Would you believe that just a week or so ago, I finished watching Downton Abbey for the first time?
It always seemed strange to my friends and relatives that, being the historical fiction lover that I am, I had not seen a single minute of the series. I lost count of the number of people who told me I would love it.
I can explain.
When the show premiered in 2010, my husband and I were already committed to a half dozen television shows: The Office, Bones, House, Glee, Raising Hope, and Modern Family. One thing we did not have: DVR. One thing we did have: a 4-month-old baby.
Downton Abbey was simply not in the cards for us. And though the number of shows we watched over the years declined as they each went off air, our family and careers grew, and there was never a convenient time to pick it up.
Fast forward nine years, to March 2020, when a pandemic hit. I was in the middle of editing a novel (which I am still working on), but with everything going on in the world, and waiting to hear whether or not I’d be furloughed from my job, I had a really difficult time focusing on my work. And so a friend of mine (Emily DeArdo, whom I interviewed in a recent post) suggested I watch Downton Abbey as “research.” After all, Downton began on the day the Titanic sank in 1912, and my novel spans the years of 1911-1915.
Finally, I had the perfect excuse.
And I fell in love, very quickly. My husband even joined me, after the first few episodes, and we found ourselves bingeing, as only two full-time-employed parents of four can: a maximum of two episodes per sitting. One of the families in my novel is wealthy, and Downton definitely helped me get a better picture of daily life for those of the “better sort.” The dresses and hairstyles inspired me and helped me to add a layer of detail.
My favorite fact I learned while doing additional research was that, to achieve the elaborate hairstyles of the Edwardian period, women would collect and save the hair from their hairbrushes to add extra volume to their ‘dos. It sounds strange, but it sure beats the Victorian practice of weaving shed or cut hair into jewelry or artwork!
We haven’t watched the movie yet (we are eagerly awaiting it to arrive at the library for curbside pickup), but the last couple nights, my husband has gone back to watch the first handful of episodes that he missed. I find that I could sit down, right now, and watch the whole series again from start to finish.
It made me laugh and made me cry and stirred my emotions into a frenzy many times over the course of 14 years (or three months, in our case). There were moments I physically wanted to jump through the screen and hurt some of the characters! I suppose that’s all one can ask from a piece of entertainment, and unlike you all who watched it “live,” I didn’t have to wait weeks between episodes or months between seasons! It inspired me so much, in fact, that I’ve started to dub my novel, “Downton Abbey meets The Perfect Storm.” How do you like that for a teaser?!
It may have taken a decade, but I’m so glad Downton finally found a place in my life. And if you want to talk more about it, I’ll be curled up on the couch, re-watching Season One.