I had been pushing back the day I would finally read this book, for my expectations about Julian Fellowes had been raised as high as can be with his masterpiece, ‘Downton Abbey’. Now I wish I had pushed it even further, because the joy and thrill of deciphering every little word in this book are past things now, that I can no longer enjoy with the same enthusiasm as my first encounter with them.
Reading ‘Past Imperfect’, it is no wonder why and how ‘Downton Abbey’ is such a success. Fellowes not only knows what he is talking about, but, most of all, he knows how to put it into delicate words and sentences that linger in and about without the reader really realizing why that is so.
It is quite surprising actually to realize that the upper class in Britain held on to its tradition until late in the 1960s. In the tumult of conservatism versus novelty and irrationality that the 60s represent, the world the narrator lives in, with other members of the high social class still holding on to names and titles, is undoubtedly quite a peculiar one. I think Fellowes’ most impressive skill in this book is how he manages to depict that era and that special circle of dukes, princesses and sirs both in a magical and down-to-earth way. Magical because their ideas, or rather their parents’ ideas, manners and traditions, their soirees and their everyday life seem to belong to a fairy tale land, one we may criticize, and definitely hold a secret desire to be part of. Down-to-earth because Fellowes manages to point out the discrepancies and anathemas of that world in the new modern era.
People say change is good, and necessary, and as someone who claims to have a penchant for liberal ideas rather than conservative ones, I have to say that changes to the British hierarchy in society had to come to an end. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feeling sympathetic towards the class that usually represents power, domination and inequality, and feeling sad myself at the dismay and sorrow they must have felt to let their world go by. No wonder why the longing for the ‘good old days’ is still strongly anchored in the British tradition. (That does not mean of course that I condone the miserable life people ‘under the stairs, as it has now become a common expression for Downton Abbey fans, must have had back then.)
“White tie belonged to the ancient bargain between the aristocrat and those less fortunate that they would spend much of their day in discomfort in order to promote a convincing and reassuring image of power”.
This quote best sums up what the book is about, the silent struggle the British aristocracy had to give up to in order to survive in the new era. With words and sentences put like this, no wonder Downton Abbey is full of marvelous quotes. However, having read his work, it was no surprise that elements of misery and sorrow just *had* to be included in the series as well.