Jump to content

Downton Abbey: Historical Notes and Context, Quibbles and Anachronisms


  • Please log in to reply

177 replies to this topic

#1

name234

name234

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 8, 2013 @ 10:36 PM

Scandalized by the prospect of a tall footman? The English occupation of Ireland? Or a proposal of pre-dinner cocktails? Should you be?

On the previous threads many people brought context and detail about the life and times for each season and mentioned novels that capture the same era: details of the survivors of the Titanic; the social impact of the Great War on England across the classes; technological developments; laws concerning inheritance etc. Others noted things just out of synch with actual historical developments (e.g. references being made to Chicago Bootleggers in 1920)

Discuss these things here



From Jessie Q on the 3:1 Episode thread.

Victorian Domestic Servant Hierarchy and Wage Scale

You people are so smart! As mentioned at the above link, a first footman's "...main job was to be tall, handsome
and represent the estate's grandeur." Furthermore, "Premium salaries were paid to a pair of first and second footman whose size and appearance made them look like twins. The idea was that they were most impressive if, like book ends, they matched."

The link's info relates to Victorian England, but Carson should have been pleased by guy's height.


And from Althea8 on the 3:1 Episode thread.

I've read the opposite about the footmen, this is a blog about Etiquette and Downton Abbey and the bit about it http://www.huffingto..._b_1888700.html
"A footman's height - The new footman Alfred arrived and much to the dismay of Carson, the butler, Alfred was found to be over six foot. Height discrimination did go on - and indeed still does to a certain extent nowadays - as the liveries (uniforms) that footmen wore were often so expensive they were made to 'average height' (5 foot 6 or 7) so employing someone so tall would mean they would have to spend money to adjust a livery or buy a whole new one. Today at Buckingham Palace, footmen are mostly today's average height of 5 foot 8 inches, for the same reason."


  • 0

#2

Milz

Milz

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 9, 2013 @ 3:10 PM

Here are a few links to serve as references (and to catch any anachronisms JF might slip in):

For those who aspire to run a well-managed household:
Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management
http://www.mrsbeeton.com/

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/29084

Help for the socially awkward:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5255

Help for those who aspire to be a lady:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35123

Help for those who aspire to be a gentleman:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/39293

For those who aspire to write letters as the learned and civilized do:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/22222

Cookery books:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/29232
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/26323

What to serve during the Great War:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15464

What to serve to our American guests:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13923
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28491

For those who wish to indulge in that American habit of "cocktails"
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13487

Health and hygiene:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28458
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19924

The above linked books date from the early 1800s through the 1920s

Edited by Milz, Jan 9, 2013 @ 3:13 PM.

  • 1

#3

cissyboo

cissyboo

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 10, 2013 @ 3:42 PM

What to serve during the Great War:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15464

I actually have this book on my kindle-like thing. These are some interesting recipes, at least until you get to the meat ones then they are just puzzling (politely saying many are disgusting to contemplate).
  • 0

#4

Constantinople

Constantinople

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 10, 2013 @ 3:54 PM

From the 3-1: 2013.01.06 episode thread

RE: Cora's heritage, this from the PBS site: "Cora is the beautiful daughter of Isidore Levinson, a dry goods multi millionaire from Cincinnati. She arrived in England with her mother in 1888 at the age of 20, and was engaged to Robert by the end of her first season."

Isidore really sounds like a Jewish name, and since he's from Cincinnati, I wonder if JF is basing this on the Lazarus family. Although it started in Columbus, it was later headquartered in Cincinnati, and there are still philanthropic Lazaruses living there.

Interesting, considering Anti-Semitism has been a problem for centuries. Of course, maybe Levinson wasn't a practicing Jew, and Britain had had a Jewish PM (Disraeli, who converted to Anglican at an early age).

Also, despite its being named "Queen City of the West" for some time, and being a center of pork production (until Chicago, with its better rail connections, became "Hog Butcher of the World"), still was fairly backwater as far as society went. If Lord G was really important, I think he would've held out for a daughter of NY's "400."



