I am counting down the days until I go to the UK at the end of October, so I can catch a few episodes of the new Downton Abbey. I can’t wait until it hits the screens here in the USA – and I don’t even have a television (I am generally so disappointed with almost everything on offer, it’s just not worth it. Instead I watch movies or TV series I’m interested in on a big screen linked to my laptop – it works for me!).
I know there are those – somewhere – who didn’t care for Downton Abbey; people who are sticklers for the facts of life at the time, and are of the opinion that Downton Abbey was a bit of a costume drama circus. But this is television, and to tell the truth of a period well in a manner that engages people, sometimes those facts of life at the time must be subject to a little massage.
I thought the series caught the mood of those years leading up to the Great War in 1914 very well indeed – and (for those of you who know what I am talking about) – that final scene at the end of the first series, when war was announced in the midst of a summer garden party, just took my breath away. I knew it was coming.
In fact, as soon as the series started, I knew how it was going to end, who might enlist immediately, who might be lost, who would come home terribly wounded – and how everyone would be changed forever. And I think we all knew that Lady Sybil, the adventurous youngest daughter of the Earl of Grantham, would be throwing herself into the deep end as soon as she could.
The interesting thing for me was the way women were portrayed in the first series, so that viewers learned a little more about the social pressures and opportunities of the time – cultural realities that were to change as a result of war. There was the young maid who was secretly teaching herself typing and secretarial skills – only to be reprimanded for thinking she could rise above her station. I loved the way she did just that in the final episode – but how might that opportunity change with war? For the daughters of the aristocracy, there was the pressure to find a husband given the limitations of inheritance. And at the other end of the scale, we learned about industrial unrest, and about the lower classes questioning the way of the world as it was – remember the young chauffeur, another one who had socialist ideas? And there were the characters who would never want the old order to change – Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess has some more surprises coming, I would imagine. Going back to that final scene in the first series of Downton Abbey, I felt the garden party represented a microcosm of life, in a way. So many of those who have chronicled the age speak of the golden summers before war was declared – but golden for whom? Maybe we were only given just a few scenes of the truly poverty stricken because it doesn’t do much for the costume envy factor.
I’ll be coming back to Downton Abbey after it’s been aired over here in the USA – I am looking forward to see how the period of the Great War is treated, and how those beloved characters develop throughout a time that effectively launched the 20th Century. It may have officially begun some 14 years earlier, but to all intents and purposes, the world was till in the Edwardian age during the years 1900-1914.
And before I leave you this week, I wanted to share something of a super book I'm currently reading, published in 1915: A WOMAN’S EXPERIENCES IN THE GREAT WAR, by Australian author, poet, journalist /war correspondent, Louise Mack. She reported from the front line for two British newspapers – the first woman war correspondent in the Great War. What is interesting – bringing me back to Downton Abbey and the manners of the time – is that she travels to the front lines in Belgium as if she were setting off on a little European tour, and in her memoir she admits that, “When I look back on those days, the most pathetic thing about it all seems to me the absolute security in which we imagined ourselves dwelling.” Indeed, while being escorted to Antwerp by a general, she drops a bag, to reveal a pair of brilliant blue evening shoes with high heels and silver buckles. And while in Antwerp in the early days of the war, she describes being in her hotel room during a Zeppelin raid, and of course there is a complete black out:
“It seemed to me that the supreme satisfaction of having at last dropped clean away from all the make-believes of life, seized upon me, standing there in my nightgown in the pitchblack, airless room at Antwerp, a woman quite alone among strangers, with danger knocking at the gate of her world.”
That’s Louisa Mack.
Last week’s post, about the women who went into the workplace during the Great War, resonates with the final paragraphs of Mack’s memoir, when she arrives back in London after being so close to the fighting:
“And while we are laughing the train runs into Victoria Station and the soldiers leap joyously out into the rain-wet London night. Then dear familiar words break on our ears, in a woman’s voice.
‘Any luggage, Mum!’ says a woman porter.
And we know that old England is carrying on as usual.’”
I’m sure I’ll be coming back to Louise Mack and her insightful observations.
Perhaps readers in the UK – where the new series of Downton Abbey is already on the screen – can tell us if they feel the time is being depicted in an authentic manner. I’d be interested to know – but try not to give us any spoilers!
And how do you feel about film and TV depictions of difficult times? Do you feel that women, especially, are given a true representation? And can you detect hidden propaganda in those films? Ah, there’s a subject for another post along the way….
Next Post: Intelligent Economy – from an article of that title published in 1916. Does this sound like something we need now???? Sign up for email alerts so you know when a new post appears - click on the "Subscribe by Email" option in the right-hand margin above.