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.
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!