Downton Abbey is filmed at Highclere Castle, the "seat" of the Earls of Carnavon. The 5th Earl, sponsor of Howard Carter's King Tut Exhibition, married Almina Wombwell, whose biological father is said to be Alfred de Rothschild (and who certainly provided Almina & Lord Carnavon with a great deal of money). The 5th Earl succeeded to the earldom in 1890 and died in 1923, so it overlaps with Downton's Earl of Grantham

As for where people start and where they end-up, that's two different things. The Rockefellers started in Cleveland (John D was actually born in a small town in New York, but moved to Cleveland when he was 12). So Cincinnati may just be where Cora's father started his business. I also recall in S1 there was talk of shipping Mary to visit her family in New York, and now in S3, Cora's mother Martha is talking about how the Crawleys would be welcome in Newport.

As for Lord G's importance, I suspect the amount of money that the fathers of Lord G's prospective American brides were willing to fork over was inversely proportional to social status, i.e., a higher status bride means less money for the Downton kitty.
  • 0

#5

JudyObscure

JudyObscure

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 10, 2013 @ 4:29 PM

Anachronisms you say? I thought Mary's "The bully's defense," seemed a bit too straight from the talk shows, as did the new footman saying that the American maid's kiss, "Made me feel good about myself."
  • 0

#6

Jschoolgirl

Jschoolgirl

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 10, 2013 @ 9:08 PM

I'm rewatching, and I wonder about whether the terms "on the cheap" and "evil twin" were used then. Anyone know?

Edited for proper forum placement.

Edited by Jschoolgirl, Jan 10, 2013 @ 9:55 PM.

  • 0

#7

Milz

Milz

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 11, 2013 @ 8:11 AM

Cissypoo, I'd take "mock duck" and "batter pudding" over "split pea pancakes" and "legume loaf" any day of the week! Some of the meat dishes look like versions of meat pies, like the meat shortcake. It's essentially beef stew with baking powder biscuits (in the UK, these things would be called savory scones) baked on top. The batter pudding is basically the same thing but a yorkshire pudding batter is poured over and baked.

Edited by Milz, Jan 11, 2013 @ 8:11 AM.

  • 0

#8

cissyboo

cissyboo

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 11, 2013 @ 9:18 AM

Milz- just not a fan of scrapple, never have been never will be, and maybe I should have clarified that I meant the meat and "meat" recipe section. Legume loaf is gross if the wrong beans are used (to me, kidney beans smell and taste like potting soil!), but I have similar legume/legume flour recipes from various cookbooks. And, it cannot be said enough- scrapple is gross gross gross (no offense to anyone who enjoys scrapple- AKA Pennsylvania Dutch Sausage Loaf at my Girl Scout camp).
  • 0

#9

Milz

Milz

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 11, 2013 @ 9:59 AM

lol---scrapple is just fried grits with meat scraps in it. Er....pardon me, scrapple is meat enrobed in polenta and seasoned with a special spice blend and fried (calling "grits" polenta marks up their value, lol)

Don't get me wrong, I love legumes (except lentils!), but the thought of split pea pancakes, makes me shiver. Maybe with yellow split peas the color wouldn't be so disturbing.

I suspect those wartime recipes would more accepted by "downstairs" than "upstairs". I think upstairs before the war would have used the recipes from The Lady's Own Cookery Book by Lady Campbell Bury http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/29232 because it's "ADAPTED TO THE USE OF PERSONS LIVING IN THE HIGHEST STYLE, AS WELL AS THOSE OF MODERATE FORTUNE."

kind of interesting, there are recipes for brawn, calf's head, and pig's feet.
  • 0

#10

cissyboo

cissyboo

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 11, 2013 @ 10:27 AM

I have never used green split peas-I prefer the yellow ones (not a fan of green peas in the slightest). Just the thought of what 'meat trimmings' go into scrapple make me shiver (it was a rural Scout Camp in Amish country-once I saw what went in it, I was NOT going to eat it!). We raised a few steers and a lot of sheep, and one day the animal would go off in the trailer and come back neatly packaged in labeled plastic bags. The offal went to the butcher's dogs, not into our frying pan ;)
Hog Maw is another disgusting thing served at Scout Camp that they tried to fool us by calling it something different.

