I was late to the Downton Abbey party. Season 3 had already wrapped when I sat down in the fall of 2013 with a pair of knitting needles, a ball of yarn, and a two-part goal: 1. Teach myself to knit, and 2. Figure out what all the Downton fuss was about. As you may recall, Downton mania reached a fever pitch with a shocking cliffhanger at the end of Season 3. I plugged my ears while my colleagues wailed, and headed home to catch up.
Over the course of a few weeks, I not only accomplished my stated goals, I also discovered the path to true happiness: knitting and binge-watching excellent television. Now when the weather begins to cool, a giddy excitement sets in. Knitting season and fall streaming go hand in hand. As a devoted reader, watching TV always comes with a little bit of guilt that I should be reading instead. Once I started knitting, however, I was absolved—you can’t knit and hold a book at the same time. And once winter set in, there was plenty of indoor time to devote to reading. Hallelujah, you can have it all!
Like most Downton diehards, I was despondent when the series ended. The show certainly had its ups and downs over the course of six seasons, but I felt the same despair leaving those characters behind as I feel when a beloved book ends. Readers have an intimate relationship with the characters in books—their absence is palpable when you reach the end of the story. It feels exactly like missing someone in real life. And sometimes the only cure for this particular brand of loneliness is finding another someone to take their place.
So to fill the void left by the Dowager Countess, her progeny, and the staff downstairs, here are 14 books to read when you’re missing Downton Abbey. Then again, it’s been a few years. Maybe I’ll pick up my needles and start streaming again from the beginning. It is fall, after all.
Snobs by Julian Fellowes
One of the key things that made Downton Abbey so memorable was the writing of Julian Fellowes. Those Dowager Countess zingers were some of the best lines we’ve heard on television. If you’re feeling nostalgic for that acerbic wit, look no further than these pages: “I knew she was a social climber; I didn’t realize she was a mountaineer!”
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
The heroine of this novel is a wealthy American socialite who travels to England with her mother in search of a titled husband. She succeeds and becomes the Duchess of Wareham, but life as a Lady is not what she expected. Rejoice Downton fans, her name is Cora.
Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford
By many accounts, the First World War marked the beginning of the end for the British aristocracy. In this classic novel, the hero must leave behind the orderly world of Edwardian England to face the chaos of war and a changing society. Lord Grantham would sympathize.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
A must-read for the Carson fans, this is a compelling portrait of an English butler at the end of his career. Over the course of a six-day motoring trip through the countryside, he reflects on three decades of service to his Lordship, and grapples with self-realization.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Always an under-butler, never a bride. The least-likable character at Downton, Thomas Barrow evolves from loathsome to tragic as the series progresses. Like the protagonists of Brideshead Revisited, Barrow is tortured by his homosexuality and frustrated by the lack of upward mobility in the rigid class system of early 20th century England.
Below Stairs by Margaret Powell
Margaret Powell became a kitchen maid at fifteen and worked her way up to cook in one of the great houses of England. Though she lacks the comic timing of Downton’s Mrs. Patmore, Powell’s memoir inspired Downton Abbey and is a true-to-life portrait of domestic service in the 1920s and 30s.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
D.H. Lawrence’s racy novel about an upper-class English woman’s sexual awakening was banned as pornography until 1960. Although it is tame by today’s standards, even Lady Mary would be scandalized by Lawrence’s prose—and she dragged a dead Turkish diplomat out of her bed!
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Poor Edith just can’t catch a break. Forsaken in love, jilted at the altar, widowed by her lover while pregnant with his illegitimate child… by Season 6, Lady Edith had become a character as tragic as Lily Bart, whose downward spiral is chronicled in The House of Mirth.
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
Arguably the greatest tragedy to befall Downton Abbey was the death of Lady Sybil at the end of season three. So many rich story lines left untapped! For those still mourning the passing of Sybil—and Downton—pick up this series of novels following an upper-middle class family from 1886 to 1920. Its 900 pages of English soap opera should keep you sated through the fall.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
This extended essay grew out of a series of lectures that Virginia Woolf delivered at two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in 1928. In it, Woolf lays out her thesis that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Can’t you just hear Mrs. Crawley cheering?
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
Lucy Honeychurch and Rose Aldrich share much in common. Both are young English beauties who duck the watchful eye of a chaperone and find themselves in a passionate embrace with a socially unacceptable mate. And both must ultimately rely on themselves, and not their families, to forge their own paths to happiness.
Longbourn, by Jo Baker
What was going on in the servants’ quarters while the Bennets were preoccupied with suitors and scandals upstairs at Longbourn? This is the premise of Jo Baker’s retelling of Pride and Prejudice, written from the perspective of a kitchen maid who is just as starry-eyed as young Daisy.
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Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon
Much of Downton Abbey was filmed on location at Highclere Castle, a sweeping 5,000-acre estate located about 60 miles outside of London in Hampshire, England. The current residents are the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and his wife, Fiona, who wrote a biography of her predecessor, Lady Almina. Read the book, then plan your visit to the estate to get your real-life Downton fix.
Downton Abbey: A Celebration by Jessica Fellowes
This celebration edition is the fifth book about Downton Abbey written by Jessica Fellowes, the niece of series creator Julian Fellowes. It is the “Official Companion” to all six seasons of Downton, filled with all-access behind-the-scenes photographs, production stills, location shots, and interviews with the cast. We may not have new seasons of Downton to look forward to, but we can relive the past just by cracking open the cover… which will keep us occupied while we wait to hear if the rumors of a possible film adaptation are true!
Click on the book covers to shop our picks and tell us in the comments what you’ve been reading to combat your Downton withdrawal.
Featured image: @sandi.i.am / Twenty20.com
Downton Abbey characters © Carnival Film & Television Limited for Masterpiece