For 'Downton' Fans, A New Season And A New Book

Dec 23, 2011
Originally published on December 29, 2011 8:08 am

It's almost here. And by "it," we mean the new season of Downton Abbey, the UK-produced drama about the Crawley family and their servants that PBS imported for Masterpiece Classic with great success. Series two has already run in the UK, but if you've been good and patient and resisted the urge to obtain it by illicit means, your wait is nearly over: the new season begins on PBS on January 8th.

If you can't wait that long for a fix, however, there's help: a new book, The World Of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes — whose uncle, Julian Fellowes, created the series. Jessica Fellowes speaks to Lynn Neary on today's All Things Considered about the story, the book, and what's to come.

[Corrected! ITV, not the BBC. Thank you.]

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

Fans of "Downton Abbey," your wait is almost over. In just a few short weeks, the British television drama about the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants returns to "Masterpiece Theatre" on PBS. The first season of the series was an addictive albeit too brief pleasure for fans who reveled in the costumes and customs of early 20th century England. The final episode left us hanging with this shattering news interrupting a garden party.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DOWNTON ABBEY")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Please, will you stop please? My lords, ladies and gentlemen, can I ask for silence because I very much regret to announce that we are at war with Germany.

NEARY: With World War I underway, the next season promises to bring great changes to "Downton Abbey." Jessica Fellowes wrote a companion book to the series, titled the world of "Downton Abbey." And she joined me from the BBC in London.

So, take us into the world of "Downton Abbey." What is that all about?

JESSICA FELLOWES: The series began in 1912, so almost exactly 100 years ago. And what we're looking at is a house that's set somewhere in the north of England, a large house which is owned by an earl and his wife, with his three daughters living there. And what's particularly interesting about this series is it takes us in through the big, wooden door into the grand hall. But we're not only looking at the family above stairs. We look at all of the servants who work below stairs. And what's very key to this drama is that equal weight is given to everybody.

And then there's the central question that it all hinges on is that the Earl of Grantham, with three daughters, obviously has no son of his own to leave it to. And the nearest male heir is tragically killed in the Titanic. And so, the next heir is a second cousin, a man called Matthew Crawley who is this sort of middle class solicitor from Manchester and he arrives on the scene. So that's really where it all sort of revolves around.

NEARY: This is a really interesting moments in history that the series is set in, because World War I is about to begin at the end of the first installment. And it has started in the beginning of the next installment - a time of incredible change, right?

FELLOWES: Huge, huge change. And I think that's what's absolutely is so compelling about this period, that life in 1912 and then life in sort of 1919 - as it where it is before you enter the '20s - was almost hundreds years apart. You began at the beginning and the girls are in very long dresses and S-shaped corsets, and they were taken a carriage to get to places. And by the end of that period you have telephones, you have electricity everywhere, you have motorcars, you have mortgages, you have people commuting, there was a subway in London, the dresses were shorter, you had women were getting the vote. You know, it was just - you know, it was almost phenomenal. It was almost too much to take.

NEARY: Right. And also, this is a story very much about women and the change that the treatment of women, women's fights for their rights was going on at this time. Everything changed for them.

FELLOWES: Everything changed. I mean, the war was very interesting for them because so many men got called up to war, far more than ever had been called up before. And all of their men went and the women had to replace them and do their work instead. And that gave them more, suddenly a new lease of life that they hadn't expected.

And girls like Mary, Sibyl and Edith who have had a very mapped out future - where they would sort of, you know, be at home and then they would have a coming-out season and they would be debutantes, and then they would find the right man and then they would go off in their own country house somewhere. Suddenly, that all changed.

NEARY: Yeah.

FELLOWES: You know, and so they might work. They might not even marry or are they might marry somebody completely different. Or, you know...

NEARY: And I can't help but ask because so much of the first season does sort of revolve around this question of the male heir, and will one of the daughters marry.

FELLOWES: Yeah, will they marry?

NEARY: And the cousin, that sort of thing. Does it get resolved in the second season?

FELLOWES: Oh, I couldn't possibly tell you something like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FELLOWES: You've got to watch it. That's the whole excitement.

NEARY: Well, thanks so much for talking with us.

FELLOWES: Pleasure.

NEARY: Jessica Fellowes is the author of the book "The World of Downton Abbey." She joined us from London. And for those of you already familiar with the series, in case you're wondering, Fellowes is the niece of the show's creator, Julian Fellowes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.