Downton Abbey, like the long-running series Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75), and Manor House (2003) before it, taps into the public’s never-ending fascination with the prudish Edwardian period in England (technically from 1901 to 1910, but more commonly extended to 1919), characterized by a very rigid and well-defined class system. No one dared to color outside the lines. Indeed, the manor house is the perfect metaphor for the Edwardian’s bifurcated world of masters and servants; and it is the perfect setting for engrossing storylines for characters that the public has come to cherish or despise. In 2010, the Guinness Book of World Records declared the show the most critically-acclaimed television series. For those who cannot get enough of Downton Abbey, Bookshelf dusts off some relevant books in Lord Grantham’s lavish library. Of course, you’ll have to buy your own copy, because Mr. Carson will sternly remind you that the books are only for the family’s use.
The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, St. Martin’s Press (2011)
Written by former deputy editor of Country Life (and it doesn’t hurt to be the niece of the show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, proving that nepotism is alive and well in the present as it was during the Edwardian period) the book is essentially a behind-the-scenes pictorial book with sparse text. Whatever the book lacks in quality of text, it makes up with sumptuous photography and high production value.
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, St. Martin’s Press (2012)
Another book by Fellowes that includes stunning photos from the show like the first book, but also includes more details about the cast, insight to the characters they play, and the historical context of the set and period. The book focuses on seasons 1 and 2.
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era by Jessica Fellowes, St Martins Press (2012)
The folks at St. Martin’s Press know a good thing when they see it; this is the third book in the series, foreshadowing that there will be more to come from Fellowes. This volume is similar to the book described above; however it focuses on season 3.
A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes by Jessica Fellowes, St. Martins Press (2014)
This is the fourth Downton Abbey book written by Fellowes. Like the other books, this volume presents behind-the-scenes information, background historical information about celebrations and traditions that would occur in a typical year in the Edwardian period (e.g., house parties, debutantes, sporting, and holiday events). The book is punctuated with recipes of traditional British recipes that are associated with the seasonal celebrations.
Downton Abbey — A Celebration: The Official Companion to All Six Seasons by Jessica Fellowes, St. Martins Press (2015)
This is the book that many fans have been waiting for — all the in-depth, interviews, behind-the-scenes information, key location shots from all six seasons, spanning the years of when the events in the series took place (1912-1925). The book also includes an episode guide for the first five seasons.
Downton Abbey Script Book Season One by Julian Fellowes, William Morrow (2013)
When watching the show is just not enough to get your Downton Abbey fix, you can kick back and read the entire scripts for each of the episodes in season one. There is also a companion volume for the scripts of the second season.
Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey by Emma Rowley, St. Martin’s Press (2013)
Written by a seasoned journalist from The Telegraph, that gives Downton devotees a peek behind the curtain, to see what happens backstage. All aspects of the show are explored — locations, props, makeup, costumes, food — as well as interviews with the actors and writers. The book features photos from seasons 1-4.
Below the Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” by Margaret Powell, St. Martin’s Press (2012)
The book that launched a thousand careers. Written by a real kitchen maid and cook who worked at a manor in the early 1920s, this book focuses on the lives of the domestic servants and the hardships they faced. Both the creators of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs credit Powell’s candid and feisty — but charming — memoir as the true inspiration for their shows. The book was originally published in England in 1968, and has been reissued by Downton Abbey’s biggest fan — St. Martin’s Press.
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon, Broadway Books (2011).
Written by Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the book chronicles the life of Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, daughter of industrialist Alfred de Rothchild, who lived at Highclere Castle and tended to the wounded soldiers of WWI. The castle is the inspiration for Downton Abbey, and Lady Almina inspired the character of Lady Cora Crawley.
Manor House: Life in an Edwardian Country House by Julie Gardiner, Bay Books (2003)
Written by a former editor of History Today, the book provides the historical background to the fascinating PBS series, Manor House. Manor House was originally broadcast in England with the title, “The Edwardian Country House.” The series follows 19 modern day volunteers, over 3 months, who recreate as closely as possible the life of aristocrats and servants from the early 1900s. Needless to say, the volunteers who were assigned the roles of the aristocrats had a much easier time adjusting to their roles; it is absolutely fascinating to watch how the volunteers assigned to the servant roles crumble under the grueling, unforgiving work schedule. Clearly, modern life has redefined the notion of a strong work ethic. The book includes photos from the series filmed at Manderstone, an elegant country house in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland, as well as photos from the early 1900s.
Downton Abbey and Philosophy by Adam Barkman and Robert Arp (2016)
Servants: A Downstairs History of British from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge (2013)
The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (2015)