More Downton Ripples

Two years ago, some time after Downton Abbey Season 2 had finished airing on PBS, I wrote my first “Downton Ripples” post. I subtitled it “How I Overcome Downton Abbey Withdrawal Syndrome”. In that post, I’d listed some books and movies/TV productions that relate to the setting similar to Downton Abbey, for I was fascinated by the Great War period after watching Downton.

Some of the authors I read included Robert Graves, Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh, and watched Brideshead Revisited, A Handful of Dust, Easy Virtue and discovered Lost Empires, the TV series with a young Colin Firth together with Laurence Olivier, amazing.

This time, after Season 4, the withdrawal syndrome seems to have numbed a bit, but the ripples continue to spread. Again, Downton has prodded me to seek out the literature around the time between WW1 and WW2 Europe. While there are many present day authors writing about that era, I’d like to hear more authentic voices. I went looking for writers actually living in that period of history to hear their stories.

The following is a list of titles I’ve gone through this time, some I have finished, some still on my ‘To be’ agenda:

Parade’s End (2012, BBC/HBO co-production)

Parade's End Blu-Ray Cover

This series complements Downton Abbey perfectly. While Downton is light and heart-warming, soapy in its feel, Parade’s End is cerebral and literary, its social commentary of the time harsher and more incisive. I think the difference is, Julian Fellowes creates as a contemporary screenwriter, and knowing what modern day viewers want, he caters to their desire. Yes, he has offered us charming entertainment, and for the stars and the show, opportunities for Emmy and Golden Globe noms and wins.

Parade’s End is another story. Playwright Tom Stoppard (Emmy and BAFTA nom for this) adapts from Ford Madox Ford, a writer during WWI period, contemporary of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, the Lost Generation after The Great War, and witness to the destruction of the old world order and individual lives. Sure social barriers were dismantled, but together with such collapse came the shattering of long-held values and beliefs. Through the protagonist Christopher Tietjens, we can feel the intense struggles and poignancy of a man caught in such desolation.

I first saw Parade’s End on HBO when there was a window of free viewing. After watching one episode, I knew I must subscribe to continue with the rest of the series, and so I did. Effective advertising indeed. That was last year, and I recently just finished re-watching Parade’s End on Blu-Ray.

Parade’s End is the first time I watch Benedict Cumberbatch in a leading role (Emmy nom), an impressive performance as Christopher Tietjens, one of the last remaining honourable men struggling to stay afloat in the drowning waves of social change and ideals. Rebecca Hall (BAFTA nom) is effective as the scheming and seductive wife Sylvia. The young, almost ethereal Adelaide Clemens as suffragette Valentine Wannop is perfect. She makes me think of Carey Mulligan. And what a wonderful connection — Mulligan will be the star of the new film Suffragette, which I highly anticipate.

Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford

Parade's End BBC Book Cover copy

This will be my major challenge in TBR books this year. Image here is the BBC Book edition I bought in a book sale a few years back. It has 906 pages, and is made up of four novels — Some Do Not, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up, and The Last Post. A more recent edition is the reissue of Penguin Modern Classic, with a new introduction written by Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending). You can read the intro here.

Parade’s End by Tom Stoppard

Parade's End Script by Tom Stoppard

I enjoy reading the scripts of productions I like. It’s a kind of deconstruction, if you will, demythisizing of sort. I’m fascinated by the skills of a screenwriter who uses words to elicit images for the director to execute, translating the literary into the visual using words. To write for the screen almost sounds like an oxymoron. I’ve read Julian Fellowe’s Downton Abbey scripts and found it most interesting. I’d like to explore Tom Stoppard’s journey of adaptation. But first, I need to tackle Ford Madox Ford’s original texts.

T. S. EliotT. S. Eliot — After Downton and Parade’s End, I’m all geared up to explore deeper into the the psyche and spirituality of the time. Why, after all, what had lost in a generation was not just the physical bodies or social structures, but the internal, the destruction of a value and belief system. I’d like to read and reread Eliot’s works, delve into a time that prompted the poet to see hollow men, and women come and go, talking of Michelangelo. What’s underneath the façade of human progress?

The Europeans by Henry JamesThe Europeans by Henry James — A voice from the dawn of the 20th Century. I have finished listening to the amusing auidiobook of The Europeans. Yes, unlike many readers’ impression of James’ works, The Europeans is a delightful read (listen). It is like a medley of E. M. Forster and Jane Austen. Humorous depiction of the different POV’s between a pair of European sister/brother coming to visit their American cousins residing in the outskirt of Boston. With some LOL moments. My next James read is The Ambassadors.

