Culture & Literature
LIFE Downton Abbey

LIFE Downton Abbey

LIFE Downton Abbey

LIFE goes upstairs, downstairs, and into every fascinating historical nook and cranny of America's favorite British TV mansion and Highclere Castle, the storied 17th century stately home where the series is filmed. Magnificent photography and gripping stories make this a must-have read for the show's millions of fans. Find out more about: The illegitimate daughter of a Rothschild whose marriage to the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon kept Highclere in the family; Highclere's connection to the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, the sudden death of an Earl, and the first rumors of a famous curse; World War I, as it was depicted in Downton Abbey, and as it really unfolded on the home front.

United States
Meredith Corporation
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$20.81(Incl. tax)

in this issue

2 min.
welcome to downton abbey

Over an Italian dinner in London’s posh Belgravia district, screenwriter Julian Fellowes and executive producer Gareth Neame were brainstorming ideas for a new television series. At some point, Neame mentioned Gosford Park, the 2001 Robert Altman film that Fellowes had written. The film had garnered the writer an Oscar—and Neame was convinced that its milieu (the intersecting lives of masters and servants in an Edwardian English house) would make a smashing TV show. Fellowes was leery—why rehash old material?—but the idea stuck. He had, after all, been living with this world and its people for a long time. (He himself is a member of the House of Lords—and, though he wasn’t “to the manor born,” he was born within grouse-shooting distance of it.) A few days later, Fellowes sent Neame an…

1 min.
the family album

LORD GRANTHM “My fortune is the work of others who laboured to build a great dynasty. Do I have the right to destroy their work or impoverish that dynasty? I am a custodian, my dear, not an owner. I must strive to be worthy of the task I have been set.” LADY CORA “No one ever warns you about bringing up daughters. You think it’s going to be like Little Women. Instead they’re at each other’s throats from dawn till dusk.” LADY MARY “Women like me don’t have a life. We choose clothes and pay calls and work for charity and do the Season. But really we’re stuck in a waiting room until we marry.” LADY EDITH “Am I just to be the maiden aunt? Isn’t this what they do? Arrange presents for their prettier relations?” LADY SYBIL “I…

6 min.
downton abbey: factor fiction?

IN THE BEGINNING Just before midnight on April 14, 1912, halfway into its celebrated maiden voyage, the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic grazed an iceberg and, less than three hours later, sunk in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. More than 1,500 people died—and part of the new century’s belief in endless human progress died with them. “The disaster shook the culture of the day quite profoundly,” Hugh Brewster, author of Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage, tells LIFE. “Pulpits echoed with jeremiads about man’s arrogance and God’s retribution.” Nearly one hundred years later—on September 26, 2010—the maritime tragedy kicked off the premiere of Downton Abbey. The decision to begin the show with the doomed ship was deliberate, of course. From the start, Downton Abbey has been about change, examining what happens when an established…

3 min.
the sinking of the "titanic"

"The sea was like glass, so smooth that the stars were clearly reflected,” wrote RMS Titanic passenger Colonel Archibald Gracie of the quiet, moonless night of April 14, 1912—four days into the “unsinkable” ship’s journey from Southampton to New York City. But the calmness of the North Atlantic was—hindsight being 20/20—deceptive. “Not for 50 years, the old sailors tell us, had so great a mass of ice and icebergs at this time of the year been seen so far south,” wrote Gracie, the last survivor to leave the boat—and among the first to die, eight months later. Though there had been warnings of “bergs, growlers, and field ice” throughout the evening, no one had been overly concerned—least of all the ship’s captain, Edward John Smith. One year before, Smith had said that…

5 min.
downton abbey part ii

THE PAST IS PRELUDE "Remember, those customs and ceremonies that people think are the soul of England were almost all invented by the Victorians,” one Downton character says. He means, in part, the so-called London Season, the months of May through July, when the monied classes traveled from their country homes to the city to shop, pay social calls, and—not least—introduce their debutante daughters to potential husbands at private balls and parties. There were very few arranged unions, but “what you said to your children was: You choose from within this gene pool, but within the pool you can choose yourself,” wrote Fellowes. Part of the Season involved introducing “debs” to the royal court. On Downton Abbey, Lady Rose MacClare, Lord Grantham’s cousin, is presented to King George V and Queen Mary…

3 min.
sexual mores and women’s rights

"The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feelings of any kind,” the esteemed gynecologist Dr. William Acton wrote in 1857. “She submits to her husband’s embraces, but … were it not for the desire of maternity, would far rather be relieved from his attentions.” It’s no surprise, given the mores and perspectives of the time, that women were considered sexless. Think of Charles Dickens’s representative idealization of a young woman with “the brightest little eyes, and the quietest little manner … a condensation of all the domestic virtues.” Victorian—and, by extension, Edwardian—female sexuality was, in other words, subsumed in notions of pliability, youth, and domesticity. Then there was a fundamental ignorance of biology—and we don’t mean dissecting frogs. Victorian and Edwardian men did not, as…