Is Downton Abbey a Copycat of Pride & Prejudice?
by Ginger Monette, author of Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes
Is there something magical about a houseful of daughters with no heir? If I were to pitch the premise to a television producer or literary agent, I wouldn’t expect him to sit up and clamber for a pen to underwrite the project. But for both Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey, the simple premise has made millions.
As a Jane Austen and period drama fan, I devoured Downton Abbey right along with the rest of the world. And one day it dawned on me that a houseful of unwed sisters wasn’t the only thing the two hits had in common. Was it possible that Julian Fellowes found inspiration for Downton Abbey in Austen’s Pride & Prejudice? There are a number of uncanny similarities….
Entailed Estate, Unsuitable Heir, Headstrong Heroine
In Pride and Prejudice, the odious (unsuitable) Mr. Collins is destined to inherit the Bennet’s entailed estate, and spirited heroine Elizabeth Bennet narrowly escapes engagement to him. In Downton Abbey, when heirs #1 and #2 both perish with the sinking of the Titanic, the nearest male kinsman, Matthew Crawley, is found to be a mere “man in trade” (again unsuitable), whom headstrong heroine Lady Mary Crawley is determined to despise.
Furthermore, in both cases the girl’s mother strongly encouraged marriage to the new, but unwelcome heir.
These aspects of the plot are important in both stories as they create some of the conflicts that drive the decisions and actions of the characters. It seems plausible that Fellowes, noting Austen’s success, may have adapted these plot points to serve Downton Abbey.
A Grand Estate
In both Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey, a grand house is a silent, yet central character. For nearly 200 years women have been swooning over Pemberley, the estate of Austen’s heartthrob Fitzwilliam Darcy. Described as “…a large, handsome, stone building standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills…” many believe Austen had Chatsworth House in mind when she described its grandeur.
Highclere Castle’s gold rectangular structure topped with corner towers and spires is instantly recognizable as the Crawley’s family home on Downton Abbey. Fellowes, a personal friend of Highclere’s current owners, had firsthand knowledge of the home’s magnificence and was instrumental in securing it as the filming location.
These lavish homes set our hearts to dreaming and become beloved characters in and of themselves. Are these grand houses part of what has made both Downton Abbey and P&P breakout successes? It is worth noting that even the name Downton Abbey is suspiciously similar to Donwell Abbey, the name Austen chose for George Knightley’s estate in her classic work, Emma. In any case, there’s no doubt that the public is enamored by these magnificent homes. Chatsworth House and Highclere Castle have become two of England’s most popular country homes.
A Crotchety Matriarch
Colorful characters bring life and personality to stories, and Austen’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh is no exception. Her domineering and intimidating temperament make her an antagonist of sorts, which further heightens the conflict in Pride and Prejudice.
Fellowes chose a similar character in the dowager Lady Grantham. Although she no longer lives at Downton, the matriarch’s imperious disposition and sharp tongue make her a force to be reckoned with. The two women are so similar, it is hard for me to believe Fellowes wasn’t thinking of Lady Catherine when he first envisioned Lady Grantham.
High Society Characters Falling in Love With, Well, Those Not so High Society
Fitzwilliam Darcy can hardly believe that he’s fallen in love with country girl from Hertfordshire—one who grew up without a governess, no less! His struggle leaves him off balance and ultimately leads him to propose marriage to Elizabeth in a most unflattering manner. Was Fellowes envisioning just such a match when he dreamed up Matthew Crawley, a lowly solicitor from Manchester, and paired him with the high and mighty Lady Mary?
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and if indeed Fellowes did look to Austen’s Pride & Prejudice when crafting Downton Abbey, he made an excellent choice. Clearly the popularity of Downton Abbey and Pride & Prejudice has shown these elements to be a winning combination, and perhaps it is one of the reasons why readers like us keep returning to P&P fan fiction again and again.
Do you see any other parallels in the two works?
Meet Ginger Monette
Ginger lives with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon. Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize.
1916. World War I has turned French chateaux into bloody field hospitals, British gentlemen into lice-infested soldiers, and left Elizabeth Bennet’s life in tatters.
Her father is dead and her home destroyed. Never again will Elizabeth depend on a man to secure her future!
But when an opportunity arises to advance her dreams of becoming a doctor, she is elated–until HE arrives….
Heartbroken. Devastated. Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy is left rejected by the woman he loved and reeling from the slaughter of his men on the battlefield. “Enough!” Darcy vows. “No more sentimental attachments!”
But arriving at a field hospital to pursue a covert investigation, Darcy discovers his beloved Elizabeth training with a dashing American doctor and embroiled in an espionage conspiracy.
With only a few months to expose the plot, Darcy is forced to grapple with his feelings for Elizabeth while uncovering the truth. Is she indeed innocent? Darcy can only hope….
• Cameo appearance by John Thornton of North & South
• Rated PG-13 for mild language & war scenes. Romance is clean.
• Note: Darcy’s Hope has a happy ending but will continue in January 2017. In the sequel, readers will experience the full resolution of the mystery, and our beloved couple’s love will face a new, tragic test in Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey.