Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Top Ten Books If You're Sad About Downton Abbey Ending

I haven't participated in a Top Ten Tuesday for a long time, but I'm a little bereft at the end of my favorite Masterpiece show. Sure, it was really a gorgeously shot period soap opera with fabulous costumes, and the ending was mostly predictable, but here are some suggestions to fill the void until there's a new Masterpiece obsession. All but one of these has been adapted into a movie or TV miniseries, some of them more than once. 

In no particular order, here are ten Downton-esque novels that I've read and loved (some are series):

1. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford.  Two books in one! These are the first two in Mitford's hilarious satires of upper-crust life in country mansion. Mitford's own father is skewed as the bellowing Uncle Matthew. Also a great BBC adaptation with the luminous Rosamund Pike.

2. The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse. Bertie Wooster is ensnared by his Aunt Dahlia to steal an antique silver cow creamer while simultaneously trying to save the engagements of two friends. Jeeves just wants to go on a cruise around the world, but saves the day anyway. Highclere Castle (the real-life Downton Abbey) was the location for parts of the BBC episode of Jeeves & Wooster that adapted this book (it's Season 2, Episode 1 if you want to watch the DVD, or it's available on demand from Amazon.)

3. The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro. What if Carson wrote a book about his life at Downton? A long-suffering butler reflects on his years in service. 

4. The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton. Cora Crawley isn't the only American heiress to marry a cash-poor British aristocrat. Her last novel is the story of four American debs on the hunt for titled husbands. Wharton died before finishing the last third of the novel, which was completed based on her notes. 

5. The Light Years and the entire Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Great family saga about an extended British family that starts in the 1930s and continues through WWII and the aftermath. And there are five books, enough to fall in love with all the characters. 

6. The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. Forbidden love on an estate between a wealthy young woman and a handsome farmer, as viewed by a twelve-year old boy. 

7. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Fanny Price isn't actually a servant, but her snobbish cousins treat her like a second-class citizen after they take her in. Lots of scandalous behavior upstairs, enough to rival Downton Abbey.

8. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. A shy, introverted paid companion of a rich American meets a handsome, wealthy English widower in Monte Carlo, and after a brief and odd courtship, he marries her and takes her home to the family estate in Cornwall, where the secrets of his first marriage are exposed. Great atmosphere and a seriously messed-up housekeeper make this one of my all-time favorites. 

9. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Another Masterpiece favorite, this book moves through the Victorian, Edwardian, and WWI eras of English history, and shows how an upper-class family changing to keep up with the times. Originally published as three books, it won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932. 

10. The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt. Another saga about an extended family, this one in the Edwardian era and beyond. It's basically a really great history lesson about English society as it transitions from the Victorian Era to the horrors of the Great War, with the family of an eccentric children's book author as a microcosm. It hasn't been adapted as a TV miniseries yet, but it would be amazing if someone adapted it. BBC, are you reading this? 

And of course there are lots more books about the Edwardians, WWI, and 1920s, both fiction and nonfiction. Bloggers, what do you recommend? And what are you watching now that Downton is all over? 


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  2. I love your list! Those are some fantastic books, full stop.

    I never got on the Downton bandwagon, but for an excellent book about the end of the Edwardian era I suggest The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate. It isn't a "classic" (yet) because it was only written in 1980. Forewarned is forearmed, it is a slow read for such a short book, but a rewarding one if the reader takes the time. In any case, it is a wonderful distillation of the end of an era in just over 200 pages. It has also been adapted into a movie starring (among others) James Mason in one of his last roles. I highly recommend both the book and the movie.

    Also good, but stylistically very different from the Shooting Party, is Loving by Henry Green. It was published in 1945 and is about the upstairs/downstairs life of the inhabitants of a manor house sitting out WWII in neutral Ireland. That might help fill the Downton Abbey void for a bit. When I read it, I was strongly reminded of the film Godsford Park.

  3. What a perfect (and timely!) list. I love The Buccaneers and am planning on reading Rebecca this year. And The Go-Between sounds like a lot of fun; I'll have to look for a used copy. :)

  4. Terrific List! I especially give kudos to Nancy Mitford and The Children's Books which both gave me Downton feels but I think aren't as widely read as they should be. I also really adore The Buccaneers and always think about it associated with Cora!

  5. What an excellent set of books. I loved the mini-series of The Buccaneers from decades ago, but have still not read the book. I always thought of Cora as one of the Buccaneers!

    I have The Light Years on my TBR shelf and hope to get to it this year.

    Mansfield Park does have a DTA feel to it--hadn't thought of that before.

    I've always loved Rebecca--hope to reread it again soon.

    I will definitely miss DTA but hopefully the new Gilded Age series that Fellowes is working on will help me recover from the loss.

  6. I have still not watched the last episode!!! I guess I really don't want it to end. Maybe I'll read a few of these before I get to it lol.

  7. I know this a bit mean of me, but not being a fan of Downton Abbey as soon as I say your headline I thought of making a list for people like me. It would feature books about the class struggle, the masses throwing off the yoke of oppression. Things like that. ;-) I think it could be a funny, tongue-in-cheek Sunday Salon type post.

  8. This list is an excellent idea; I have read a few of these books and the others sound like I would like them too. Downton Abbey is missed by me!