Posts Tagged ‘Philip Rock’

downton3I’m more than ready for the third season of Downton Abbey to begin Sunday night on PBS. I’ve watched the rerun of season 2 (that last scene of Matthew and Lady Mary gets me every time), looked at the preview clips online, tried to ignore the spoilers coming from across the pond and thumbed through the glossy pages of the Downton Abbey engagement calendar I gave my mother for Christmas. So far, though, I have resisted buying a “Free Bates” T-shirt and/or coffee mug, but I have signed a petition to get the guy out of prison.

passingThen there are the books, and not just the official companion volumes. Last year about this time I wrote “Up with Downton: more reading,” and it was my most popular blog post of the year. I mentioned titles by Kate Morton, R.E. Delderfield, Elswyth Thane and Phillip Rock, among others, noting that Rock’s The Passing Bells trilogy was sadly out of print.

Not any more. HarperCollins is publishing Rock’s novels with the tagline, “Before there was Downton Abbey, there was Abingdon Pryory.” It’s the grand home of the Greville family, headed by the Earl of Stanmore, and World War I changes the lives of  the household, upstairs and downstairs. My favorite characters are the servant girl Ivy and the Grevilles’ American cousin, Martin, who becomes a war correspondent. The story continues in Circles of Time and The Future Arrived.

Fay Weldon, the British novelist and screenwriter who penned the original Upstairs Downstairs pilot, begins a late-Victorian/Edwardian family saga this month weldonwith Habits of the House. It introduces the aristocratic but financially-strapped Earl of Dilberne, who decides to marry off his son Arthur to American meat-packing heiress Minnie O’Brien. The servants evidently have plenty to gossip about, as St. Martins’ Press will publish the second volume in the “Love and Inheritance” series, Long Live the King, in May.

I’m planning to read Weldon’s books because I enjoy her witty writing, although UK reviewers have dubbed this one lightweight dish. It can’t possibly be lighter than American writer T. J. Brown’s Summerset Abbey (Gallery Books, digital arc via NetGalley), the first in a summersettrilogy charting the lives of English sisters Rowena and Victoria Buxton and the governess’s daughter Prudence Tate beginning in 1913. I’m halfway through this soap bubble, and I keep yawning. I’m thinking of abandoning it and watching the 1995 DVD of Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, which I reread last year.  Really, Sunday can’t come soon enough.

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Friends of the blog know I am a “Downton Abbey” fan, addicted to the upstairs-downstairs lives being chronicled on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre. Last night’s episode was especially entrancing with the return of the viper Vera and the wounding of Matthew and William in France. And didn’t you love dowager Lady Violet doing battle with the vicar?

I’ve seen a number of proposed “Downton Abbey” reading lists for those wanting to know more of the Edwardians and World War I. Mostly they round up the usual suspects in literary fiction, memoir and poetry, which is well and good to a point. Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory is one of my favorite books, and yes, you really should read Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Lowell’s Goodbye To All That, Vera Brittain’s elegiac Testament of Youth. Be aware, though, they are more downers than “Downton.”

They are not the books I went in search of to satisfy my craving for sudsy family sagas. I am still getting to know the Crawleys. The Swanns, the Grevilles, the Straffords, the Spragues and the Days are all old friends, and thanks to R.E. Delderfield, Philip Rock, Ursula Zilinksy and Elswyth Thane, I know their family trees better than my own. (They also are handily printed at the novels’ beginnings).

Right now, I’m basking in Zilinsky’s The Long Afternoon, delighting again in the details of life at Altondale Park a century ago: “Draperies and portieres and clutter made unending work, especially when combined with sooty coal fires, but housemaids cost less to keep than a hunting dog, and the rumblings of William Morris, who preached natural wood, light-colored walls, and simplicity, would not reach Yorkshire for some years to come, and when they did, would be ignored.”

After I finish with the changing fortunes of aristocratic Toby, his German cousin Felix, and their friend David, the vicar’s son, I plan to move on to Rock’s The Passing Bells and reacquainting myself with the Grevilles, American cousin Martin and housemaid Ivy Thaxton. Since it’s the first book in a trilogy, I’ll be hard pressed to stop with one book.

And then there are Delderfield’s doorstops in his God is an Englishman trilogy. The Edwardian/ World War I story of Adam Swann’s heirs is the third, Theirs Was the Kingdom. And there are seven volumes in Thane’s Williamsburg series, although The Light Heart, following Phoebe Sprague and Oliver Campion from 1902 to 1917, may well be my favorite.

Unfortunately, many of these books are out-of-print, but you can find copies in libraries and used bookstores. Lucky me has them all, as well as Alison McLeay’s The Summer House, Rumer Godden’s China Court, and Kate Morton’s more recent The House at Riverton.

The many new books I have to read are just going to have to wait. Look for me in an English country house. I hope you’ll stay for tea.

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