess things - including his wife - leads to terrible consequences that echo down the generations. Full of family secrets, scandals, adultery and divorce, The Forsyte Saga takes place in a time of tumultuous change from the 1860s through the Boer War and World War I.

7. Searching for Grace by Carol Henderson and Heather Tovey

You'll find secrets, scandals, manipulation, intrigue and the extravagant social scene of the Edwardian aristocracy in this biography by Wellington writer Carol Henderson and her late mother, Heather Tovey. Moments after her birth in England in 1911, Heather Tovey (then Campbell) was wrapped in a black shawl and whisked away to be raised by a governess in Chiswick, west London. While the delivering doctor ensured she was well provided for throughout her childhood, the identity of her birth mother, the flamboyant but kindly Lady Grace Weigall, remained a secret until Heather was in her 60s.

8. The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

All right it's a blatant spin-off, but a hardcore fan is sure to enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at both the television series and Edwardian life, richly illustrated with photographs and sketches. The author is both a journalist and the niece of series creator Julian Fellowes, who wrote the foreword.

The Downton Abbey Christmas Special screens on Wednesday 1 February at 8.30pm on Prime TV.

Are you a fan of Downton Abbey? Have you read any of these books?

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 29 Aug 2014 15:18:21 Processing Time: 701ms