To celebrate the release of the Downton Abbey movie, Jennifer shares the top 7 reasons she loves Downton Abbey.
If you would prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for a transcript of the episode.
Transcript for Episode 21: 7 Reasons I Love Downton Abbey
It’s September 16, 2019, as I record this, and as the Downton Abbey movie is scheduled to release later this week, I thought I’d share with you the seven reasons I love Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey is the epitome of a sparkling vintage life, and while it’s not everyone’s fine china cup of tea, it certainly is mine. However, if you’re not a fan, you may feel free to skip this episode as it will simply annoy you.
I only have one bit of writing news to share this week, and that’s that The Highlanders novella collection is now available for preorder on Amazon. I’ll put a link in the show notes. My own contribution, a novella called The Violinist, is set in 1915, which happens to fall in the time period of Downton Abbey. But that’s just a coincidence. I promise.
I was a great fan of Downton Abbey from the beginning. For those who might not be familiar with it, it was a British television drama that aired in from 200X to 201X on PBS. Created by Julian Fellowes, it followed a similar pattern as a much older series called “Upstairs, Downstairs,” chronicling the lives of wealthy British people living lives of luxury juxtaposed against the servants who toiled for them below stairs. I loved watching these ways of life that were so foreign to me, both the nobles’ lives and the servants’ lives. Like all the best TV, movies, and books, it gave me a chance to escape my own reality and dream a little, in this case for an hour a week.
In anticipation of the movie being released later this week, I’ve broken down my appreciation for Downton Abbey into seven reasons.
- First of all, it was set in my favorite time period, the early twentieth century. From the first episode set in 1912 through the 1920s, it was an era filled with drama. One of the things I love about history is not only learning the facts about historical events, but learning how these events touched the lives of individual people and families. For example, long-ago events World War II or the Korean War seem so much more real and vivid to us when we hear how they affected our fathers, uncles, or grandfathers who fought in the war, or how our grandmothers coped on the homefront with rationing and shortages and war-bond drives. Well, in the same way, Downton Abbey lets me see historical events through the lens of one household. They got the ball rolling with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, which kicked off Season One’s storyline. We saw the impact World War I had on different characters in different walks of life. We watched the wild spirit of the 1920s roll in, and all along, the various technologies: electricity, the telephone, the radio, the phonograph. One of my favorite scenes was from Season One where the dowager countess, Lady Violet, declares she will never have electricity in her house because of the damaging rays. Well, some people actually felt that way, and some still do feel suspicious about every wave of new technology that comes along. So my number-one reason for loving Downton Abbey is the time period.
- The stories! Downton Abbey is great storytelling, pure and simple. There are mysteries. There are murders and suspicious and inconvenient deaths (poor Mr. Pamuk). There are jilted brides, sibling rivalries, conflicts and betrayals and treacheries of all sorts, punctuated by sweet and tender moments, sometimes from characters you’d least suspect of being capable of sweet and tender. And there’s romance and heartbreak and more romance and more heartbreak and more romance and even some happy endings. There’s good character development, with characters who grow and change over the course of the series. So my second reason for loving Downton Abbey is the storytelling.
- The costumes ! The costumes. The dresses. The hats. The sparkly headbands and slinky gloves and luxurious jewelry. I could watch the series with the sound off and just enjoy the costumes. Even the outfits I hated, I loved.
- Good values. In Downton Abbey, a person’s character wins out over their social status. In a world where rich people are often vilified like cartoon villains simply for being rich, and poor people are often considered virtuous just for being poor, Downton Abbey showed a world where rich people could be good and kind and generous, and the lower classes were not necessarily saintly just because they were poor. To be sure, some of the wealthy characters were disgusting human beings–hello, Larry Grey. And many of the below-stairs people were, of course, men and women of sterling character. But most of them were a mixed bag: clever Lady Mary and snobbish Lady Mary. Kind Lady Edith and revengeful Lady Edith. Treacherous Thomas and vulnerable Thomas. Most of the characters are multi-dimensional, which means they’re human, like every one of us. We can relate to them. And multi-dimensional characters also point back to good storytelling. I appreciated the fact that, at Downton Abbey overall, a person’s quality of character mattered more than their social status.
- Good manners mattered. Downton Abbey shows a type of civility that our world sorely needs today. To express anger with words, not fists or guns. To wash your face, get dressed, fulfill your commitments and keep your promises, even when the world around you is shifting. That’s what good manners are. When everyone knows what behavior is expected of them and what to expect from others, things tend to run more smoothly. Good manners aren’t all about using the proper fork at dinner, although that, too, has its place. At their core, good manners about treating other people with respect and kindness, no matter who they are. Carson the butler was often joke-worthy in his insistence on a proper way to do everything. And yet there’s something reassuring having clear ideas about right and wrong, proper and improper, good and bad. In today’s world where many people think everything’s relative and there are no absolutes, such ideas are comforting. So, reason number five is good manners.
