It’s Downton Abbey mania! The British television show, detailing the lives and loves of a British aristocratic family and their servants, is so popular in America that a positive cavalcade of upper-crust books is cascading off the printing presses.
After the first series of the show proved a critical and commercial hit for US public broadcaster, PBS,, Downton mania set in in earnest, with a flurry of articles talking up the British import; the second series premiered on January 8, drawing 4.2 million viewers.
According to a recent New York Times article, publishers are working hard to capitalise on the show’s surprising success: There’s the actual Countess of Carnavon’s Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, which tells the story of the house used in the series; there’s Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison; books about World War I (which forms the background to the second series, even if it does only seem to last for about five minutes). Even Fellowes’ family is getting in on it: His niece, Jessicca Fellowes, wrote The World of Downton Abbey, a bestseller in the UK. Publicists are using the hashtags #downtonabbey and #downtonpbs on Twitter to promote books.
Publishers have reported a spike in sales of What the Butler Winked At, the memoir of a butler who was in service for 50 years. It’s hit the internet, too – there’s even a Tumblr site called Downton Abbeyoncé, which has scenes from the show described by Beyoncé lyrics. Poppin’!
“We’re just riding that ‘Downton Abbey’ wave,” Stephen Morrison, the editor in chief of Penguin Books, told The New York Times.
Classy reads. Anything about the upper crust seems to be doing well: The Daily Telegraph reported that other books selling better include Ford Madox Ford’s war novel Parade’s End; Nancy Mitford’s sparkling aristo comedy Love in a Cold Climate; and The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Cannadine.
Blueblooded? Downton Abbey fever has certainly taken hold. Lauren Collins on The New Yorker gave Americans some little tidbits of “Downtoniana” to keep their appetites whetted: Lady Carnarvon apparently “likes pink Champagne”; more shockingly, perhaps, is the fact that Julian Fellowes’ Welsh ancestors were not titled – they were “SERVANTS!” Collins did, however, make the egregious error of calling the wife of the Earl of Grantham “Lady Cora” – get it right, she’s the Countess of Grantham, or Lady Grantham. You’re only “Lady [Firstname] if you’re the daughter of a Duke, Earl of Marquess, says Periscope, putting its copy of Debrett’s back onto its shelf and tutting.
It’s not good for makeup. Mediabistro said that one thing that will take a hit is mascara. Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, says “it’s not allowed on set”; Allure magazine, according to the site, says it wasn’t in use till 1913; “before that, common ladies used soot and soap.”
Some lists for the weekend (though you may, like the Dowager Countess, be thinking “what is a weekend?”) Jason Boog, also on Mediabistro, gave a helpful list of poetry for Downton fans: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas and Siegfried Sassoon. Flavorwire gave its suggestions for novels: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque; Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sasson; Regeneration by Pat Barker; Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos; Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo; and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, amongst others. For an underappreciated country house novel set in the Second World war, Periscope suggests Henry Green’s Loving; you could also try Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier, about a man who comes back from the First World War.
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