Missing Downton Abbey? So are we! Fortunately, we can satisfy our hunger for all things country estates, shooting parties, and upstairs-downstairs drama with the many historical fiction novels that take place in similar places and times. Keep scrolling for our picks of the 20 best novels that are like Downton Abbey.
The American Heiress
The bestselling novel The American Heiress tells the story of American-born Cora Cash. Just like the Cora of Downton Abbey, she is sent to marry a titled bachelor in England. Not long after finding herself the Duchess of Wareham, Cora realizes that there are some things — like love — that money can’t buy. Such a realization sends Cora onto a path by which she must decide what in life is truly worth the price.
Belgravia, written by Downton Abbey creator and writer Julian Fellowes, begins at the now-famous Duchess of Richmond’s ball which took place in Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. Many of the young men who attended the ball died in battle the next morning. This inclues one whose death sends two different families into nearly three decades of secrecy.
Considered to be Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited is set during the years right before World War II. It’s during this time that the pleasures and unhurried pastimes of English country life are challenged most. It’s also a time when the world of British society truly begins to change. Brideshead Revisited follows Charles, an alcoholic. He’s invited by his heir of a friend, Sebastian, to take part in a summer at Sebastian’s grand country estate.
Edith Wharton’s classic novel, The Buccaneers, was reportedly an inspiration for Downton Abbey’s Cora Crawley character. The Buccaneers is the story of five wealthy American girls who are shunned from New York Society in the 1870s because they are part of the nouveau riche. Not to be deterred, the girls head to England, where their beauty — and more importantly, their wealth — are found quite attractive by the country’s many lords, earls, and dukes.
The Custom of the Country
Like The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country greatly inspired Julian Fellowes as he created Lady Mary Crawley and the world of Downton Abbey. The Custom of the Country follows the story of Undine Spragg, a girl from America with big social ambitions. Undine is selfish, pampered, and ruthless. She climbs her way through the ranks of the nouveau riche, first to New York City, then to the grand estates and historic families of Europe. Though Undine may ultimately gets all the wealth she desires, it comes at a great cost.
Death Sits Down to Dinner
Those delighted by Downton’s more mysterious storylines are sure to enjoy the page turner Death Sits Down to Dinner. Written by Tessa Arlen, this mystery takes place in Edwardian England, and begins with a dinner party hosted by one Hermione Kingsley. The greatest families in England have come to celebrate a special birthday. However, things take a turn when one of the dinner guests remains seated at the table, “head down among the walnut shells littering the cloth, and a knife between his ribs.”
The Girl from the Savoy
The Girl from the Savoy, by Hazel Gaynor, plunges readers into the 1920s and the world of Bright Young Things. Maid Dolly Lane’s life has been torn apart by the Great War, but she still dreams of dancing on the London stage. When she lands a job at London’s most elegant hotel, Dolly finds herself closer to a wild life of champagne and jazz. But things become their wildest when Dolly answers an advertisement for a “muse” placed by a struggling songwriter.
The House at Riverton
Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton is perfect for any reader missing Downton. This bestselling historical novel tells the story of Grace, who becomes a servant at Riverton House when she is little more than a girl. Grace’s life becomes entwined with that of the wealthy Hartford family, and especially with their two daughters, Emmeline and Hannah. But everything changes in 1924. A young poet visiting Hartford commits suicide on the property and the only witnesses are Emmeline, Hannah, and their servant, Grace.
The House at Tyneford
In Natasha Solomons’ The House at Tyneford, it’s 1938 and 19-year old Elise Landau is no longer safe in her home in Vienna. Forced to leave her life of privilege, the young Jewish woman flees to England, where she gets a job as a parlor maid at Tyneford, a grand country estate. When Kit, the master of Tyneford’s son, arrives home, he and Elise spark up an unlikely friendship. But the war is coming…
The Last Summer
Fans of Downton’s Tom and Sybil are sure to find Judith Kinghorn’s The Last Summer an absolute page turner. The historical novel tells the love story of Clarissa Granville, daughter of a grand English country estate, and Tom, the son of the housekeeper. Though parents on both sides greatly disapprove of the match, Tom and Clarissa remain determined to see each other. When the Great War begins and nearly immediately affects the lives of everyone, Tom starts to prepare for the front lines. It’s not long before both families are treasuring their memories of that “last summer.”