Maybe it's was just growing up as the child of a hobby farmer (dad was a plastics engineer before retirement), but my mother did not feel the need to cook organ meats/offal. Of course, my dad grew up eating that stuff on the farm, and would have refused to eat it.
  • 0

#11

callietwo

callietwo

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 11, 2013 @ 12:16 PM

Cissyboo, once I found out which 'meat scraps' ended up in scrapple there would've been NO way in hell that stuff would ever pass my lips. Hubby says his family used every scrap of the animal that couldn't be used as roast or chops, etc...even threw in the eyeballs! NO, just... NO. (of course, he might be putting me on but I'm not at all inclined to find out!)
  • 0

#12

Boton

Boton

    Couch Potato

Posted Jan 11, 2013 @ 4:20 PM

Jschoolgirl, if you are looking for a weekly discussion of linguistic anachronisms in Downton Abbey (and Mad Men, and others), this is an awesome site:

Prochronisms

That is a link to her analysis of the script of the first UK episode, so there is another entry for UK episode 2, or our "second half" of the first episode. But he is following US broadcast schedules, so no major spoilers to worry about.
  • 0

#13

susan sunflower

susan sunflower

    Couch Potato

Posted Jan 11, 2013 @ 5:17 PM

I was thinking last night that Martha's demand for only boiled water (and only needed in England, to paraphrase) raised another several of those Fellowe-esque loose ends that might be interesting but we'll never know. I'm pretty sure that getting Downton retrofitted for running water, possibly even running hot water, possibly even on all floors -- would have been a goal, but I don't know if it would have been accommplished. Additionally, in such a large old house, whether tap water would have been safe (potable) and/or taste good could be a whole other matter.

So many American cities were built after the institution of city-water which was purified centrally and sent out purified through a clean system that it's easy to forget that in many long-settled, high-density (or agricultural) areas, rivers and streams could be unfit for human consumption and that even well-water could have become contaminated by any number of things, which is why beer and wine were drunk by most people most of the time (the alcohol killed the germs and the water's flavor improved by additives). Tea made with boiling water and served with sugar, as well. As we often see in movies, liquor was recognized as an antiseptic and some foods were preserved in liquor. I'm not sure where canning/jarring technology was.

This all then reminded me of another bit of Fellow-esque "business" in the Vanity Fair article Vanity Fair: The Most Happy Fellowes about the need to remove water glasses from the dining table in the servants dining hall -- "because they are having tea" -- I have no idea if plain water was routinely served part of a dinner service, my guess is "doubtful" -- anyone??

Google and wiki are not very forthcoming -- apparently the cost of indoor plumbing (retrofitted or otherwise) was prohibitive (usually copper) until 1930's when a lighter copper alloy was developed.... the coming global depression makes me even more curious. We saw that one explosive one tap in the kitchen during Sybil's cooking lesson.

Edited by susan sunflower, Jan 11, 2013 @ 5:20 PM.

  • 0

#14

not Bridget

not Bridget

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 12, 2013 @ 1:14 AM

We known that Downton Abbey has indoor plumbing--remember the event involving The Fatal Bar of Soap in series 1? I wouldn't be surprised if that was one of the improvements paid for by Cora's fortune. Robert sneered at Ser Richard's plans for the neighboring pile he'd purchased; there would be one bathroom per bedroom, which Robert found wildly excessive. Then, there's Gosford Park--set later, but with one bathtub for the entire downstairs staff to share. Are the Downton servants are as "luxuriously" accommodated?.

The great house in Parade's End (which we see only briefly) is definitely old-fashioned. In 1912, Sylvia Tietjens complains to her lady's maid that there are no water closets; she's sent for one of the housemaids to empty her chamber pot. We see the watermen bring a huge vat of hot water for her bath.(These details not from the book but from Tom Stoppard's research.)

Some of the old houses (great or merely ancient & big) were plumbed as a reaction to post-war servant shortages. There were fewer young people eager for a career of dumping out their betters' body wastes.

But I don't think Martha's dietary requirements had anything to do with the plumbing. She was just being a ridiculously picky American. The American film mogul in Gosford Park was vegetarian, which could have been a guilty nod to the Orthodox Jewish background he'd left behind. Of course, nothing cooked in a Gentile kitchen would be Kosher--but vegetarianism would let him follow some of the old rules. I agree that Fellowes dropped the ball by ignoring the "Levinson" name. Even raised Christian with a Christian mother, Cora's background would only have been accepted through dire economic necessity. But anti-Semitic remarks from Violet would have been too much; we're supposed to find the bitter old bat endearing....
  • 0

#15

1732

1732

    Loyal Viewer

Posted Jan 13, 2013 @ 1:02 AM

Boton, thank you so much for posting Prochronisms. I've been using nGrams whenever something sounded off to me, or if I just wondered about it. D.C. doesn't know what a weekend is? nGrams says she's got good reason for her confusion. But it's even better to have the discussion about each word or phrase.

