With the latest Anglophile craze underway in America thanks to Downton Abbey, it’s time we did a little historical tour of your favorite houses in English period drama history. My mother handed me her hardbound book of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen when I was eight years old and I read it secretly under the desk at school, thereafter voraciously reading any bit of English literature I could get my hands on. Deep down in this hard urbanist soul of mine is someone that fell in love with Lizzy Bennett, Mr. Darcy, Emma, and Anne Elliot, amongst countless others.
For Americans, the stories of plucky commoners making their way into the hallowed halls of British aristocracy is possibly the colonial origins of the American dream, and what’s more, they’re inklings of our once illustrious beginnings over the ocean. In New York, we lament the demolition and decline of the grand estates built by the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Morgans, but we know that this type of beauty, an architecture of such pure individual vision, could not have survived in a culture purportedly about the collective. (Let us also not forget that the wealth of the American robber barrons was also built off of a good amount of corruption, counterbalanced later by a healthy dose of philanthropy.) And there was once a time when the upper crust of American society was married off to the British nobility – one of the inspirations behind the story of Cora Crawley’s marriage to Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey.
So as Americans, we not only identify, but we also obsess about an England that is no more and a United States that likely never was, and vicariously live it through the wonderful estates that thankfully still exist in England as featured in sumptuous period television productions.
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