British Accents in My Head and Other Effects of Watching Too Much Downton Abbey

Violet Crawley has her faults. She's a snob and change frightens her, but she comes with her own staff and a cottage. Isn't that what we all want in a mother-in-law?

Violet Crawley has her faults. She’s a snob and change frightens her, but she comes with her own staff and a cottage. Isn’t that what we all want in a mother-in-law?

As you are reading this blog, I hope that you realize that it is written with an upper-crust British accent even though I speak in a slightly southern, very American one.

You see, I have become addicted to Downton Abbey after avoiding it—quite successfully, thank you—for the first three seasons that it aired. As everyone around me raved about it, I resisted watching. I just didn’t care for yet another reason to be so attached to my telly. (Telly? See? That’s me getting all British on you.)

My darling sister—a brilliant woman—kept imploring me to watch. She knew I’d fancy it and she really wanted to discuss it with me. “I need your opinion,” she would say. “I so want to discuss this with you.” Flattering, isn’t it? To have someone need my opinion and to want to discuss it with me? Of course, it is.

So, midway through season three, I tried. I watched one episode and told her, that yes, the costumes were exquisite, the house and its furnishing perfect, but no, I could get into it. I couldn’t follow the plot. I didn’t know the back-story on any of the characters. I would not be watching it again though I was certain it was well-written and beautifully acted.

I thought that would be the end of it, but no, she insisted. She bought the first three seasons and gave them to me. Now, I could watch from the beginning at my leisure and I would have no excuses. Very well then.

Two weeks later, I have watched the first two seasons. I haven’t read my book club book. This is the first blog entry I have posted in a week. So, yes, you could say that Downton Abbey has taken over the spare moments of my life. How can one not love a series that manages to mention Sir Christopher Wren in the first episode?

So, yes, now, thanks to my sister, I am a self-described Downton Devotee, and considering my background—I have a master’s degree in Historic Preservation, I spent a summer studying landscape architecture in England, I worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I’m a bit of a “big house” aficionada—albeit the big houses of the United States—it’s no surprise that I am in love with this show. The characters. The setting. The costumes. The writing. The wit. The drama. The romances. The history. The architecture. The landscape. The decorative arts. Have I left anything out? I love it all.

Two things stand out for me. Silly things. Things grown-up people shouldn’t be learning from a soap opera. (Yes, let’s call it what it is. A soap.  A classy one, but still a soap.)

First, I am amazed at the depth of the characters. No one—not even the villains—are completely evil. And no one is ever completely good. Upstairs and downstairs, the characters feel like real people to me. For example, it’s easy to hate Mrs. O’Brien, the lady’s maid. She plots, she gossips, she causes her mistress to miscarry—there’s nothing likable about her. Then, she reaches out in compassion to the shell-shocked footman explaining her brother suffered from the same malady. What? O’Brien has a brother? Whom she cares for? She’s capable of defending someone she knows is hurting? And in a moment, I see her in a new light.

That happens in real life, too, doesn’t it? You think you know someone and then, in a moment, something about their character is revealed, and suddenly, you see them in a different light? Well, it happens to me frequently enough even when I am making every effort not to judge.

My second astonishing realization is that this series is set in the not-so-distant past, and yet, it feels so long ago. At the start of the second series, I saw “1919” flash across the screen announcing the year and telling me that a bit of time has lapsed since season one.  1919? My grandparents were already born. My husband’s grandparents were already adults! Not that any of these people are still living—thank God—but my lifetime does connect with and touch that lifetime.

Because I had the same realization as a child watching the Waltons, it’s almost comical to me that I need such reminders at this point in my life. I remember watching the opening credits, thinking about how my mother was born just as the Depression ended. Did she ever walk to school in her bare feet like Elizabeth Walton? Probably not, but then, it has as much to do with place as time. My mother grew up in the city. Elizabeth Walton was a country girl.

The twentieth century moved quickly. The twenty-first is moving even quicker. Matthew and Lavinia received a Victrola as a wedding gift, and today, I shopped for an iPod Nano.  That’s amazing to me since Crawley sisters would have been born around the same time as my husband’s grandparents, people he remembers so vividly.

I'd happily live in the Dowager Cottage. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Does it get better than that? I should think not!

I’d happily live in the Dowager Cottage. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Does it get better than that? I should think not!

Now hooked, I will keep watching. It’s a good escape, and my writing just sounds so much better in my head with Maggie Smith’s voice reading it.




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