Jschoolgirl, here's what nGrams has to say about 'on the cheap' and 'evil twin'.

http://books.google....thing=10&share=

http://books.google....thing=10&share=
  • 0

#16

TGC-64

TGC-64

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 14, 2013 @ 1:49 AM

I agree that Fellowes dropped the ball by ignoring the "Levinson" name. Even raised Christian with a Christian mother, Cora's background would only have been accepted through dire economic necessity. But anti-Semitic remarks from Violet would have been too much; we're supposed to find the bitter old bat endearing....


A number of heiresses marrying into the British aristocracy in that period had American or even more exotic Jewish bloodlines. The casual antisemitism of the British Aristocracy of that period was more intellectual and class-conscious than genetic; railing-against Polish intellectuals and "grocers". And for all their reputation as in-bred, the British aristocracy was astonishing polyglot and not very "British" on the distaff sides of many "old family" trees. "Our sort of people" was your education, the right schools, family connections and social importance. Owning land was more important than owning businesses (being in trade), ..unless you owned LOTS of businesses. The wealthy German-born Jewish turned Roman Catholic financier Sir Ernest Cassel's granddaughter and heir Edwina married into the British Royal Family itself; Lord Louis Mountbatten.

The vicious British antisemitism and sectarian nationalism that you're thinking of came from the gentry-class and the intellectual/professional classes several rung down-the-ladder the social ladder..and later spreading to the working-classes. The Earl's father's staff was potentially more scandalized than any of his social peers at Cora's family-background.

Edited by TGC-64, Jan 14, 2013 @ 2:09 AM.

  • 0

#17

Frogintheglen

Frogintheglen

    Loyal Viewer

Posted Jan 14, 2013 @ 2:39 AM

The bit of dialogue that always bothered me was when Vera Bates said "as if." That's so...90's, and I don't meant 1890's. I did a quick search, and I can't find any evidence that it was used back during Downton days. Anyone else know something more?
  • 0

#18

not Bridget

not Bridget

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 14, 2013 @ 8:43 AM

I'm sure the Crawleys accepted Cora's Jewish background for the sake of her fortune. But I do believe it would have been mentioned. Surely Violet would have made one of her famous witty remarks. However, we're supposed to find her caustic remarks "cute"--& that might have been a bit too much for modern sensibilities....

(edited to remove illiterate use of apostrophe)

Edited by not Bridget, Jan 14, 2013 @ 11:46 AM.

  • 1

#19

Milz

Milz

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 14, 2013 @ 11:42 AM

The bit of dialogue that always bothered me was when Vera Bates said "as if." That's so...90's, and I don't meant 1890's.


What-everrrrrrrrr! ;-) At least we haven't heard phrases like "awesome!" or "neat-o!" or "groovy".

RE: vegetarians

There were vegetarians around back in the day. :) Here's a vegetarian cookbook published in 1892 http://www.gutenberg...639/pg27639.txt and another from 1859 http://www.gutenberg...478/pg30478.txt

RE: Jewish heiresses

Almina Wombwell who married the Earl of Carnarvon and lived in Highclere Castle was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild. So she was technically a "Jewish heiress".

But, I'm sure as it is today, there were non-practicing Jews back then or Jews who converted, like Benjamin Disraeli.
  • 0

#20

RadiantAerynSun

RadiantAerynSun

    Couch Potato

Posted Jan 15, 2013 @ 11:34 AM

I have a couple of times noted the use of the phrase "it can't have done!" I am wondering if this is a phrase from the time or a common phrase used today in the UK? I just don't hear this said much in the US, usually we'd just say "it can't have!" So the extra "done" always niggles at me.
  • 0

#21

QuePasa

QuePasa

    Loyal Viewer

Posted Jan 15, 2013 @ 9:41 PM

That's standard British sentence structure. You'll hear "do" or "done" placed at ends of sentences like that all the time.
  • 0

#22

RedHawk

RedHawk

    Couch Potato

Posted Jan 16, 2013 @ 9:58 AM

There were vegetarians around back in the day.


