Downton Abbey: Books to Tide You over until Season 4

Well Season 3 left us in a lurch, didn’t it? For those demanding an explanation for the cruel twist of fate, I would recommend reading the NYT interview with show creator, Julian Fellowes.

I am very curious to see what will happen to the Downton estate now that Matthew isn’t there to oversee the modernization of the business plan. And the Daisy Mason thread was lost towards the end as well. Will she pick up Season 4 as a farmer?  Will the Crawley sisters and servants discover more opportunities as the workforce gradually expands to include more women?

As Downton Abbey concludes for another year (in the US at least), I wanted to give you a list of some of my favorite reads on the period:

Economic History:

Acres and Heirlooms: The Survival of Britain’s Historic Estates, by Madeleine Beard.  I used this book to focus on the period right after World War I, but this gives a broader history of estates in the early twentieth century. The anecdotes made the book a nice read.

Life Below Stairs in the Twentieth Century, by Pamela Horn. This was a great primer on how the economic and social structure was changing for servants, especially during the inter-war period. I will likely return to this source for the next Downton season as well.

Grand Trunk Arbitration: The Award and Reasons for Award. For an inside look behind the investment that almost brought down Downton, check out the final decision on the stock value of the failed company. This decision reads like a transcript from a Too-Big-To-Fail bank investigation today. Shocking how little has changed. Or perhaps it is not shocking at all.  I got my hands on a copy at the Library of Congress, and I imagine other academic institutions may have it electronically.

Women’s Work: Employment Opportunities and Economic Roles, 1918 – 1939, by Neal Ferguson. A short paper, but one I kept referring back to. For those interested in more academic papers on the era, I highly recommend getting a free JSTOR account. You do not need to be a member of an academic institution to get one. The free membership allows you to have three articles  on your ‘bookshelf’ at any one time. Some articles require a reading fee, but more and more of them are becoming available for free.

Social History:

Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War, by Virginia Nicholson. The spinster stigma is a great topic to read about, and  Spinsters Get Up for Breakfast was by far the most popular post in this series. I recommend this book if you want to learn more about the challenges and opportunities WWI and its aftermath brought for unmarried women. Lots of anecdotes make this fun to read.

Imaginary Widows: Spinsters, Marriage, and the ‘Lost Generation’ in Britain after the Great War, by Katherine Holden. …Again with the spinsters. But this is a fabulous essay if you can get your hands on it. I had to do some extensive library searches to get an electronic copy for free.

Memoirs and Biographies:

The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family,  by Mary S. Lowell.  I read this book over a year ago and the Season 3 Crawley storylines constantly reminded me of the Mitfords. Following the Mitford family through the early twentieth-century until well after World War II, this book, based on letters and firsthand accounts, takes readers through a wide range of topics: Money and inheritance issues, estate management, stressors of war, and political differences – not to mention cattiness between sisters (Mary and Edith, anyone?). This is one of my favorite books.  If you are looking for a book just to enjoy and experience the time period – this is the one. A cup of tea and a scone is recommended while reading.

What the Butler Winked At: Being the Life and Adventures of Eric Horne, Butler. This memoir was an absolute delight. Horne’s writing style was quick and anecdotal, and his voice just came through the pages. A quick read and great for a Kindle.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth. Throwing this in here mainly because of Sybil’s storyline this season (useful background reading on pre-eclampsia). This memoir actually takes place in the 1950s, but I think many Downton fans would be fans of this book as well. I’ve never seen the BBC show that is based on the memoir, but I hear it is very well done. And the second season begins on March 31 on PBS!

For now, my blog will turn to other topics in economic history, but, don’t worry, Downton fans, I’ll be back to blog Season 4 next year!

Thank you for reading the series! And of course, speculation on Season 4 is welcome in the comments.


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