The only thing that could make the very good Downton Abbey great would be to read about it.

The Masterpiece Classic miniseries is now halfway through its second season run in Canada. It’s been a long wait and oh, if only the miniseries was based on a book, it would be so much better.

Last September while visiting Bath on my second last night in the UK, I turned on the TV in my hotel room at the grandQueensberry Hotel to settle in to do some writing for the night when Downtown Abbey’s first episode came on.

The dilemma: watch that first episode when I knew that it would be months and months before I could watch the rest or resist the temptation and turn off the television? As soon as I heard that opening theme song and saw Pharaoh ambling beside Lord Grantham, the choice was made. No writing that night.

Anytime I see something on screen, whether on television or in the movies, my first reaction is to read about it in more depth.

Batman Begins was a good movie but when I watched it a second time after reading the novel by Dennis O’Neil based on the screenplay I found the movie that much more interesting because there was an understanding of the characters’ motivations and thought processes.

No matter how believable an actor may be in a role, reading words written about them makes that character more real to me.

Maybe it’s just me but every TV series (Firefly and Sarah Connor Chronicles are two examples in which I wish desperately to read about) I like, I’m always looking for the novel it originated from or at least the adaptation version.

With Downton Abbey on my mind, I’ve been re-reading Edith Wharton’s Buccaneers and trying to figure out whether to download Daisy Goodwin’s American Heiress, which touts itself as a natural companion for the mini-series with its story of a Cora-like heroine marrying a cold, remote English lord.

There’s also the book written by the real aristocrats who own the real Downton Abbey about Lady Almina, the heiress whose family fortune saves Highclere Castle.

The Buccaneers, which is about four American heiresses storming the British realm, is worth a read. The novel was Wharton’s last and incomplete when she died in 1937. It wasn’t finished until 1993 when writer Marion Mainwaringcompleted the book based on Wharton’s outline and synopsis. A subsequent BBC mini-series made in 1995 has atrocious acting and looks badly dated although the great English manor shots make it almost worthwhile. I had to re-read the Buccaneers to erase from my mind the images and sounds of a screeching scene with Carla Gugino as Nan St. George.

The New York Times recently reported that Downton Abbey has had an impact on the book world with publishers rushing to print books about the Edwardian era and the manor houses at the time of the First World War. In case the link is dead, the last quote in the article from a NY bookseller is worth repeating: “Those public TV audiences are book-buying audiences.”

More Downton Abbey connections in the next post when Literary Places visits the largest private residence in America: Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina.


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