The Collected Stories of Stefan ZweigStefan Zweig — While Lady Edith’s love Michael Gregson headed to Germany and mysteriously gone missing, the then famous (real life) writer Stefan Zweig in Austria was lamenting the spread of anti-semitism in the continent. It’s interesting that Downton has led me to connect, at least in historical timeline, with an author I’ve just recently discovered, thanks to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, to which he has credited the works of Stefan Zweig. I’ve recently read Zweig’s Chess Story, and now delving into his short stories.


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

21 thoughts on “More Downton Ripples”

  1. Parade’s End was excellent thanks in no small way to the acting skills of Benedict Cumberbatch. However, all the cast were very good and Tom Stoppard’s adaption was wonderful. You have reminded me that I much watch this again.


    1. Chris,

      Yes, I have high respect for Tom Stoppard. Parade’s End is very well written and as you said, performed by excellent actors. I hope Benedict Cumberbatch would work on other Stoppard’s screenplays in the future.


      1. I was trying to think of other British TV shows you might like and I remembered a great BBC show from the early nineties called ‘The House of Eliott’. Have you seen any of that series? It is about two sisters who start a dressmaking business in the 1920s. I think you would like it.


  2. Well, I have yet to see Parade’s End — I think Suzanne has it so I may see it someday if I don’t hit the video first! The Zweig sounds particularly interesting to me as does “The Europeans.” You got my other list — it doesn’t stop, does it? The pile gets bigger and bigger!


    1. Jeanie,

      The Europeans you’ll really enjoy I think. If you don’t have time to read, the audiobook is delightful, listen while driving. And Parade’s End is a must-see. Good prep for the upcoming movie Suffragette. As for Zweig, I haven’t read enough to see the connection between Wes Anderson’s film, albeit I haven’t seen that film yet. But for all the stories I’ve read, and the novella Chess Story, they’re quite gloomy. From the trailer, TGBH is a delightful and fun movie.


  3. Some great stuff to add to my list!

    Coming from the art side of things, I was reading a piece in the Walrus about Theosophy and its influence on Lawren Harris, Emily Carr along with Kandinsky, T.S. Eliot, Whitman and others during this period. In a time where we take spiritual syncretism and multiculturalism for granted, this seems to be the period in which it really begins to blossom into abstraction in literature and art. I have been sitting on “The Wasteland” forever, too timid to dive in. LOL!

    As always – I love how you approach the study of literature and a period. My library and movie list never stop expanding under your influence!


    1. Michelle,

      I always appreciate your input from an artist’s POV. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Theosophy certainly sounds like something I’d like to learn more. I used to subscribe to The Walrus, but not anymore. I’ll try to see if I can find that article online. Just recently I read ‘The Wasteland’ from beginning to end in one sitting (used to just read excerpts of it), this definitely is something I need commentaries and study guides to help understand. But I love TSE’s other more ‘accessible’ poems, like Prufrock and The Hollow Men. And last but not least, thanks for your kind words. I think we do influence one another in the blogosphere.


    1. Thanks for the link… What a major mash-up of multicultural mysticism. Interesting to see how that influenced The Group of Seven. Guess I’ll just stick with WWI literature. 😉 As for “The Waste Land” I recently read it from my son’s old text book Norton Anthology of English Lit. I’m sure there are annotations in there but I haven’t looked into those. To really understand the poem, maybe taking an actual course on TSE would be most helpful, something online like from the Open Culture Website. Well of course, that depend on the purpose and how deep one wants to dig into it, and how much time one has.


      1. Open University Yale and iTunes U have some great stuff too. They touched on Prufrock, but very little “Wasteland”.

        But according to Grainger, Blavatsky generally had just as much of an influence on the literature of the time – he mentions Whitman specifically as a theosophist. Think Yeats and the Order of the Golden Dawn as a precursor. I believe Yeats was also a part of bringing Blake to the modern reader. WW1 shattered Victorian thinking/religion and transcendentalism began to garner wide appeal amongst the creative community.

        Even though in art, Harris came by it more directly, it was Kandinsky who brought it to other modernists – including Georgia O’Keeffe who considered Kandinsky’s book to be core reading and one that influenced her move to abstraction. It is a short book and well worth the read.

