This Christmas I received The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era, the latest Downton companion book by Jessica Fellowes, niece of series creator Julian Fellowes. And I could not put it down. It was the perfect way to gear up for the coming third season, which starts this Sunday (Jan. 6) on PBS.
I think I prefer Chronicles to Fellowes’s other companion book, The World of Downton Abbey. Each chapter takes an in depth look at one (and sometimes two) of the main characters both upstairs and down. Fellowes discusses events that have taken place in the characters’ lives and how they’ve shaped and changed their personalities over the course of the series. Select quotes are scattered throughout to break up the narrative text, along with beautiful color photographs from the set. The actors give their takes on what makes their characters tick, and Fellowes also tucks in tidbits from her research to help explain character motivations. This was the part I found particularly insightful. When you know more about the life of a ladies maid, it helps to round out the background of O’Brien. We better understand the hardships Lady Sybil and Branson face when we can compare their situation to other couples of the time who married outside their social class.
In addition, costume designer Caroline McCall explains her vision for each character and how that came across in their wardrobe, and the end of each chapter has a page filled with material objects that would have been a part of the character’s daily life.
Fellowes does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life on the page. And I also think the book helps to give the characters more dimension than they sometimes get on the screen by taking plenty of time to discuss their backstory, their hopes for the future, and the challenges they presently face. The fictional characters are made more real when their lives are compared to their real life contemporaries.
I give The Chronicles of Downton Abbey five stars, a must-own for any Downton enthusiast.