- Downton Abbey is a multi-generational family saga, meaning there are storylines for characters of all ages, from the elderly dowager countess to the youngest child. (The dowager countess, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith, could constitute a reason all on her own.) I love a series that has interesting and even romantic storylines for older characters as well as those in the bloom of youth.
- Reason Number Seven: Top-notch production values. From the décor of the interiors to the English scenery, British accents, and great casting, and aforementioned fabulous costumes, Downton Abbey is a treat to watch.
So there you have it: seven reason I love Downton Abbey. I’ll check back later, after I’ve seen the movie, to share my impressions of it.
Today’s grace note is the 1928 Jewelry Company, and specifically their Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection. You’ve heard me mention the 1928 Jewelry Company before. They’re not a sponsor, and I’m not an affiliate, but I do like their jewelry.
According to the company’s website, the Downton Abbey Collection was inspired by the Edwardian and Art Deco jewelry worn during the time period of Downton Abbey. It was created in collaboration with 1928’s designers and the shows costume design team in England through an exclusive licensing agreement. From the earrings and necklaces, down to the bracelets and hair accessories, the Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection features authentic details and motifs from the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras.
As I write this in September 2019, they’re having a sale on their Downton Abbey collection. I don’t know how long the sale will last, but here’s a link to the company.
If you would be so kind to leave a review of this podcast at iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, I would so appreciate it. It feels awkward sometimes to ask for a review, sort of like fishing for compliments, but truly, nothing raises the visibility of a podcast like a healthy number of good reviews. So in the interest of helping other like-minded vintage lovers find this podcast, I’m asking you to leave a review, if you please. Remember that you can find the show notes at sparklingvintagelife.com under episode 21. And while you’re there, you can sign up for my newsletter and be notified whenever a new episode is available.
And that’s it for today! I’ll be back soon to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.
We have a winner! In the recent giveaway on the Sparkling Vintage Life podcast, the winner of the beautiful rose pin (pictured above) from 1928 Jewelry Company is Jenny Manzke! (I’m afraid mispronounced the name in the podcast…my deepest apologies!) Thank you to Jenny and to everyone who entered the drawing. There will be another giveaway soon, so stay tuned in to the podcast. Meanwhile, subscribe to my newsletter at right so you know when the next one’s coming up!
Nostalgia–what’s the point? Isn’t the present better than the past? What about dressing vintage? Jennifer answers listeners’ questions. Plus a special 1920s-inspired giveaway just in time for Mother’s Day.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down for the transcript.
Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube are also great sources of vintage inspiration.
Episode 10 Transcript
This is Episode number ten of the podcast, which I can hardly believe. The weeks have flown by so quickly. To mark our tenth weekiversary, today’s episode will be a Q&A with some questions listeners have emailed in.
On the writing front, I turned in my article on the history of City Beach here in Sandpoint, Idaho, and that will appear in the Summer 2019 issue of Sandpoint Magazine which will come out in a few weeks. I’ve had a few freelance editing jobs to complete, including a couple of novels and also exhibit labels for an upcoming exhibit on railroads at the Bonner County History Museum in Sandpoint. If you’re a train buff and you find yourself in or visiting the Sandpoint area this summer, you’ll wanting check it out. And above all, of course, I’m continuing to write the first draft of the 1930s Hollywood novel. It’s not progressing as quickly as I’d hoped, but it is progressing.
And now on to our very first Sparkling Vintage Q&A episode. Remember you can always email me questions and topic ideas for future episodes to email@example.com. I promise to read and respond to every email and maybe even address some on future Q&As here on the podcast.
Our first question today comes from Elisabeth. Elisabeth writes, “It seems to me that the world is better off today than it has ever been. Women especially were so oppressed back then and had so few options in life. Do you really wish you lived in the past?” Well, the truth is that, no, Elisabeth, I don’t really want to live in the past. Not permanently, although I’d sure like to visit sometimes. My husband and I sometimes joke that I’d last about ten minutes in any era that didn’t offer hot baths and indoor plumbing. When I say that I do, saying I wish I lived back then or that I were born in an earlier era, it’s a sort of shorthand meaning I regret missing out on certain aspects about an era, or feeling like I missed out on some element that sounds cool but that was no longer being done by the time I came around. You could say I suffer from “vintage FOMO,” fear of missing out on older ways of life. I don’t want to live in fear of cholera or TB or polio, or to have to travel around on horseback or grind my own wheat. I love air-conditioning. I love the Internet. Above all, I know God placed me here on this earth in this time and place, and He doesn’t make mistakes. He put me here on purpose. But that doesn’t mean I can’t look back and admire what has gone before.
