The juggernaut British series Downton Abbey is ending its six-season run this month, and for many, the end of the upstairs/downstairs drama featuring the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants will leave a country-estate-sized hole in their hearts (and pop-culture consumption).
The story has wrapped up for Ladies Mary and Edith, and we can rest easy that the crew below stairs will be taken care of as the times change, but Downton’s end will come as a real blow to fans who can’t get enough of the fashion, intrigue and political changes that were ushered in during the Edwardian era. And that’s to say nothing of those of us for whom it’s taken six seasons to finally figure out what everybody’s rank and title signifies, as well as how to properly lay a table for dinner.
But though the stoic butler and his master, the Earl, may have to finally accept the end of an era, we, dear readers, do not. Thankfully, there are plenty of books available to help draw out and give context to the Edwardian era and its key players, and keep the fascinating magic of the Downton world alive.
Downton Abbey never did a story line about somebody contesting an inheritance or making a claim to the Crawley title (and land), but apparently it happened to titled families all the time at the turn of the 20th century. The Dead Duke looks at one of the most bizarre and intriguing cases on the books, where stolen identities, social construct, desperation, and delusion are the building blocks of a mystery that took decades to unravel.
Not every grand estate had a benevolent head housekeeper and curmudgeonly but well-intentioned butler running the show below stairs. And not every servant had the opportunity to better themselves outside of service, or even marry to escape a life of toil. Lethbridge’s look at more than a hundred years of domestic work in England gives voice to the true experiences of “the help,” and how the years before and during the Edwardian era changed a legacy of service.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Kate Morton’s criss-crossing story of a doomed poet and a tragedy that occurs in 1924 and the resurrection of the mystery in 1999, gives readers a fictional glimpse into the lives, loves, secrets, and scandals that were rife in the repressed Edwardian-era society. Perhaps reminiscent of a season-one Downton episode featuring a doomed Turkish diplomat, no?
Downton Abbey may not be a real estate, but it’s stand-in, Highclere Castle, has a history just as intriguing a story to tell – in fact, it was Highclere and her Edwardian-era mistress, Lady Alamina Carnarvon who inspired Downton creator Julian Fellowes to write the series. Written by the present Lady Carnarvon, fans of Downton will recognize many of the true anecdotes as the starting point to story lines, characters, and circumstances experienced by the fictional Crawleys.
The introduction of the Russian immigration storyline on Downton helped bring major world events into perspective for the era, and also helped deepen the backstories of some of our favorite characters. While the Dowager Countess’s past dalliance with a Russian Prince might seem unlikely, the downfall of the Russian royalty was swift, shocking, and brutal. Rappaport’s retelling through a focus on the daughters of the last Czar offers a fascinating parallel to the lives of the British gentry.
World War I did not leave the grand houses untouched, and like the real Lady of Highclere, Lady Cora of Downton Abbey worked tirelessly throughout World War I to offer care and assistance to injured soldiers while bidding farewell to those leaving the estate to fight. Parade’s End, Ford’s four-part novel published from 1924-1928 gives us a harrowing, layered, and vivid look at the life of a soldier both on and off the front-lines during the war years, offering yet more context to the Downton story and enlisted characters like Barrow, Matthew Crawley, and William Mason.
What books will you be turning to to fill the hole left in your life by Downton Abbey’s departure? Share with us below!