Books

What to read after ‘Downton’

Posted by BookPage on October 04, 2019

The movie version of the popular TV drama “Downton Abbey” is out in theaters. If you can’t get enough upstairs/downstairs drama, read on for books that can help.  

If you enjoy . . .
the exploration of the effects of WWI on society
then you should read . . . 

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper). Winspear’s series is set in the 1920s and ’30s, but its heroine—once a maid in a great house, now a private investigator—personifies the changing times, and takes on cases that are rooted in the damage done by the war.

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller (HMH). This sensitive debut novel tells the story of a young WWI veteran investigating the apparent suicide of one of his fellow soldiers. 

Life Class by Pat Barker (Doubleday). No one has explored the legacy of World War I quite like Barker. Though her Regeneration trilogy (beginning with 1991’s Regeneration) is perhaps better known, Life Class details the pioneering days of plastic surgery, first developed to help disfigured veterans.

If you enjoy . . .
the glimpse into the lives of the servants of the rich-and-mighty
then you should read . . . 

Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison (Penguin). This spirited account of one young Yorkshire woman’s 35 years as a maid to the infamous Lady Nancy Astor was first published in 1975 and has been reprinted to capitalize on the “Downton” craze.

Longbourn by Jo Baker (Knopf). You’ll never read Pride & Prejudice the same way again after hearing the story in the voice of the Bennetts’ housemaid, Sarah.

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons (Penguin). Though set just before and during World War II, this novel puts an interesting twist on the upstairs/downstairs dilemma when a young, upper-class Jewish woman escapes Austria to work as a maid in an English manor house.

If you enjoy . . .
wartime romance
then you should read . . . 

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. One of the few novels about World War I to be written almost while it was happening—the book was published in 1921—Montgomery’s final installment of the Anne of Green Gables series follows Anne’s youngest, Rilla, who must grow up, and fall in love, in the shadow of the war.

Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull (Delacorte). This 2000 debut tells the story of a World War I soldier who comes to know his friend Daniel’s fiancée through her letters to him. When they meet 10 years after the war (and Daniel’s death), there’s a connection between Patrick and Julia that can’t be denied.

If you enjoy . . .
the one-liners from the Dowager Countess
then you should read . . . 

An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray (Random House). This Wodehousian novel, which follows shiftless Bertie, a member of the Irish aristocracy in its waning days, is full of hilarity and heart—just like everyone’s favorite Countess.

If you enjoy . . .
Downton’s trench warfare scenes
then you should read . . . 

The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund (Knopf), which will take you right into the trenches with letters and diaries from 20 soldiers who fought at the front.

The Long Way Home by David Laskin (Harper). Still struggling to establish themselves in an alien land where they spoke little English, 12 immigrant men embraced the U.S. mission in Europe and enlisted in WWI. Laskin offers detailed accounts of their experiences and bravery on the front lines.

If you enjoy . . .
Lady Sybil’s politicalization and her chauffeur beau
then you should read . . . 

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild (HMH), which gives an in-depth look at the political mood in Britain as the war broke out—particularly the pacifist movement. Portraits of aristocrats at war should also appeal to the “Downton” devotée.

If you enjoy . . .
the soapy romance and glitzy fashion
then you should read . . . 

The Titled Americans by Elizabeth Kehoe (Atlantic Monthly).  This nonfiction account of the lives of the three Jerome sisters—rich Americans who married British aristos, and one of whom became the mother of Winston Churchill—is a “beguiling chronicle” of the Edwardian era, replete with descriptions of homes, dresses and extramarital affairs with royals.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Viking). The new “Downton” film skates up to the 1930s,  the era covered by Towles’ poetically rendered portrayal of the complicated rise of a professional woman in 1930s New York (shades of Lady Mary, anyone?).

The Luxe by Anna Godberson (Harper). OK, it’s a YA novel, and it’s set in 1890s New York City, but it’s a “Downton” companion in spirit! Just consider it the background story on Lady Cora Grantham.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: More WWI book recommendations.

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