Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Downton Abbey Readalikes

Welcome to my new obsession: Downton Abbey!

Actually, I'm late to the party on this one. You probably know all about Downton Abbey and are wondering if I've been living under a rock! But just in case you've been under that rock with me, Downton Abbey is a British TV series set before and during World War I. 

The story follows the lives of an aristocratic family and their household servants as they weather tumultuous times along with a great deal of scheming and scandal. There are gorgeous costumes, an opulent manor, and the MOST AMAZING one-liners delivered by Dame Maggie Smith. Visit the official Downton Abbey website to learn more.

The show premiered on British television in the Fall of 2010. The first season is available on Blu-ray or Netflix instant, and the second season is currently airing on PBS in the US. My husband and I (and just about everyone we know) are hooked

And, of course, part of being a librarian means that when I get hooked on something, I immediately think: now, what kind of books go with this?

YA Lit for Downton Abbey Fans

The Watch that Ends the Night
, by Allan Wolf

The events of Downton Abbey are set in motion by the sinking of the Titanic, and this novel in verse explores the famous tragedy from multiple perspectives, from first class to third class, including the fictionalized perspectives of real historical figures, and even gives a voice to the iceberg.

Downton fans will enjoy the exploration of social stratification and a forbidden romance.

The Luxe, by Anna Godbersen

This four-volume series, touted as Gossip Girl for the Gilded Age, takes place a decade or so before Downton Abbey and is set in New York rather than England, but the fast-moving plot features the same types of class issues, romantic entanglements, desperate scheming, stunning fashion, and the occasional scandal. Well, okay-- in this series, it's more than the occasional scandal...

Not quite as refined as Downton, but a very fun page-turner nonetheless.

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

Fast forward a few decades beyond Downton Abbey to meet a pair of sisters competing for marriage prospects for both romance and financial gain.

Downton fans will revel in the English countryside setting, the opposing perspectives and goals of the two sisters, and the alluring presence of a castle (though it's a fairly decrepit one in this case). A lovely and romantic read.

Sisters of Glass
, by Stephanie Hemphill

Now take your time machine back a few hundred years to 15th century Venice, and you have another pair of sisters at odds with each other over the topic of marriage.

Once again, one sister must marry for money and status in order to secure the entire family's prospects. The author deftly illustrates how very little agency young women had before modern times, and how much depended on a good marriage-- familiar themes for Downton viewers.

Children's Lit for Downton Abbey Fans

The Betsy-Tacy series, by Maud Hart Lovelace

This wholesome picture of life in turn-of-the-century Minnesota has decidedly less scandal than Downton, but the Edwardian fashion descriptions are divine. Merry Widow hats! Hobble skirts! Any fan of Lady Mary's wardrobe will appreciate Betsy's taste in clothes, too.

Begin with Heaven to Betsy, in which Betsy goes to high school. The highlight of this series for Downton fans may be Betsy's fabulous pre-war European tour in 1914 in Betsy and the Great World.

Charlotte Sometimes
, by Penelope Farmer

One of my all-time favorites, this eerie little book- part speculative fiction, part historical fiction- has a World War I era setting that may interest Downton Abbey fans.

A young English girl, Charlotte, goes to boarding school during the 1960s and slips back in time to 1918, mysteriously changing places with a girl there named Clare. It's a philosophical exploration of identity, and the details of life in 1918, with the war's ever-present effects on day-to-day living, are fascinating.

Rilla of Ingleside
, by L.M. Montgomery 

The final volume of Montgomery's famous Anne of Green Gables series chronicles the coming-of-age of Anne's youngest daughter on the Canadian home front during World War I. The theme of war changing all aspects of life and society will resonate with Downton Abbey viewers, as Rilla starts out as a fairly frivolous, sheltered young girl and grows into a strong, capable woman.

I think she'd get along well with Lady Sybil.

Want More?

I'm not the only one with the idea to come up with a list of Downton Abbey readalikes-- Whitney at Youth Services Corner did a fantastic round-up of books for Downton Abbey fans last week.

Articles from the New York Times and the Daily Mail:

If You're Mad for 'Downton,' Publishers Have Reading List

U.S. publishers rush out books about Edwardian and wartime Britain to cash in on American success of Downton Abbey.

Also of interest, your source for all things Edwardian can be found at Edwardian Promenade.

Now get dressed in your finest finery, make yourself a pot of tea (or ring for the maid to bring it), and enjoy!


  1. I really need to start watching this. I adore period movies and books.

  2. Oh, thank you for posting those links! I'm often too lazy to go find stuff, but I adore Downton Abbey and Anne of Green Gables. We named my daughter Anne, in part for that character!

  3. Fantastic post, Allison! Don't you just love Lady Sybil?

  4. This round up of books is awesome! ;) I am going to add many of these to my to-read list, especially the Luxe series. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for the comments, all!

    Becky, you really DO need to start watching this- I think you'll love it! It'll make you want to plan a fabulous trip to England. And I can live vicariously, since it'll be a while till I can travel with my little ones. ;)

    Bird, I love that you named your daughter after Anne of Green Gables!! My daughter is named for one of my favorite children's book characters, too.

    Michelle, Lady Sybil is awesome. A girl with goals!

    Erika, thanks for reading! The Luxe series is like a guilty pleasure. :)

  6. Not quite the same time period, but my family are huge fans of Csardas by Diane Pearson:

    "...a family saga set in Hungary of the first half of the 20th century. It begins (in a very Gone With The Wind-like way) with the story of two beautiful sisters, Malie and Eva, the admired belles of a small town. Then the first world war breaks out and their world changes forever. They survive and move on with their lives, both of them get married - Malie (the calm and quiet older sister), who is mourning over the loss of the young soldier she loved, has to marry a wealthy man in order to save the family, but her marriage after all turns out to be happy; Eva, on the other side, is unhappily married to the brother of the man she loves, while her beloved has to marry her plain-looking cousin. All their personal troubles and tragedies are dwarfed when the World War II breaks out and brings danger and death to the partly Jewish family. The story ends with the new generation growing up in the new, Communist state."

  7. Ba.d.'s mom and grandma are hooked on this show, but so far it hasn't caught me. (Granted, I've seen only tiny bits and pieces.) I'd written this off as for a different generation, but it sounds like that might have been a bit short-sighted!

  8. Just what I need - DA-like books to keep me going between episodes! Thank you! :_

  9. A., thanks for the recommendation on Csardas! That sounds really sweeping and epic... definitely one for Downton fans!

    Deb, ohhhh, you've got to sit down with this from the beginning! I mean, it's possible that it might not be your cup of tea, but... come on, all the cool kids are doing it. ;)

    Marie, thanks for commenting! We are so going to go through withdrawal when this season of DA is over, aren't we??

  10. This is such a good topic for a book list! I might just read some of these myself, since I love Downton Abbey. An American Heiress would be a good choice, too -- although aimed at an adult audience. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  11. Thanks for dropping by, Mom and Kiddo! Isn't Downton Abbey SUCH a good show? I can't get enough. Thanks for recommending An American Heiress! I really appreciate adult-level recs, because even though I'm the teen services librarian at my library, I serve at the adult reference desk most of the time... and it's embarrassing when I can't think of "grown up" books to recommend!

  12. I love this post, and I'm loving Downton Abbey. Thank you for sharing all those great Downton-like books--I esp. love the Betsy-Tacy books and Rilla of Ingleside.


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