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The Oxford Companion to Downton Abbey

Now that Series One and Two, plus the Christmas Special, of Downton Abbey have aired in the US and Canada, we’ve decided to compile a reading list for those serious-minded viewers who’d like to learn more about Edwardian England, World War I, life in an aristocratic household, and what lies ahead for the Crawleys and their servants. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Photograph: ITV.

The first domino to fall in the lives of those at Downton Abbey is the sinking of the Titanic. James Crawley, Lord Grantham’s heir, and his son Patrick Crawley, Lady Mary’s fiancé, perished in the disaster (or did Patrick Crawley survive as Peter Gordon?). Who else was aboard?

Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town by John Welshman (UK, US)
Also read John Welshman’s blog post on the cross-section of society who was aboard the Titanic.

What was the aristocratic lifestyle of the Earl and Countess Grantham; their three daughters, Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil; and Lord Grantham’s mother the Dowager Countess?

Making Aristocracy Work: The Peerage and the Political System in Britain 1884-1914 by Andrew Adonis (UK, US)

What was life like for Mr Carson, Mrs Hughes, O’Brien, William, Mrs Patmore, and others downstairs?

Knowing Their Place: Domestic Service in Twentieth Century Britain by Lucy Delap (UK, US)

Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). Photo by Richard Munckton.

Mr Bates was Lord Grantham’s batman and is now his valet. What was life in the Edwardian army like for both men?

The Edwardian Army: Manning, Training, and Deploying the British Army, 1902-1914 by Timothy Bowman (UK, US)

Lady Sybil is a passionate political activist. What were the suffragettes doing?

The Militant Suffrage Movement: Citizenship and Resistance in Britain, 1860-1930 by Laura E. Nym Mayhall (UK, US)

The March of the Women: A Revisionist Analysis of the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage, 1866-1914 by Martin Pugh (UK, US)

Downton has an impressive library and the Crawley sisters were interested in fiction and poetry. What would they have read?

Edwardian Poetry by Kenneth Millard (UK, US)

Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction 1900-14: New Voices in the Age of Uncertainty, edited by Sandra Kemp, Charlotte Mitchell and David Trotter (UK, US)

Mr Carson and William in the library at Downton Abbey. Copyright ITV. Source: pbs.org.

Chauffeur Branson on the other hand was interested in politics and history. After the end of the war, he’ll return to Ireland with Lady Sybil to take up Ireland’s cause as a journalist. What was happening in Irish politics at the time?

Nationalism and the Irish Party: Provincial Ireland 1910-1916 by Michael Wheatley (UK, US)

Ideology and the Irish Question: Ulster Unionism and Irish Nationalism 1912-1916 by Paul Bew (UK, US)

How did the molasses pace and traditionalism of Edwardian England explode into the First World War?

The Coming of the First World War, edited by R. J. W. Evans and Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann (UK, US)

A New England?: Peace and War 1886-1918 by G. R. Searle (UK, US)

Lord Grantham’s deep guilt for his ineffectual position in the Army, Captain Matthew’s leadership and debilitating injury at the front, former footman William’s death, valet Henry Lang’s shell shock, Mrs Hughes nephew’s execution for cowardice – the Great War hangs over Downton throughout Series Two. What impact did five years of death and destruction have on society?

Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War by Alan Kramer (UK, US)

Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Nurse Isobel works at the Downton hospital, footman Thomas enlists as a medic, and Lady Sybil trains as a nurse. What tools did they have at their disposal? What challenges did they face?

The Medical War: British Military Medicine in the First World War by Mark Harrison (UK, US)

Lady Mary and Sir Richard Carlisle. Copyright ITV. Source: itv.com.

Lady Mary’s former fiancé, Sir Richard Carlisle, is a ruthless newspaper magnate who trades in secrets and threats. Did such men really exist?

Family Newspapers?: Sex, Private Life, and the British Popular Press 1918-1978 by Adrian Bingham (UK, US)

From William and Daisy at his deathbed to Mr Bates and Anna in a registry office, how was marriage changing?

Making Marriage Modern: Women’s Sexuality from the Progressive Era to World War II by Christina Simmons (UK, US)

Lady Edith has yet to find her beau. Will she survive and thrive in the 1920s?

Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by Virginia Nicholson (US)

Looking forward to Series Three!

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