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)
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
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
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. 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 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.
Stefan 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.