        Wouldn’t it be fun to take a tour through Whitman’s or Eliot’s (and Harris’!) libraries? There are similar movements today which have underpinned our thinking so much, we are no longer conscious of it. “Self-help” has recycled the ideas with little allusion to their sources. The sources might shock…


        1. Sorry if I’ve gone on a little too much… I’m like a terrier with a bone! LOL It is so interesting. Maybe I should write another Ripples inspired blogpost??


          1. Michelle,

            Thanks for all the info. Quite out of my range so I’m afraid I don’t have much to contribute. But sure glad at the pond here, a little pebble of a post can evoke so much resonance. A post on Artscapes to continue the spread of ripples? Sounds like a good idea. As for TSE, I’d like to explore more. A self-study course sounds great like the one Stefanie (see comment below) had gone through… if I have the time. 😉


  4. Oh, I am going to have to get my hands on Parade’s End! I took a self-directed MOOC course at Udemy on TS Eliot and liked it very much. I think it is still up and available for viewing if you are interested.


    1. Stefanie,

      You must see Parade’s End… maybe read the book too after. The self-directed course on TSE sounds like a wonderful idea. Do you have a link to it?


  5. I just read your latest posts – I do not know a thing about Parade’s End but I also have been reading about the war times. I finished a couple of books written by an American in Russia before and after the revolution. Before that I had read “Wine and War – The French, the Nazi and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure” by Donald Kladstrup – good reading about how the wine makers save their vintage.

    I like to have at least 5 or 6 books to read by my bed, as I will read from several each night (people do watch several shows on TV, do they?). I just received “Wave Me Goodbye” and “Hearts Undefeated” Omnibus, a series of short stories written during the war by women writers. I am also reading “Good Evening Mrs. Craven” The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter Downes. In addition, in French, I am reading Le Pieton de Paris by Leon-Paul Fargue about Paris before WW2.

    Then when we went to the Atlanta antique and flea market I was able to get 5 hard back volumes pub in the 1940 of John Steinbeck. So I have started The Grapes of Wrath. On my Kindle I am reading Red Badge of Courage which is about another war, the Civil War. For fun though I did get an old book by Agatha Christie. Last week was the Library Sale – I did not want to buy any books, but ended up with about 20 – sigh… I am also reading Tolstoy and the Purple Chair – my year of magical reading by Nina Sankovitch – after her sister’s death she decided to read a book a day for a year. She lists all the books she read at the end. And I just finished Stanley Karnow’s Paris in the Fifties – nostalgia for me and at the same time I finished A Paris Notebook by C. W. Gusewelle – my two Paris books for March so far.


    1. VB,

      Yes, i do too… read several books ‘at the same time’. But I found ultimately, I need to focus on one to get it out of the way before I can really concentrate on the others. But yes, like right now, I have 4-5 started. But some have to wait till I finish The Monuments Men, which I started a long time ago and now at the last 80 pages. So I like to get that ‘over with’ as soon as time allows.

      I read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair when it first came out a few years ago. I was following Nina Sankovitch’s blog “Read All Day” while she was still reading, finish one book daily PLUS posting a review of it on her blog. Quite an achievement, albeit she did it for a good reason, to deal with her loss.

      As for me presently, other than life’s demanding schedules and duties, I’m left with little time for reading, and then there are the movies. Now that the Awards Season is over, I’m taking a little ‘hiatus’ from going to the movies, but is still a keen watcher at home.

      You have a plate full I can see with wonderful books to read. BTW, do you know The Grapes of Wrath will have a new movie adaptation, only the second since John Ford’s 1940 classic. This time it’s Steven Spielberg’s Dreamwork, but not sure if he will be directing. In talks to write the screenplay is Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts, who wrote the award winning August: Osage County. I look forward to that. So, another book on my TBR list. East of Eden will also be coming out with a new movie adaptation too.


  6. Fascinating post. I’m rather fond of Brideshead Revisisted. Just re-read it for book group and I’m looking forward to the discussion next week.


    1. Maybe it would be a rewarding activity for your group to watch the movie adaptation together. Could definitely generate some discussions. 🙂


    1. Yes, Charlotte. I’ve seen a few episodes of Mr. Selfridge. It’s great that the series is based on a true story. I’ve yet to see The Paradise.


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