The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
This novel from the American perspective could be Lady Grantham's back story. The American Heiress remolds the true life of wealthy debutante Consuelo Vanderbilt into the fictional adventures of Cora Cash, the beautiful, vivacious reigning heiress of her time. Unfortunately, she doesn't have the proper pedigree to marry into New York society, so she heads to England instead. Cora's many American dollars and fresh American spirit capture the attention of one of England's most eligible—and impoverished—titled bachelors.
Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide
This saga of the upstairs and downstairs residents of an English country house spans more than two centuries and includes the stories of its original architect, soldiers billeted in the house during World War I, and a young couple who restores the house in the 1950s. Like Downton Abbey, Ashenden Park is based on an actual estate in Berkshire, England. This beautifully written debut novel takes the reader on a pilgrimage through the ups and downs of human nature, all within the walls of one historic English mansion.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
In 1935 England, 13-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses an event involving her sister Cecilia and her childhood friend Robbie Turner, and she becomes the victim of her own imagination, accusing Robbie of a heinous crime. As the Tallis family is wealthy and Robbie is the cleaning lady’s son, class distinction plays a significant role in the proceedings. For those interested in the facts of war, the descriptions of Robbie’s experiences in France during WWII and the Tallis girls nursing soldiers in London are grimly realistic. Atonement was made into an Academy Award-nominated film in 2007.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Readers who are entranced by the sweeping Anglo sagas of Masterpiece Theatre will devour the historical drama of Birdsong. The book's hero, a 20-year-old Englishman named Stephen Wraysford, finds his true love on a trip to Amiens in 1910. Later, he is haunted by this doomed affair and carries it with him into the trenches of World War I. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford's attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it. The BBC dramatized this novel in a two-part mini-series.
A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd
Bess finds herself back in London, on leave from her nursing duties on the World War I battlefields of France. During a memorial for a friend's brother-in-law, Bess becomes embroiled in the family's disagreements and secrets. When one of the houseguests, a wounded soldier, is found murdered, the police cast their suspicion on everyone—including Bess herself. She must search from Sussex all the way to war-torn France to discover the bitter truth about a soldier's death not on the battlefield but on the home front. Few writers surpass Todd in depicting the insanity of war.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
A prolific satirist, Waugh chronicled the lives of the British upper classes. Here, he examines the wealthy Flyte family through the eyes of Sebastian Flyte's less wealthy school friend Charles Ryder, who is eventually tempted into an extramarital affair with Sebastian's sister, Lady Julia. The novel is a story of faith and disillusionment in a glamorous upper-class world, a sweeping family saga spanning two world wars and detailing loves, losses, and friendships Brideshead is the Flyte’s stately home.
The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton
Just about anything by Wharton will make the wait for Season 4 go by just a bit faster! Wharton made a career from careful observations of the upper class and how money, position, and marriage can shape lives, not necessarily for the better. The Buccaneers is another novel with hints of Lady Grantham’s back story. It follows the fortunes of the five beautiful nouveau riche St. George girls, who sail to England in the 1870s and marry into the aristocracy after being denied a place in New York Society. For more Wharton, try The House of Mirth.
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt
When children’s book author Olive Wellwood’s son discovers a runaway named Philip in the basement of a museum, she takes him into the storybook world of her family. But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her country house—and the private books she writes for each of her children—conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined. The Wellwoods’ personal struggles and hidden desires unravel against a backdrop of the shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, as the Edwardian period dissolves into World War I and Europe’s golden era comes to an end.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
You may remember a scene early in season two of Downton in which Molesley (valet to Mathew) suggests to Anna that they read and discuss Elizabeth and Her German Garden. Although Anna declined the offer, this was a popular novel in that time. Its author would later write the best seller The Enchanted April, in which four women find each other—and the Italian castle of their dreams—through a classified ad in a London newspaper. The ladies expect a pleasant holiday, but they don’t anticipate that the month they spend in Portofino will reintroduce them to their true natures and reacquaint them with joy. Now, if the same transformation can be worked on their husbands and lovers, the enchantment will be complete.