There is one glaring omission in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice: the downstairs staff. In Longbourn, Jo Baker reimagines Austen’s classic from the perspective of the Bennet family’s servants. While Lizzy and her sisters deal with their own affairs, Sarah, a poor and orphaned housemaid, begins to imagine life outside of the working class. Longbourn was named a Notable Book by The New York Times Book Review, a Seattle Times Best Title, a Miami Herald Favorite Book. It was even Best Book of the Year by Kirkus, among other accolades.
Love & Inheritance Trilogy
Fay Weldon’s Love & Inheritance trilogy consists of three titles: Habits of the House, Long Live the King, and The New Countess. Together, the three historical fiction novels follow a slew of fascinating characters from both upstairs and downstairs from the Season of 1899 through 1905.
Love in a Cold Climate
Set in the glamour of English aristocratic life, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate is the story of Polly Hampton. Groomed for a perfect marriage from an early age, Polly is bored with the pastimes and affairs of her class. This is especially true once her family returns to England after having lived in India. Despite her feelings of discontent, Polly is terrified of a secret that could shatter her family and lead to her disinheritance.
Penny Vincenzi’s No Angel takes place in New York and London in the years during the Great War. The historic page turner revolves around the wealthy Celia Lytton, a woman unaccustomed to anything but her own way. Over the course of the novel, Celia makes a series of difficult, and even dangerous, decisions which alter the lives of nearly everyone around her.
Eighteen-year-old Grace Campbell finds it harder than she thought to find a secretarial job in 1914 London. Not willing to let down her family, Grace lies to her family, and procures instead a job as a housemaid. Grace is quickly swept up into the lives of the family she serves, including the family’s daughter Beatrice, a newly single young woman desperate to find a purpose in life. Over the course of the novel, the two young women make a series of choices with consequences made even more dramatic by the arrival of the Great War.
A Room with a View
A literary classic, E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View tells the tale of socialite Lucy Honeychurch who, whilst on a tour of Italy with an overbearing cousin, becomes engaged to the extremely unlikable Cecil Vyse. Unfortunately, Lucy is actually in love with the charming and handsome, yet unsuitable, George Emerson. Written at the time as a satire of English respectability, A Room with a View remains a timeless love story.
The Remains of the Day
Here is one for the Mr. Carson fans. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day paints a stunning portrait of Stevens, a butler at Darlington Hall. With the lines of the class system blurring, Stevens becomes retrospective of nearly three years serving the “great gentleman” that is Lord Darlington. But Stevens has doubts, and his own sense of purpose hinges on those doubts. The Remains of the Day was the winner of the Booker Prize.
Elizabeth Cooke’s historical fiction novel, Rutherford Park, follows the Cavendish family — lady of the house Octavia, her husband William, and their son Harry. There’s also a bevy of downstairs servants. Each member of the family feels constrained by their position in society, and with a world war looming, risks don’t seem quite as risky.
The Summer Before the War: A Novel
The Summer Before the War focuses in on the summer of 1914, when medical student Hugh Grange comes to the coastal village of Rye to visit his Aunt Agatha. Free-thinking Beatrice Nash also arrives in town ready to begin a stint as a local Latin teacher. Despite constant reassurances that nothing will come from “the recent saber rattling over the Balkans,” the three lead characters slowly become aware that their perfect English summer — and the world as they know it — is coming to an end. The Summer Before the War was named by NPR and The Washington Post as one of the best books of the year upon its release.
Fans of Downton Abbey will love this novel about the three very different young women. When Sir Philip Buxton of Summerset Abbey suddenly dies, his daughters Rowena, and Victoria find themselves under the guardianship of their uncle. Prudence — a governess’s daughter who has been raised alongside Rowena and Victoria as equals — suddenly finds herself living as a member of the downstairs staff. As the girls’ world continues to shift around them, loyalties, ambitions, and passions are tested.
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