Monday, March 25, 2013

Wendy Wax: Immediate Gratification and Downton Abbey

Like more than seven million other Americans I’m in love with the wildly popular BBC/PBS drama Downton Abbey. Because of it I only left my house on Sunday nights under duress during the season and learned how to master my DVR for those rare occasions when I had no choice. I own all three seasons on DVD and have been known to ‘retire’ to the TV room for the occasional fix. So it’s probably not all that surprising that the series – and especially its fans -- found their way into my writing.

WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBEY, out on April 2nd is a story about four strangers – three women and their historic building’s British concierge --who are brought together by Downton Abbey viewing parties and who forge unexpected bonds of friendship that see them through some of life’s hardest moments. 

The book is dedicated to Julian Fellowes with thanks for creating such an incredible show, though I haven’t completely forgiven him for all the tears I shed this season. The writing, acting, costumes and magnificent setting always leave me wanting more.

One day it dawned on me that as unbelievably sumptuous as everything at Downton during the Edwardian era seems, it’s probably a good thing that I’m viewing it on a television screen. Living in that place and time could be painful for someone as into immediate gratification as I am and could, in fact, require way more patience than most of us possess.

Upstairs in your elegant boudoir when you realize you’re thirsty you would have to pull on a  cord and wait for someone below stairs to respond to a bell that is well, downstairs.

Once it’s heard and the correct servant located, that servant would start making their way up numerous floors to see what it is you might require. There is no intercom to let them know what to bring with them, and I’m fairly certain that shouting your request down multiple flights of stairs would be frowned upon. Once the servant reaches you and you tell them that you would like something to drink, you’d have to wait for them to go below stairs to retrieve it. This could take a while.

Communicating with people outside of Downton wouldn’t be that easy either.

The telephone was invented in the late 1870s. On Downton Abbey one is installed at the end of season one (roughly 1914) and it’s possible that Carson, the butler, is still practicing how best to answer the newfangled device.

By my reckoning, and math is not my strong suit, the series will have to span another eighty years or so before the cell phone, which most of us are not at all interested in living without, comes into regular use. If you’re living in or visiting Downton before then, you would not be texting the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes that you’d like a spot of tea. Or instant messaging Daisy to come up and stoke your fire. Nor would you be pinning photos of the clothing, furnishings and objet d’arts to Pinterest.

You would be ringing the bell I mentioned earlier. The one that someone will have to hear and then respond to. The one that’s, well, below stairs.

There are a lot of things that you would do less often and wait for longer.

For example, it’s unlikely that you’d be popping down to the kitchens to raid the refrigerator whenever you felt a bit peckish, which could, of course, be good for the waistline. And dinner! Sitting down for dinner with the family might not work out so well for those of us who would rather hit a drive-through than assemble in the formal dining room for the elaborate meals cooked and then served to us by the staff.  

Ready to retire? You’ll have to wait for someone to help you undress.

Want to bathe? Ring the bell. Then wait for someone to come up and draw your bath for you. (And just hope it’s not O’Brien with an axe to grind.)

Would you like breakfast in bed?  At Downton, if you’re a woman of this era, you’ll have to get married first. Based on the episodes I’ve seen so far this could take a while. Especially if you’re Lady Mary or Lady Edith -- though for very different reasons.

As much as I’m looking forward to getting my Downton on again on Sunday nights, I no longer think I have the patience required to actually live in that slower, more elegant time. I’m not even completely positive that I can wait for season 4 to air here next January without succumbing to reading the spoilers that seem to be all over the Internet. At least not until I get a little better at delayed gratification!

Note: If you’re a Downton Abbey fan like I am and would like to ‘go back’ for just a visit, go to  to enter for a chance to win a trip to England and a tour of Highclere Castle (where you will not be required to turn in your cell phone or ring bells for attention.)    


Mary Preston said...

Knowing my luck I'd be the one lugging up the buckets of water for the baths. Though hopefully that would be a job for the hall boy or footman.

Mary Kirkland said...

I've never watched that show but I know a lot of people like it.

Pat Cochran said...

Add me to the list of those who haven't
seen DA. I am surrounded by many people
who do watch it and discuss it so much
that I don't need to see it! LOL.