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
Follett traces the fates of five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—from different walks of life as they move through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage. Set during the upheaval of WWI and the years following, this compelling and character-driven novel is the first in a planned trilogy that will follow five families from different walks of life, from the mines of Wales to the Russian revolution.
Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
If Edwardian England is the place you want to be, try this book of manners and social divisions. Chevalier captures not only the progressive spirit of post-Victorian England but also its conventions, such as the preoccupation with death and the impossibly mature voices of young children. Maude and Lavinia meet in a graveyard the day after Queen Victoria’s death and the two girls become fast friends, despite their different social classes. The girls’ friendship endures, and they continue to meet in the graveyard, keeping company with Simon, the son of a gravedigger.
Flirting with Destiny by Sarah Hylton
In 1914, four privileged young women leave school and prepare to embark on their new adult lives, but as war breaks out, they must adjust to a different world and face the difficult years ahead. None of the girls has had any training that is helpful to the war effort, so each must learn to cope with the new world in her own fashion. One becomes a nurse but is resented for her station in life. Two struggle to adapt when the men they were to marry go to war. The last develops a reputation for being fast. How each vulnerable young woman learns to deal with the changes war brings reveals her true character for better or worse.
Habits of the House by Fay Weldon
The award-winning writer for Upstairs Downstairs borrows heavily from both Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs in the first in her trilogy about Edwardian Britain. The series traces the shared lives of masters and servants at the turn of the 20th century, following the family life of Cabinet hopeful Lord Robert, who hopes to alleviate financial woes by marrying his son to a disgraced Chicago heiress. Weldon begins her novel over 10 years earlier than the two TV series, but the dramatic elements are the same: a wealthy family and its servants reacting to social, economic, and political changes.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
I think I remember reading that this novel is based on the same journals that Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs were based on, but now I can’t find that information again! In any case, many Downton Abbey devotees love the drama between and within the classes and are likely to enjoy this lively story of a proper English housemaid and her unusual relationship with the daughters of the family. All three women witness the death of a noted poet one glittering summer evening at a house party in 1924. Almost 70 years later, Grace, the former housemaid, tells the truth about the incident.
The House of Eliott by Jean Marsh
Based on the BBC series (1991-1994) she coauthored (as she did the Emmy-winning Upstairs Downstairs), Marsh's first novel is an exuberant, glittering romp through London in the early 1920s. Following the death of their apparently affluent physician father, Evangeline and Beatrice Eliott discover they have inherited nothing but the gloomy Victorian Gothic house they inhabit. They decide to open a dressmaking shop because they have too little money to survive without a steady income.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Looking to live the English country life? This lovely coming-of-age story illustrates the blurring of class lines as the Edwardian upper class faded away. The narrator, 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, describes her family, all stuck in a castle that's falling down, with minimal food and no amenities. Imagine their excitement when a family of wealthy Americans (with two sons of marriageable age) moves into the estate next door. Set in the 1930s, I Capture the Castle was originally published in 1948 (and is by the author of The 101 Dalmatians, if you’re curious).
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
In July of 1914, innocent, lovely Clarissa Granville lives with her parents and three brothers in the idyllic isolation of Deyning Park, a grand English country house, where she whiles away her days enjoying house parties, country walks and tennis matches. Clarissa is drawn to Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper's son. Though her parents disapprove of the upstairs-downstairs friendship, a deep and tender romance still blooms. Soon the winds of war come to Deyning and Tom prepares to join the front lines. Neither he nor Clarissa can imagine how their love will be tested or how they will treasure the memory of this last, perfect summer.
The Light Years by Jane Elizabeth Howard
A rich domestic drama arises from the pages of Howard's captivating novel, set in England in 1937 and 1938. The Cazalets are an upper-crust London family—William and Rachel Cazalet, their three grown sons, and the sons' wives and children. As the novel opens, the extended family is undertaking its summer relocation to the country house in Sussex. During the course of this summer and the next, readers become witness to the public and private selves of the individual family members. Beguilingly, those selves are often at odds.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Waters reflects on the collapse of the British class system after WWII through an eerie haunted house tale. Dr. Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, home of the upper-class Ayreses, now fallen on hard times. Ostensibly there to treat Roderick Ayres for a war injury, Faraday soon sees signs of mental decline—first in Roderick and later in his mother. The skeptical Faraday refuses to accept the explanations of Roderick and the maid, who believe that there is a supernatural presence in the house. This spooky read has the added pleasure of detailing postwar village life, with its rationing, social strictures, and gossip, all on the edge of Britain's massive change to a social state.
