Our beloved Downton Abbey has finally come to its fifth and final season, premiering tonight on PBS. Oh where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday Lady Mary was dragging a dead Turkish guy out of her bedroom and Sybil and Tom were snogging in the carport. How did we get here? And how will we go on without the endless delight and excellence that is Her Royal Highness Dame Maggie Smith?
Luckily, there are so many fantastic reads out there that take place in the same time period as Downton, with the same English stiff upper lip and flavor of this classic show. Before you draw the curtains and sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” take a gander at these eight books for Downton Abbey withdrawal. It’s just what Doctor Clarkson ordered.
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh’s magnum opus, published in 1945, tells the story of Charles Ryder, who befriends Lord Sebastian Flyte while studying at Oxford in 1923 and is immediately entranced by his wealthy, aristocratic family. Not unlike the Crawleys of Downton, the Marchmains embody the classist, traditional England and Charles finds himself in the midst of what can only be described as a major family crisis. Beautifully written, Brideshead Revisited is an absolute classic.
Atonement, by Ian McEwan
The love affair between Cecilia Tallis and Robbie, the groundskeeper’s son, in Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, is not unlike that of Lady Sybil and her father’s chauffeur, Tom Branson. The class struggle is at play here, as Cecilia is meant to marry a man of wealth and status. The impending war (in this case, WWII rather than WWI) complicates things, in particular, the fate of Robbie and Cecilia.
Parade’s End, by Ford Maddox Ford
Ford’s epic WWI drama is told through the eyes of Christopher Tietjens, a straight-laced English aristocrat with a rather unruly wife named Sylvia. Published in four volumes between 1924 and 1928, these books reflect Ford’s own experience of the First World War, and its aftershocks, just as Christopher and Sylvia come to represent the old-world and the new and changing post-war world. Much like the Crawleys’ experience in Downton Abbey, war changes everything.
Loving, by Henry Green
This stream-of-consciousness novel is focused not only on the comings and goings of the aristocratic Tennant family, but also on their servants “downstairs.” While the family is traveling (or fighting) in the Second World War, the servants are left to themselves in this large Irish country estate. If the downstairs drama on Downton is your thing, in particular, the love affair between Anna and Bates, then Loving is for you.
The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford
These two novels by Nancy Mitford are not-so-loosely based on her own prestigious family—perhaps you’ve heard of the Mitford sisters—during World War II. The Mitfords were a well-known family in England with four sisters who all were effected by the war and went in very different ways (one of them, Unity, became one of Hitler’s biggest supporters). Nancy was known for her dry English wit. If you can’t get enough of the snarky exchanges between Lady Violet and Lady Crawley, this book’s for you.
The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene
Graham Greene’s beautifully written 1951 novel tells of the love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles, two star-crossed (and might we mention married) lovers who find themselves much thrown together during the air-raids of World War II. Tragedy is inevitable. If you love romance, love in wartime, a dry martini, and rainy English nights thrown in with a philosophical debate about what it means to be Catholic, then this book’s for you. Oh, is it ever.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Whether the Crawleys like it or not, the Americans are coming—they certainly made their presence known in the last two seasons, and major characters have even departed for the brave new world that is America. What list of Downton approved reads would be complete without the ultimate Jazz age novel, The Great Gatsby, whose flappers and gin-soaked parties inspired not only the fashions—but also the freedoms, particularly for women, in store.