When news happens, text BAZ and your photos or videos to 80360. Or contact us by email and phone.
REVIEW: The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, Jessica Fellowes
The Chronicles of DA, By Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis, Foreword by Julian Fellowes, Collins £20
A CHRISTMAS gift certain to appear in the stockings of many a Downton Abbey fan is this super book, the sequel to Jessica Fellowes’ first about her uncle’s hugely popular ITV1 series - filmed locally at Highclere Castle.
This takes a rather different approach than her first guide to the show, as it’s quite an in-depth look at the periods featured in the programme via the lives Julian Fellowes imagined for all of his Downton Abbey’s characters. He emphasises the spread of above and below stairs in his introduction, saying: “They all have emotional lives, dreams, ambitions and disappointments, and with all of them we present a back story. So this book…is an invitation to get to know the characters and their backgrounds more fully”.
It’s revealed that his great aunt Isie is the principle model for Violet Grantham, and that a maid of a cousin of his grandfather’s inspired the dastardly lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien, who he claims is “one of my favourite characters”. There’s also a chunky section on another of the ‘baddies’ of Downton, valet Thomas Barrow, dealing with diverse topics like cigarette smoking and homosexuality, and Julian explains that he “descends from a dresser in my theatrical past”.
Explanation of their duties and what was expected, joined by quotes from actors who play the characters, combine to make them seem almost real as you’re reading, and they also provide fascinating insight into their contemporary influences and motivations – including an explanation of Lord Grantham’s infidelity with the maid.
Beautiful photographs are scattered throughout, joined by snapshots of artefacts from the period, including Mrs Hughes’ infamous toaster, which made an appearance in the last series. The first pop up toaster was patented in 1919 and commercially available in 1926.
The level of detail is hugely impressive, given that we can also read about details such as the hymns selected by Lady Mary for her wedding, her dresses and wardrobe, hairstyles, what she would have looked like and why and what she might have got up to when ‘in town’. I chuckled at many of the advertisements for ladies’ garments, such as the “neuvel-Oblong” patent suspenders.
Fans will delight in the intricacies, a fascinating tribute to the work of the production team and their outstanding attention to detail. We can even have a closer look at the paper on which lady’s maid Anna transcribed the names of friends of the original Mr and Mrs Bates during her quest to free her husband from prison.
I adored having a look at these small but necessary little pieces of the whole, grand puzzle, especially Mrs Patmore’s notes and recipes, Anna’s letters to Bates, Mrs Crawley’s folder of letters related to her charitable work, the and revelations such as the fact that “the bedside biscuit barrel was a symbol of leisured upper-class living” because biscuits were supposed to stave off “night starvation”.
I know where I’ll be relocating our barrel from now on!