Tonight is the Season 3 finale of Downton Abbey. Now, if you’re anything like me (obsessed), you’ve already watched every episode on Amazon (I blame Tom the socialist chauffeur), and you’re already sad that you have to wait another year before Season 4. Ho hum. That’s what I get for having no patience.
I take solace in my books though, and recently checked out a Victorian England murder mystery just to recapture a bit of that world. Really, though, I’m enthralled with stories from any era—Georgian to WWII—that dig into the upstairs vs. downstairs culture and the manners and mores. They don’t have to be English either—hey, Americans had their Gilded Age.
I’ve put together a list of a few of my favorite Downton-reminiscent novels. Hopefully they’ll get us through until Carson next rings the dressing gong. (Seriously, do the Crawleys not know when to get dressed without it?)
The Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Mysteries, by Anne Perry
There are 27 books in this series about an upstairs girl who marries a boy from a downstairs family, who reads serious books and has a lovely accent and eventually becomes a very clever police officer in London. Set in the latter part of the Victorian Era, these mysteries can be rote and maddeningly square, but the Pitts and their family are kind and loving, and the world of footmen and mysterious glances across drawing rooms keep most of the books moving right along, particularly as they inch towards the 20th century and all the changes it will bring.
Perry writes great “in-between” books—for those times you want a break from more serious literature. If you like her style, she’s also written a series set in the 1860s about an amnesiac private investigator and a sharp-tongued nurse and a series that takes place in during WWI England.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
Wharton was a master at dissecting class and status, and The Age of Innocence is no exception. From bored, increasingly disaffected Newland Archer to sweet, calculating May and scandalous Ellen, Age runs the gamut of emotions and hidden intentions.
Newland and May’s impending marriage writs large the social customs of New York’s best families and reminds us how some things never change: The young are always considered too modern, too fast, not reverent enough of the “old ways.” I love this book for its elegance and heartache—the last moments, in particular, are impeccable. (It’s also a fantastic movie starring Daniel Day Lewis.)
The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber
The Rackhams are the anti-Granthams. Agnes, the lady of the house, is mad and Mr. Rackham installs his favorite prostitute, Sugar, as his daughter's nanny. What would the Dowager say? This very racy, fast-paced story manages to skewer all the manners the upper class so depended on, while also taking an honest look at the sexual politics of Victorian England and the virtual invisibility of both Agnes and Sugar, who are both isolated and ignored in different ways. Women often weren't permitted to read the newspaper, let alone earn a decent living or engage in intellectual pursuits. (I'd go mad, too.) Crimson comes in at 800 pages, but once you start, you won’t be able to put it down.
The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton
Brideshead Revisted, by Evelyn Waugh
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Howard’s End, by E.M. Forster