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Archive for February 8th, 2013

FordMadoxBrownHampsteadfrommyWindowblog
Ford Madox Brown (1821-95), Hampstead from my Window (1857)

Dear friends and readers,

A brief note for Americans like myself who are not aware of the birthdays or birthplaces of British politicians who have become symbolic figures after they exercised power in an ostentatiously as well as felt way politically.

I did not know that Grantham was the name of the place Margaret Thatcher came from (as it’s put). Her father was “a local worthy” who ran a small business. That it’s a compliment to Mrs Thatcher and at the same time an allusion meant explicitly to alert us to the political allegiance of its author.

Jim not only said, oh yes, but immediately went on to suggest that the mood and atmosphere of the mini-series as described to him (he does not watch TV) brought to mind some lines from Rupert Brooke‘s 1912 poem “The Old Vicarage, Granchester,” which ends with these lines:

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies and truth and pain? …. oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The whole poem is online.

If the whole poem were like that, it’d indeed capture a central motif of Fellowes’s Downton Abbey, only Brooke’s poem is a kind of pastoral as satire on male muscular Christianity with some misogynistic lines thrown in here and there (“And Ditton girls are mean and dirty”) with scorn for lower class people so egregious (“folks in Shelford and those parts/Have twisted lips and twisted hearts”), that I’m tempted to say it’s ironic with the poet keeping his distance from his narrator, but I think the escape into a deep meadow and landscape world before industrialization, pre-Capitalist is at times serious, and then again mocking: “And when they get to feeling old,/They up and and shoot themselves I’m told) …

John Betjeman, Brooke is not (to be explained on my Sylvia blog this Sunday).

I don’t know if I’ve emphasized how surprising it is that there is so little filmic intertextuality in Downton Abbey. It does not imitate, borrow, allude to other mini-series; this is unusual nowadays as well as it’s rare use of montage and almost complete lack of flashbacks, voice-overs, filmic epistolarity (letters ready by characters using voice-over). What intertextuality there is (confirmed in the second volume on the series, The Chronicles of DA) is textual: Bates’s story was suggested to Fellowes by a news article and an Agatha Christie story.

So I suggest he may also have remembered or had in Brooke’s Grantchester in mind when he chose the name Grantham. I’ve chosen a couple of mid-Victorian idealizing watercolors for this blog whose typology is behind what we see of landscape (not a lot, again surprisingly for a mini-series of this type) in DA.

Perhaps the reader will recall the shot of Lady Sybil plotting Gwen Dawson, the maid who escaped to an office job in the first season, where they are in an old-fashioned wagon riding together and pass under a half-ruined arch in a vast green landscape:

AlfredWmHuntFinchalePrioryblog
Alfred Wm Hunt (1830-96), Finchale Priory (exhibited 1862)

Ellen

P.S. I’m not really surprised by the lack of filmic intertextuality, filmic sophistication and/or dream landscapes. These are part of the ways in which Fellowes has carefully kept this mini-series broad and popular in its approach & therefore appeal.

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