Random Notes on ‘Downton Abbey’, Books and Writing

by Sarah on October 21, 2011 · 5 comments

Like many viewers, I loved the first series (season if you’re in the US) of ‘Downton Abbey’. The Edwardian period has always interested me, and the First World War even more so. I was thrilled when the a second series was confirmed, although I did watch the opening episode with a certain amount of trepidation. My expectations were high. Would it be as good as the previous series? While the first episode was thoroughly engaging and set several interesting storylines in motion, the rest of the series hasn’t been as strong. Still watchable, but not the tight, unpretentious programme I remember fondly. I know a lot of people outside Europe won’t have the opportunity to see the episodes until 2012, so here’s a spoiler-free list of what’s working and not working (for me) five episodes in.

The Pros:

Mary and Edith’s character development. Mary has come a long way from the bored, spoiled brat she was in 1912. Her interaction with a new female character is wonderful. Edith, too, finds a sense of purpose in this series, and this tones down her bitchiness and rivalry with Mary.

The War. The trenches feature in every episode, but only briefly. The majority of the action is still firmly centered on ‘Downton Abbey’ and its inhabitants. The men who’ve gone to war (e.g.: Matthew Crawley) have most of their scenes at Downton while on leave/work for war office/injured. By making Downton Abbey a convalescent home for wounded officers, the war is brought to Downton.

The Dowager Duchess of Grantham. Maggie Smith gets the BEST lines. My favourite was during a conversation with Edith when Edith wants to volunteer her services as a driver for the war effort: “Edith, you are a lady, not Toad of Toad Hall”. Priceless.

Thomas and O’Brien continue their scheming, only now one of them has considerably more power over the servants than they did in the last series.

The new female character I mentioned above. Not sure if she’s in the promo trailer, so I won’t say who she is. As a person, she’s not particularly interesting, but the effect she has on almost all the main characters above stairs is significant. She also generates some great lines from the Dowager Duchess.

The Cons:

‘Downton Abbey’ is getting a bit soapy. Whether or not you view this as a negative, it’s a criticism many viewers have of the current series.

The Earl. He needs to stop moaning about being too old to go to war. It was already becoming tedious by the end of the first episode.

The new maid. Gwen, the maid Sybil helped find a job as a secretary, isn’t in this series. Her replacement is a surly girl named Ethel. My take: if the writers want to build a character up to their inevitable downfall, they have to give them at least some redeeming features to make viewers care. Hell, even O’Brien and Thomas show their vulnerable sides on occasion.

The Bates-Anna-Person from Bates’s Past storyline. Can Bates really be that stupid? Yes, apparently he can. His determination to fall on his own sword is getting old. It’s unfortunate as the actor playing the person from his past is fantastic, but so far underused.

My Verdict: I’d give the first series 9.5 out of 10. Based on the first five episodes of the second, it’s more like a 7 out of 10. I’m still watching and liking it, but it’s not quite living up to the high standard it set for itself.

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My reading progress has been super slow of late. I’m in a phase where I stop reading a book if it’s not instantly engaging. In other words, the few books I finished are ones I enjoyed.

Among them are three mysteries by British crime fiction author, Elly Griffiths. Her protagonist, Ruth Galloway, is a forensic archaelogist. I ended up reading all three Ruth Galloway books over a single weekend. Ruth is an excellent lead character because…I like her. Main characters in mystery series tend to be either downtrodden (depressed, alcoholics, and so on), or super heroes. Ruth is neither. Here’s the cover blurb for the first book in the series, The Crossing Places:

When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants – not quite earth, not quite sea. 

When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.

The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her. As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger.

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I’m up to my neck in revisions for my WIP. I want to submit it by the end of November. One of my characters is not responding well to my editing efforts. I need to do some serious word wrestling over the weekend. Fingers crossed!

Are you, or will you be, watching ‘Downton Abbey’? Have you read any good books lately? I’m in the mood for a good mystery.

{ 5 comments }

Andrea October 25, 2011 at 22:33

Funny, I just rented the first season of Downton Abbey from the library. I only caught one of the episodes when it was on PBS and thought of it again after listening to my favorite new podcast, The History Chicks. They did one on the Guilded Age and another on Jennie Jerome Churchill and mentioned the Upstairs/Downstairs phenomenon of that time.

I’ve finished the first two episodes and will watch another 2 tonight.

Sarah October 30, 2011 at 19:27

Have you seen all the episodes yet? The first series is very good.

Andrea October 31, 2011 at 21:16

I finished them and loved them! Will search online to see if I can catch the second series.

Maxine October 26, 2011 at 21:26

I’ve no wish to watch Downton Abbey but I did enjoy those three books by Elly Griffiths. The mysteries had flaws but the character of Ruth is brilliant, and the dynamics between her and Harry Nelson (and his family) a lot of fun.

Sarah October 30, 2011 at 19:29

I agree re: the mysteries having flaws. The third was the strongest, in my opinion. What kept me turning the pages was Ruth’s character, especially her interaction with Nelson. That has the potential for excellent conflict in future books. I believe the fourth one will be out in the New Year.

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