5 Books to Alleviate Your ‘Downton Abbey’ Withdrawal

5 Books To Alleviate Your Downton Abbey WithdrawalNBCUniversal Television Distribution

From 2010 to 2015, Downton Abbey captured the hearts and minds of viewers around the world, tapping into that coveted intersection of heartbreaking drama and juicy gossip. The upstairs/downstairs dynamic was not something that had been explored in a popular, big-budget period drama, and you know how much the British love their period dramas…But they were, up until the last decade or so, almost exclusively about the aristocracy and upper classes.

Some would argue that the depiction between the Crawley’s and their household staff wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, or even good television. I happen to agree with that sentiment to an extent. Things veered way too far into the soap opera stratosphere after season three, but I persevered. It was just too entertaining. And, for those of you who haven’t seen it, just know that everything is Lord Grantham’s fault.

If you’re anything like me, your present life is probably lacking in quality guilty pleasure television, so perhaps it’s time to fill that void with books. I’ve compiled a short list of novels that examines some of the themes that crop up during the six seasons of Downton, from class dynamics, to the effects of the Great War, and the societal obligations of the upper classes.

Check out one (or all) of these if you want to keep that Crawley fever at bay.

The synopses in this post were provided by Goodreads.
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(Amazon, $9.85)

1. Rules of Civility, Amor Towles

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nastrarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

(Amazon, $11.54)

2. The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West

Set during World War I on an isolated country estate just outside London, Rebecca West’s haunting novel The Return of the Soldier follows Chris Baldry, a shell-shocked captain suffering from amnesia, as he makes a bittersweet homecoming to the three women who have helped shape his life. Will the devoted wife he can no longer recollect, the favorite cousin he remembers only as a childhood friend, and the poor innkeeper’s daughter he once courted leave Chris to languish in a safe, dreamy past—or will they help him recover his memory so that he can return to the front? The answer is revealed through a heartwrenching, unexpected sacrifice.

(Amazon, $12.99)

3. Howards End, E.M. Forster

The self-interested disregard of a dying woman’s bequest, an impulsive girl’s attempt to help an impoverished clerk, and the marriage between an idealist and a materialistall intersect at a Hertfordshire estate called Howards End. The fate of this beloved country home symbolizes the future of England itself in E. M. Forster‘s exploration of social, economic, and philosophical trends, as exemplified by three families: the Schlegels, symbolizing the idealistic and intellectual aspect of the upper classes; the Wilcoxes, representing upper-class pragmatism and materialism; and the Basts, embodying the aspirations of the lower classes. Written in 1910, Howards End won international acclaim for its insightful portrait of English life during the post-Victorian era.

(Amazon, $9.53)

4. Atonement, Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.

(Amazon, $7.98)

5. My Cousin Rachel, Daphne du Maurier

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose’s letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin’s widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet… might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death?

Which books are helping you cope with the Downton Abbey withdrawal?

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Leah Rodriguez
the authorLeah Rodriguez
Contributing Writer
Reader. Writer. Cat enthusiast. Trying to put that BA in English to good use.