Can't get enough Downton Abbey? Although Downton-like fiction is
still rarer than the more literary multi-generation family secret-type (don't
worry; more new Downton-type stories are coming) here are a few
keep you going between seasons.
Trading on the theme of the famous poem with the
English title's name, this novel follows the story of Cora Cash, whose mother
carries her to England in the exodus of Vanderbilt-rich Americans seeking titled
husbands. With her beauty and charm, she catches the prize of the Season, Ivo,
Duke of Wareham. But English society holds a plethora of traps for unwary
"colonials" and her brooding, secretive husband harbors dark desires of his own.
Is the glamorous position her wealth bought her truly worth the price?
HABITS OF THE HOUSE begins
in 1899 when, after some
unwise trading on the stock market, Lord Robert faces financial crisis. The
best solution seems to be finding a rich bride for his son Arthur. Minnie, the
beautiful Chicago socialite with an enormous dowry and a slightly tarnished
reputation, may just be the answer--though his wife Isobel, Isobel's maid Grace,
Arthur's sister Rosina, and Arthur's mistress may not agree.
The second book continues the Dilberne family's
story in 1901. Thanks to the new bride's money, the Dilberne fortune has been
restored and their historic home, Dilberne Court, saved from the auction block.
Minnie, though happy in her marriage, struggles to adapt to her new role as the
next Countess under the controlling guidance of her mother-in-law, Lady Isobel.
While involved in the preparations for the coronation of Edward VII, Lord
Robert and his wife are faced with determining the future of their
recently-orphaned niece Adela. As they debate whether to take her in or keep
her in school, Adela runs away. Joining a traveling band of spiritualists, she
has a run-in with the future king that will change all their lives.
In the final volume of the trilogy, the Diberne
estate is preparing for a visit from recently-crowned King Edward. Along with
that challenge, Minnie wrestles with Lady Isobel over the upbringing of the
heir, Minnie and Arthur's son, James. Further complicating matters, Minnie's
opinionated mother arrives from America, spiritualist Adela returns, and a new
crisis looms for the Dilberne finances.
The first book introduces Rowena Buxton, her
younger sister Victoria, and Prudence Tate, the daughter of a governess, who
were brought up as equals in the Bohemian household of Sir Phillip Buxton. When
Sir Phillip dies and the family estate is inherited by their uncle, Prudence is
banished below stairs "where she belongs" and the two Buxton girls are pressed
to conform to the norms of Edwardian society. But with their uncle's dictums
running counter to what she grew up believing, Rowena finds herself drawn to a
secret protest movement, Victoria resists giving up her "unladylike" desire to
become a botanist, and Pru struggles to find the place she truly belongs.
Set a year later in 1914, A BLOOM IN WINTER continues
the story of the three young women. Victoria finds herself drawn to the Women's
Suffrage movement, while Rowena, still feeling guilty for allowing her sister
Pru's reduction to servant status, throws herself into a fascination for flying
and a romance with a handsome pilot. Determined to escape a life in service,
Pru weds a young veterinary student. But living in poverty in a shabby London
flat, she wonders if she has made the correct choice.
The final volume of the trilogy follows the sisters
and their friend Pru into World War I. Described as "vividly evoking both time
and place with authentic dialogue and richly detailed settings," this series
explores the clash between tradition and progress as the role of women in
nineteenth century evolved into the modern age.
Phillip Rock's Greville Family Saga
The craze for all things Downton has led to the re-release of an older trilogy
that was a classic of the multi-generational family saga. A cautionary note:
this is also a "classic" historical novel which, since it deals with the years
from World War I through World War II, contains a lot of what one Amazon reader
disparagingly called "boring war stuff." If you like your Downton minus battles
scenes and military history, these books might not be for you. But if you love
family drama AND a rich historical context, Phillip Rock's series might be just
your cup of Edwardian-to-WWII tea.