Yes, and earlier. Percy and Mary Shelley were vegetarians in the 1810s.
  • 1

#23

RadiantAerynSun

RadiantAerynSun

    Couch Potato

Posted Jan 16, 2013 @ 1:32 PM

That's standard British sentence structure. You'll hear "do" or "done" placed at ends of sentences like that all the time.


Thanks, it was bugging me. I think I heard it on Game of Thrones also (lots of Brits on that show) which would make sense then.
  • 0

#24

fuzzybear

fuzzybear

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 6:39 PM

The bit of dialogue that bugged me so much was from S2 when Cybill said some solider was depressed. Psychiatry and physiology were gaing ground as legitimate sciences and depression as a concept would have been around and in fact WW1 would play heavily into modern concepts of PTSD and trauma, but I'm about positive the term depressed would not have been to describe it. Melancholy or despontant or despair, but when she said depressed it was like the 1980s showed up.
  • 0

#25

Pallas429

Pallas429

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 20, 2013 @ 12:25 AM

Melancholy or despontant or despair, but when she said depressed it was like the 1980s showed up.


Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre bandied the term in Chapter 17:

"I am tired, sir."
He looked at me for a minute. "And a little depressed," he said. "What about? Tell me."
"Nothing--nothing, sir. I am not depressed."
"But I affirm that you are: so much depressed that a few more words would bring tears to your eyes..."

Those Bronte girls, also up in Yorkshire, 'way out ahead the pack...
  • 2

#26

not Bridget

not Bridget

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 20, 2013 @ 8:35 AM

Depression, at the Online Etymology Dictionary (a very excellent site)

Late 14c. as a term in astronomy, from Old French depression (14c.) or directly from Latin depressionem (nom. depressio), noun of action from pp. stem of deprimere "to press down, depress" (see depress).

Attested from 1650s in the literal sense; meaning "dejection, depression of spirits" is from early 15c. (as a clinical term in psychology, from 1905); meteorological sense is from 1881 (in reference to barometric pressure); meaning "a lowering or reduction in economic activity" was in use by 1826; given a specific application (with capital D-) by 1934 to the one that began worldwide in 1929. For "melancholy, depression" an Old English word was grevoushede.


So the word would have been used as we do, although I really like grevoushede.....
  • 0

#27

fuzzybear

fuzzybear

    Fanatic

Posted Jan 20, 2013 @ 12:50 PM

Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre bandied the term in Chapter 17:

"I am tired, sir."
He looked at me for a minute. "And a little depressed," he said. "What about? Tell me."
"Nothing--nothing, sir. I am not depressed."
"But I affirm that you are: so much depressed that a few more words would bring tears to your eyes..."

Those Bronte girls, also up in Yorkshire, 'way out ahead the pack...


Whadya know? I'd always thought of it as a modern term that wasn't widely used in that way until the 1950/1960/1970s.
  • 0

#28

absolutelyido

absolutelyido

    Couch Potato

Posted Jan 20, 2013 @ 8:43 PM

I wonder about them referring to Sybil as "pregnant". Seems like back them pregnancy was something that polite company beat around the bush a little bit more, because of the obvious connection to sex. I feel like they would more likely refer to her as "in a family" way or "with child".
  • 0

#29

Cheezwiz

Cheezwiz

    Loyal Viewer

Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 1:17 AM

I think the thing that sticks out to me as most inaccurate is how frequently the Granthams converse with minor staff members and seem to know them initmately. In real life, staff never spoke unless spoken to, and it was preferred that they not be seen at all. The Granthams would only have conversed with Mr. Carson & Mrs. Hughes, and the rest of the staff (with the exception of ladies' maids & valets) would have been completely expendable & interchangeable. The scene where the new footman was introduced to the family rang especially false to me. The fact that they even know Daisy the kitchen maid's name at all also doesn't seem plausible.

However, I guess there wouldn't be a fun soapy story if the upstairs & downstairs were kept as separate
  • 0

#30

1732

1732

    Loyal Viewer

Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 1:39 AM

In real life, staff never spoke unless spoken to, and it was preferred that they not be seen at all.


The only evidence of that rule is the way Mrs Hughes kept shooing Daisy away from sight in season 2. The way the upstairs crowd fusses over the servants is quite odd, sometimes. If Lord Grantham didn't want to hire a footman (Alfred, in the first episode), I'm sure he would have simply sent him back, for instance.
  • 0