The dictionary defines “nostalgia” as a wistful or sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place and time. I’d say that definition defines my approach. I’m not a professional historian. But I do want to counteract certain misconceptions.
You say in your letter that women were totally oppressed in earlier decades and had fewer options in life. That’s a huge topic that we’ll probably tackle another day. I’ll just say that my research is not turning up women whose lives were unending parades of misery and entrapment. Some things needed to be corrected, of course, but everything in the culture did not need to be tossed out and stomped on. All women were not miserable. In fact, some were quite happy and content. While there were always women who were dissatisfied with their lives in the past, many with quite valid complaints, there are a lot of women today who feel angry and dissatisfied today as well. Modern life is no panacea for the ills of the human heart. For me the answer lies in reaching back for what did work and bringing it forward, not to continue demolishing it with a hammer just because it’s old. I do not agree that whatever’s new is always better. I do not always think old is better, either. The point of A Sparkling Vintage Life is not to recreate the past wholesale. Clearly that’s impossible, and undesirable besides. But it’s to preserve the best aspects of the past, to study what worked and how to bring it back while leaving the bad aspects behind. I hope that that somewhat long-winded answer clarifies things somewhat. I’d love to continue this discussion, as I think it’s an important one.
Catherine asks if I dress vintage in real life. No, I do not, although I would love to. I love to read blogs of women who dress vintage, and it looks so fun! I’ll put a couple of links in the show notes. First of all, as a plus-size woman, frankly I’m too large to fit most authentic vintage clothing, which tends to be available mostly in small sizes. There are a few reasons for this. One is that women, and men too, tended to be smaller in past eras, both shorter and more slender. As a rule we’ve grown taller, bigger boned, and stouter with each generation, at least here in America. Another reason vintage clothing runs small is that those larger-sized garments that did exist have gotten snapped up over the decades, not only by people who wear vintage as a matter of course, but by theater companies and school drama departments and other people looking for costumes. The smaller sizes that fewer people could fit into have not been snapped up quite so quickly and thus they are still around today. What I do wear a lot of are things like vintage handbags, jewelry, scarves, which aren’t so size-dependent. Also, there are vintage reproductions that are made in larger sizes. But then of course they aren’t genuine vintage. I do own a few reproduction, but not enough to call it a whole wardrobe. I do hope to wear more and more vintage styles as time goes on, since I like them and they seem to suit my personality. I always feel good and get lots of compliments when I do wear something vintage-inspired.
Another hurdle is that scouting out genuine vintage clothing takes time. Not only is it hard to find garments in my size that I love, but there’s time, effort, and often cost associated with cleaning the old fabrics, doing repairs, and caring for the clothes in general. As for actually wearing them out in public, I’m clumsy. I spill things. I’m not as careful as I should be, and many old fabrics are quite fragile. I’m pretty tough on clothes. But, again, some of the modern reproductions can capture the styles without the headaches that come with authentic vintage garments.
All that said, would I wear a vintage dress or gown if the right one came along? Absolutely! Often the quality of the fabric is better, and the quality of the workmanship. You’ll find things like fabric-covered buttons and hand-smocking and details like deeper hems and more generous seam allowances that are hard to come by these days. Plus many of the styles were more becoming to the feminine figure, with seaming and darts meant to flatter curves. These details cost more to make so many manufacturers skip them nowadays to keep costs down. Also, some people have a problem with wearing clothing that others have worn before. I have absolutely no problem with this. In fact, I love to imagine who might have worn a garment before I did. To me that’s part of its allure.
Ginger asks, Will you ever have guests on the podcast? I’d love to hear some conversations with like-minded ladies. Yes, Ginger, I do plan to start inviting guests on the show now and then in the future. I have a few hurdles to get over first, mostly having to do with mastering all the technical aspects of putting together the podcast before I add more people to the mix. I figure that if I mess something up, it’s just me. When I have guests, then my mix-ups may inconvenience them as well. But, yes, having guests on is definitely something that’s on my radar for the future.
If you have a question you’d like me to answer or a topic you’d like me to address, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can take a few minutes to stop by iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts and leave a positive review, that will help raise the visibility of the show so others can find it.
And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.
Today’s grace note is The 1928 Jewelry Company. If you like vintage-inspired jewelry and accessories and don’t mind if they’re not genuine antiques, the 1928 Jewelry Company is the source for you. They create modern replicas of designs from the past including Art Deco, Renaissance, Victorian, classical Greece, and more, check out The 1928 Jewelry Company. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Thanks for listening, and come back next week when I’ll be discussing another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.