Rock debuts his epic with THE PASSING BELLS, which
introduces the family and household of Anthony Greville, 9th Earl of Stanmore,
master of the vast estate of Abingdon Pryory. Beginning in 1914, when the earl
and his wife's chief worries are the success of their daughter Alexandria's
debut and the fear that their son and heir Charles wants to marry a rich but
untitled local girl, the novel progresses through 1920. Along the way, the
idyllic life of hunting, debuts and lawn parties disappears as young men go to
war, peers and commoners work together for a common cause, permanently blurring
traditional class barriers, and the horrors of trench warfare--vividly depicted
by Rock--change forever all who experience it. Among the large cast of
characters are the countess's journalist nephew from Chicago, Martin Rilke,
family friend Captain Fenton Wood-Lacey of the Coldstream Guards, another family
friend with a plain daughter, Winnie, who yearns for the dashing Captain
Wood-Lacey, new maid Ivy Thaxton and chauffeur Jamie Ross.
The second book picks up the story at the beginning
of the Jazz Age. The War to End All Wars is over, but its terrible effects
linger. Grappling with the amnesia and shell shock of his son Charles, Anthony
Greville views with dismay the breakdown of the morals and traditions that have
guided his life, not the least the return of his daughter Alexandria with a son
from her long-term liaison with an Irish doctor. His nephew Martin Rilke, now a
well-known journalist based in London, watches with alarm the disturbing events
unfolding in Germany, and family friend Fenton-Lacy suffers banishment to remote
frontier posts. A vivid depiction of the period's rapid changes in societal
mores and expectations, the novel also recreates the complex web of political
and diplomatic events that will soon lead the world back to another war.
CIRCLES OF TIME ended at
Christmas of 1923; the final installment, A FUTURE ARRIVED, begins in
1930. Anthony and Hanna Greville are now in their seventies, and the novel
focuses mainly on the activities of their grandchildren's generation. As a new
war looms, the war-wounded Charles, now headmaster of Burgate House School, must
deal with students like Derek Ramsey, who is determined to join the military, as
is his friend Colin, Alexandra's son, who returns from America to become a pilot
for Britain. Ivy's brother and Martin Rilke's brother-in-law, Albert, about to
begin university, decides instead to follow Martin into journalism. Fenton and
Willie's girls, twins Jennifer and Victoria and youngest daughter Kate, enter
romantic entanglements with some of the men and split over pro- or anti-war
activities. As with the previous volumes, Rock paints his characters' lives
upon the canvas of the global political and military events that push a
reluctant nation and a new generation into another world war.
For an informative glimpse into the lives of the
real heiress Coras who took ship for England in search of titled gentlemen, you
might try TO MARRY AN
ENGLISH LORD. Armed with new wealth amassed after the Civil War, a number of
determined mamas brought their well-dowered daughters to England, drawn by the
allure of titles, castles, and a society that was "more stimulating and more
permissive, more leisurely and more sophisticated than Old New York." The book
provides gossipy details about the lives of the rich in both Old World and New,
along with social commentary and historical tidbits. Period photos compliment
the profiles of the American ladies and their English lords.
And to round out the picture, how about a true
story of the downstairs half of Downton? Though her experiences occurred a
generation later than Downton Abbey's Anna's, Yorkshire country girl Rose
Harrison's memoir of her life as a lady's maid, including 35 years with Lady
Astor (another American heiress who caught a titled British husband) is full of
intimate detail. Charged with safeguarding her mistress's valuable wardrobe
(fashions lovingly described,) furs and jewelry, a serious responsibility, Rose
served her employer not only at home, but also on all her travels, giving a view
into the workings of a number of great aristocratic establishments. In
straightforward detail, Rose describes a vanished world of butlers,
under-butlers, footmen, "odd men" and "link men," housekeepers, parlor maids,
cooks and kitchen maids, from pre-World War II through the deprivations of the
war and the much-changed post-war Britain. A fascinating glimpse into the real
world of Bates and Anna, Daisy and Mrs. Patman.