Love and War: An Upstairs Downstairs Saga by Anne Herries
Life for the residents of Trenwith Hall will never be the same when war is declared, as Luke Trenwith and groomsman Jack Barlow both leave to fight in the trenches. Jack is injured in France and loses his memory. When he regains it, will he return to England or stay behind with his new love and be thought a deserter? Jack’s sister Rose volunteers as a hospital aide and thinks fondly of Luke, heir to Trenwith Hall, but marries a young officer instead. When her husband is shot down, she is alone—believing that her brother is dead. Luke keeps the truth of her brother's situation a secret as well as his longing for his former maid.
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
Eldest of the Mitford daughters, Nancy used her aristocratic and somewhat eccentric upbringing to write novels. This one is the classic comedy of upper crust English manners and mores on the subject of love between the Wars. Polly Hampton has long been groomed for the perfect marriage by her mother, Lady Montdore. But Polly is bored by the monotony of her glittering debut season in London. Having just come from India, she claims to have hoped that society in a colder climate would be less obsessed with love affairs. She has a long-held secret, however, which leads to the shattering of her mother’s dreams and her own disinheritance.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
If you enjoy the exploration of the effects of WWI on society, you might like this series set in the 1920s and ’30s. 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. Maisie Dobbs entered domestic service in 1910 at 13, working for Lady Rowan Compton. When her remarkable intelligence is discovered by her employer, Maisie becomes the pupil of Maurice Blanche, a learned friend of the Comptons. In 1929, Maisie hangs out her shingle: M. Dobbs, Trade and Personal Investigations.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf's novel follows a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper class married Englishwoman, whose inner life exists in a state of continuous tension. She is torn between the boring conventional existence she has chosen to lead and thoughts of what might have been, had she accepted the marriage proposal of the Bohemian Peter Walsh. But Walsh too, has his doubts, and Woolf shows that all her characters, despite making radically different life-choices, are ultimately left uneasy and questioning of their role and existence. Outwardly self-assured, inwardly despairing, Mrs. Dalloway symbolizes upper class English Society, of which the novel is, in part, a critique.
My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
The lives of two very different couples—an officer and his aristocratic wife and a young soldier and his childhood sweetheart—are irrevocably intertwined and forever changed in this WWI epic of love and war. The aristocrats, Peter and Julia Locke, are lovely and well-placed until their relationship disintegrates under the pressure of war and changing conventions. Working class Riley and Nadine are hampered before the war by the very upper crustiness that the Lockes embody, but are later more free to love each other and better suited for survival by their modernity and openness. This novel moves from London to Paris and Ypres.
My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
My Man Jeeves is a collection of short stories by P. G. Wodehouse. Who can forget our beloved gentleman's personal gentleman, Jeeves, who always comes to the rescue when the hapless Bertie Wooster falls into trouble? The Jeeves series is sure to please anyone with a taste for moronic misunderstandings, gaffes, and aristocratic slapstick. Wodehouse’s witty banter between the buffoonish Bertie Wooster and his impeccably competent manservant Jeeves is a perfect fit for fans of the Dowager Countess’s perfectly-timed one-liners. (Available as an Overdrive ebook only.)
No Graves as Yet by Anne Perry
This is the debut novel in Perry's five-book series about a British family during World War I. The family in question includes brothers Matthew and Joseph Reavley and sisters Judith and Hannah, whose parents are killed in a car accident. Their father had been on his way to deliver a document of supposed national importance, but Matthew, a trusted employee in the Intelligence Service, can't quite believe that the document could really threaten Britain's honor. Meanwhile, Joseph, an ordained minister and teacher of classical languages at Cambridge, struggles with the senseless murder of his brilliant protégé. Set during the idyllic summer of 1914, the novel portrays a world about to be torn apart by war.
Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford
Parade’s End has been adapted by BBC/HBO and will premiere on February 26. (It already aired in the UK, where it was a big hit.) In fact, it has been called “Downton Abbey for Grownups” (Salon) and “The Better Downton Abbey” (The New Yorker). The book is a compilation of four novels which tell the terrifying story of a good man tortured, pursued, driven into revolt, and ruined as far as the world is concerned by the clever devices of a jealous and lying wife. War turns the world of privileged, English aristocrat Christopher Tietjens upside down and forces him to question everything he holds dear.
Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes
If it's the foibles of high society that you Downton Abbey viewers find most appealing, then the works of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes are must-reads. Fellowes' second novel, Past Imperfect, is a contemporary tale that looks back on the London of the Swinging Sixties while one friend searches for the lost heir of another friend-turned-foe. Droll humor mixed with suspense and an acute eye for historical detail are hallmarks of Fellowes' writing. Also try his book Snobs, which is set in the present but contains characters of the same type. Think Cousin Violet.
Regeneration by Pat Barker
The first in a trilogy based on a true story, Regeneration depicts the psychological effects of the war on surviving soldiers. In 1917, decorated British officer and poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a declaration condemning the war. Instead of a court-martial, he was sent to a hospital for “shell-shocked” officers where he was treated by Dr. William Rivers, noted anthropologist and psychiatrist. Sassoon's complete sanity disturbs Dr. Rivers to the point that he questions his own role in “curing” patients only to send them back to the slaughter in France. WWI decimated an entire generation of men, and the horrifying loss of life and the callousness of the government led to the obliteration of the Victorian ideal. Barker has written many novels about this time period—also try her newest, Toby’s Room.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro is known for his character-driven, thoughtful, and occasionally funny fiction, and this story of the snobby, dignity obsessed Stevens is no exception. Set shortly after WWII, this Man Booker-winning novel parallels Downton Abbey’s more somber moments in the depiction of a devoted servant in one of England’s declining manor houses. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving “a great gentleman.” But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness” and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
This Edwardian social comedy explores love and prim propriety among an eccentric cast of characters. A charming young English woman, Lucy Honeychurch, faints into the arms of a fellow Brit when she witnesses a murder in a Florentine piazza. Attracted to this man, George Emerson—who is entirely unsuitable and whose father may be a Socialist—Lucy is soon at war with the snobbery of her class and her own conflicting desires. Back in England she is courted by a more acceptable, if stifling, suitor, and soon realizes she must make a decision that will decide the course of her future: she is forced to choose between fulfilling her social role or following her heart. Also try Forster’s Howards End.
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
This is a country estate drama with prewar ambience, manor-house mystique, and sexual tension. Embraced by the family of his Cambridge schoolmate, Cecil Valance writes an inspiring poem that becomes a staple of every English classroom after he is killed during WWI. The poem, created as an autograph book keepsake for his friend’s younger sister, Daphne, becomes the subject of speculation for biographers and the generations that follow, as it contains hints about what might have happened during the visit. The novel moves through the decades, following the family fortunes of Daphne and her progeny, and the events of that less tolerant era are viewed through an ever-cloudier lens.
The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund (640.3 Eng)
Leading Swedish historian Englund allows 20 individuals during WWI to convey their experiences through diaries and letters: among them, an English nurse in the Russian army, a British infantryman awarded the Victoria Cross, a German seaman, and a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Ottoman army. Englund’s collation provides insights into more than the carnage. For example, a French infantryman at Verdun knows, despite lower figures in newspaper reports, that he went into battle with 100 men and only 30 returned. Lacking only a Turkish Muslim view, this book fleshes out the grim statistics of the Great War.
Below Stairs by Margaret Powell (Bio Powell Margaret)
Fascinated by class distinctions? This is the account of the kitchen maid who inspired Upstairs Downstairs. In this memoir, Margaret tells her tales of service with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye. From the gentleman with a penchant for stroking housemaids’ curlers, to raucous tea dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlourmaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress’s nephew, Below Stairs evokes the long vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs.”
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon (942.2 Car)
Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon tells the story of Highclere Castle (the real-life inspiration for Downton Abbey) and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina (the 5th Countess of Carnarvon and the basis of the fictional character Lady Cora Crawley). Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman. This tale contrasts the splendor of Edwardian life in a great house against the backdrop of the Great War.