Monday, January 7, 2013

Downton Season 3 kicks off, amidst purrs and hisses

Those of us who hadn't given in to reading about Downton Abbey's third season in British newspapers were treated last night to fresh new developments via the first installment on PBS, including the arrival of Shirley MacLaine as Cora's scrappy mother Martha ("Dearest Mary, now you tell me all of your wedding plans and I'll see what I can do to improve them.") The zingy exchanges between the Dowager Duchess and her American counterpart explain the presence of "Team Martha" and "Team Violet" t-shirts on the DA Facebook page! Did you Downton fans know that Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) appeared on NPR's Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me on December 12? I'm so behind on my podcasts that I haven't listened yet, but I'm sure it's very amusing.

"English servants are fiends. They seem to plot among themselves…. I should like to hang a few and burn the rest at the stake."—American heiress Mary Leiter (Lady Curzon), in a letter to her mother. 

Does that quote remind you of master plotters O'Brien and Thomas? It comes from the lavishly illustrated, enjoyably anecdotal To Marry an English Lord, which gives the skinny on the real-life counterparts of Cora, the Countess of Grantham. For many of them, life was no bed of roses and was decidedly inferior as regards comfort (e.g., atrocious plumbing, rigid mealtimes, and hordes of servants to supervise):
"The heiress soon trained herself not to speak to the footman; she was supposed to ask the butler to ask the footman to bring in more coal for the fire. She could not pop down to the kitchen to ask Cook for a sandwich or request that the tea tray be brought up at two in the afternoon instead of four; at two, the serving girls were helping with dinner preparations or down in the laundry room or upstairs putting clean linen on the beds. The staff had its schedule, its list of tasks to be done at certain times on certain days, and were not to be blithely interrupted by impertinent Americans."
I've seen photos of the Downton cast during filming swathed in puffy coats and boots in between shots of dinner parties, at which evening gowns must be worn despite the brisk temperatures in the dining room—even in summer.  The book reports that "Newport heiress Mildred Sherman, as Lady Camoys, simply gave up going to dinner in other people's houses because she couldn't withstand the arctic temperatures in evening dress; at least at home she could huddle near the fir swathed in fur." (She was also introduced to the awful phenomenon of chilblains.) And then there were the relatives to contend with. Lady Curzon's nemesis was far more potty and viper-tongued than Violet; she called her father-in-law, Lord Scarsdale, "a despot from the 13th century." He hated to hear his name aloud (turning his back on anyone who pronounced it) and was fond of examining his tongue in mirrors. He ridiculed his daughters for not finding husbands, yet refused to allow any eligible men to visit the estate. Makes Violet sound like a pussycat!


  1. As I sit eating Chinese takeout from a box, wearing my warm flannel robe, I raise my can of iced tea to the miserable ladies in their evening gowns, dining under the noses of their disdainful servants.

    Schadenfreude, ladies!

    1. I am so sorry that Cole Porter (or Noel Coward) did not live long enough to work that fabulous word into a song. I am reading a collection of the latter's writing and hoping to report on it ere long.
      As usual, you have summed up the situation perfectly!

    2. I daresay that Cole would've passed it by,
      But dauntless Noel might've given a try
      To the syntax acrobatical,
      And logic impractical
      Necessary, of course, to avoid a
      Problem with rhyming "Schadenfreude"!

  2. Sick in bed yesterday I started watching this Downton Abbey. I am truly captivated by the lives of the servants/staff. Totally hooked now!!!

  3. I just don't know... I think I'm going to require some pretty compelling arguments to get me to jump on this bandwagon with another popular TV show. I'm already so backed up with my other TV series.

    Anyone able to really sell this show to me?

    Thanks in advance, y'all!