Can’t get enough of Julian Fellowes’ “Downton Abbey”? In our recently-released spring issue, we promised a list of books and TV shows to satisfy your need for Edwardian finesse. Here, we deliver:
There has been a house on this spot since the Jacobean era. But Witley Court as we know it today wasn’t built until 1805, when the third Lord Foley hired architect John Nash to reconstruct the baroque building with grand porticoes. About 50 years later, Samuel Daukes was hired to “modernize” the house, complete with the Italianate look popular at the time. Left neglected throughout the Edwardian era, the estate suffered a terrible fire in 1937 that left it in ruins. Several of the house’s paintings and the estate’s church survived and are now protected by English Heritage. To learn more, visit english-heritage.org.uk. (Photo: Thinkstock.com.)
1) The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (1918): The first English-language novel about shell shock, West’s debut presents a poignant glimpse into the lonely life of a country estate during the Great War.
2) The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse (1938): In this hilarious satire of Britain’s dying aristocracy, Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves, encounter general chaos at a fictional country house, Totleigh Towers. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie star in the 1990s BBC adaptation. Note: If you’re still struggling to cope with what happened in this season’s fourth episode, Wodehouse’s work would be the perfect antidote for your blues.
Waugh’s fictional “Brideshead” is a grand rococo manor with medieval origins. White-washed and lavishly gilt with ornate designs like these, during the Edwardian era, Brideshead would also have housed slag-glass table lamps with beaded trim and cast-iron radiators. It would have been a startling juxtaposition of medieval and modern–no wonder it made such an impression on Waugh’s protagonist, artist Charles Ryder. (Photo: Thinkstock.com.)
3) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1944): In arguably the 20th-century’s greatest addition to the English country house genre, Waugh recounts the escapades of artist Charles Ryder from Edwardian Oxford to Brideshead’s rococo splendor to World War II’s dark days. For lavish visuals, check out BBC’s 1970s mini-series adaptation
To get a glimpse of what Brideshead would have been like in the Edwardian era, imagine this fringed electric lamp on the rococo table pictured above. (Photo: Mark Tanner)
4) “Upstairs, Downstairs” (1971): What “Downton Abbey” is today, “Upstairs, Downstairs” was three decades ago. (Available on Netflix.)
After Edward VII became king, his wife Queen Alexandra “Alix” of Denmark remodeled Buckingham Palace’s interior, which Queen Victoria hadn’t attempted since Prince Alfred’s death. Alix faced a challenge: in her design choices, she had to pay her respects to the late queen, accommodate her large and lively family, and please her own Scandinavian tastes. In a sense, one could say she invented the light and bright version of Victorian style that’s regaining popularity today. (Photo: Thinkstock.com)
5) “Edward the King” (1975): One of BBC’s best period-piece dramas, this sweeping series follows Queen Victoria’s family from her ascension in 1837 to her grandson George’s in 1910. (Also available on Netflix.)
Did we miss one of your favorite Edwardian-era period novels or period pieces? Let us know in the comments below.
by Elaine K. Phillips