Why Do We Love The Edwardians? by Karen Harper
Author Karen Harper explains the allure of the Edwardian Era, familiar to you legions of Downton Abbey fans.
I have friends who went into mourning when Downton Abbey closed it doors for the last time. I miss the characters too but then I’ve missed Rose and the Upstairs, Downstairs cast for years. What is the huge allure of this fairly brief period (1901, Victoria’s death, until 1910, when Edward VII died)? As an author of the recent Edwardian novel The Royal Nanny ,based on a true story which delves into the lifestyles of the British rich, famous and royal, here’s my take on the enduring appeal of this period.
I found the Edwardian era so intriguing and appealing that I left my passion for Tudor times after writing nine novels set in that period. Not since the Tudors have the royal and noble of England been so scandalous and so much fun as the Edwardians. Forget those endless Stuarts and King Georges who ruled England. King Edward, alias Bertie and his “Marlborough/Buck House” set, his children, his mistresses meant a sea change for the strict rules and regulations of Victorian times.
However, Edwardian society certainly had its own strict rules. Nothing visual illustrates this better, I think, than the moment in the opening of Downton where we see a table service being laid out for a dinner party—with a ruler to place each piece exactly. And ah, that line of bells to summon servants, as well as the symbolism of one rose petal falling from the perfectly placed vase—perhaps a hint that old times are dying.
Not only silverware in this era, but people had and knew their place. The upstairs, downstairs mentality ruled the social classes. You were to the manor born or you weren’t, and then you might try to work in the manor. Yes, a house maid could rise to head housekeeper. My heroine Charlotte begins as an undernanny and rises to rear the royal children of King George and Queen Mary. But until WW I shook society, people didn’t move much up the social ladder.
That was the wonderful thing about telling my novel through the eyes of a royal nanny. She was of the lower, working class (a career woman of her day), but she mingled with the upper class. It’s fascinating to me that the power people of Edwardian England allowed poorly educated, lower class women to become the ‘emotional mothers’ of their children. I just can’t believe that powerful parents who had great hopes that their children would carry on their names and legacies let others rule them in their formative years. Nannies were caught between the worlds of up and down.
Yet another interesting thing about the Edwardian Era is that huge changes were coming to shake up this rule-bound society forever, and I think that intrigues modern readers and viewers. The era was the springboard for the breaking down of the classes. It also saw the first real social mingling of rich American blood coming into the upper classes, such as Downton’s Lady Cora Crawley, Consuelo Vanderbilt and others. A great nonfiction read on this is To Marry an English Lord by MacColl and Wallace.
So alluring to those of us who dress casually most of the time is the elegance. The clothes! The men in those evening suits or tweed hunting attire. The four changes of costume each day. My nanny wore white, even dealing with young children, because that’s the way things were.
I’m writing a second Edwardian novel now in which one of the main characters is the first British designer to create clothing not only for the rich Brits and Americans, but for the wealthy of elite France. She later styled garments for early Hollywood and Sears catalogues. Her Edwardian designs were so romantic with clouds of chiffon, satin roses and beading, and each gown had a “name of emotion.” She helped to free women from corsets, another symbol of the bygone Victorian times.
The Edwardian Era was also the last gasp of elegant places, though many families at the time were losing their mansions or old estates to taxes and lack of funds. As much as I had studied Buckingham Palace, my tour of it on my recent trip to England really amazed me—the size of the rooms, the impact of the art, and even the gardens behind the palace. It helped greatly with scenes for The Royal Nanny. A trip to the Victoria and Albert museum gave me a renewed look at the ornate Edwardian décor. For many American readers and viewers, including me, the Edwardian Era is a fantasy world.
Lastly, I believe modern readers are crazy for Edwardian times, because the BBC does such a great job with their series portraying the Victorian/Edwardian eras such as Mr. Selfridge, The Duchess of Duke Street and others mentioned above. I hope The Royal Nanny picks up that mantel of wonderful characters and culture, so different from us and yet so like us in human universal trials and triumphs.
Karen Harper is the New York Times bestselling author of historical novels and contemporary suspense. Visit her website at www.KarenHarperAuthor.com to see photos of the royals from The Royal Nanny.
I’m fully aware that over the years, fiction writers have ..
As an author for 32 years, I have often been ..
There's nothing we love more at Shelf Pleasure than a ..
Author and Shelf Pleasure contributor Karen A. Chase on how ..
One of author Mary Miley’s favorite things about being a ..
Author and police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D., weighs the pitfalls ..