Do you Downton?

We, as Americans, are really interested in England. Maybe it’s some sort of appreciation for the country that is almost our cultural parent (we were originally an English colony remember, and the early Americans based a lot of their culture and habits on England). It seems we think of it as a sort of classier version of America. It has lords and ladies and estates, and families that go back 400 years and more, and that history interests us. Americans fought a whole war to get away from England, and yet now, we just can’t get enough of it.  I suppose we have always had a fascination with our friends on the other side of the pond, but recently, it seems like it’s really been kicking up a notch. Everything from films like The King’s Speech or the James Bond franchise, to Harry Potter to One Direction, the current pop group making young girls swoon, our culture is filled to the brim with British imports. Just look at the media’s obsession with Kate Middleton and the royal family, and the constant coverage of the 2012 London Olympics. So, what is going on here? Why is the current generation so obsessed with the British and their history and culture? Maybe because it has an exciting foreign-ness to it, with its long history and class system, and its strange style of comedy that is one part Monty Python, and one part Ricky Gervais? Maybe this American generation of 20-somethings are just tired of their own country, with our divides in government and social problems, and what seems like an endless parade of awful blockbusters and remakes in our theaters, and horrifying reality shows crowding our TV, so they’re looking at England, just assuming that maybe they have it together more than we do, with their accents and tea and their quirky British humor.

This could help explain the success of the British period drama Downton Abbey, a BBC series which follows the lives of the wealthy, blue-blooded Crawley family, and its various servants and employees, starting with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and progressing through World War 1, and now, in its third season, they’ve made it all the way to 1921. It has British stuffiness, family drama, romance, and the British class system, which seems to be rapidly changing as the show continues. At one point, this show might have gotten some fans in the USA, and become something of a cult hit, but right now? It’s a massive success, with record DVD sales, and huge ratings when the most recent season premiered on PBS recently. It has been discussed on internet blogs by hipster 20-something reviewers, as well as among soccer moms at Wal-Mart. It`s all over the place. 

Do you already like the show, and want to find people who watch as well? Then come by the library`s Masterpiece Theater Discussion Group, led by librarians Phil Orr and Mona Meyer, on Tuesdays at noon in UC 206. You don’t have to have seen the most recent episode to join in, but beware- there will be spoilers! The show airs at 8:00 pm on PBS on Sunday nights, and you can catch up on the PBS website the next day if you’re doing something else Sunday nights! The website also has a lot of good stuff about the show, with pictures, information about characters and cast members, discussion boards, and extra videos. And just to remind you, the library has a great display out right now on the main floor near the elevators, both about the show itself, and about the time period it’s set in.


If you’re a fan of the show, you might be interested in some of these books that are in the display. If you’d like to check one out, just ask at Checkout.


“Penguin Book of First World War Stories”
– A series of short true stories from World War 1, all involving the British, and the variety of experiences they had during the first Great War.
“What the Butler Saw; two hundred and fifty years of the servant problem”
– A look at the lives of servants from the 18th and 19th century, using articles, first hand written accounts, and literature to get a picture of what life was like for the serving class.
“Titanic, first accounts”
– First hand accounts by survivors about the sinking of the infamous ship, debunking myths and telling stories about what they saw as the ship sank.
“Notes from a Small Island”
– A funny, and occasionally touching novel by an American writer who, after living in England for several years, decided to travel the nation and write about what he saw before returning to the USA. A good look at contemporary life in the UK.

This entry was posted in Anglophiles, Downton Abbey, England, PBS, TV, World War 1. Bookmark the permalink.

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