1925 saw the publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.
The New Yorker was founded in this year, which also gave us DuBose Heyward’s Porgy and Bess and Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. Though not of literary importance, it would prove critical to world history that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was also published in this year. George Bernard Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and authors such as T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and Ernest Hemingway practiced their craft as well.
Also in 1925, the Paris Exposition introduced the Art Deco style to the world, and silent film captured the world’s attention with Chaplin’s the Little Tramp and stars such as Rudolph Valentino and Mary Pickford, and directors like D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, a high school biology teacher was on trial for suggesting that humans were evolved from other primates, to which Mary makes an oblique reference in episode four, saying, “a monkey will type the bible if you leave it long enough,” meaning she was bound to say something nice to Edith eventually, but only by chance. Kandinsky and O’Keeffe changed painting forever and Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Louis Armstrong did the same for music.
In episode two, when Mary tells a visitor who asks to see the agent, that she is the new agent for the estate, he replies, “Well it’s a changing world.”
One is tempted to say, “no kidding!”
I’m going to try to get caught up on the first five episodes at once, so here, grouped by type of reference rather than the chronology of episodes, are some literary and cultural references, along with some fun vocabulary and phraseology.
Drinks before dinner.
The Lord’s remark to Carson about his before dinner drink, “I know you don’t approve,” he says, “but it’s quite ordinary in London now,” reflects the fact that alcohol consumption habits changed in the early 20’s in Britain as American style cocktails became popular. Prohibition prompted the emigration of a gifted bartender by the name of Harry Craddock, who began his reign at the American Bar at the Savoy.
Mary continues to be the proponent of current fashions as she sports handsome jodpurs to ride astride instead of sidesaddle on the hunt. Several years before, Coco Chanel (to whom we must attribute Mary’s hairdo, unless you prefer giving the nod to actress Louise Brooks) anyway, Coco made waves designing her own jodpurs. Mary remarks to her father that riding astride is less dangerous, and then takes a tumble (thanks to the blackmailing former hotel employee, boo hiss). We should all be grateful that she was not riding side saddle, as Mary’s comment was correct. Women who fell from their mounts while riding sidesaddle were often dragged to their deaths when their dresses became tangled.
I for one am wondering if Mary will continue in Coco’s footsteps and show up from her summer vacation with a suntan.
A direct reference is made to the Bloomsbury Group, or “Set” as Rosamund calls it when she visits the apartment that once belonged to Mr. Gregson. “I met Virginia Woolf in this room,” Edith says, “and Lytton Strachey.” Strachey was author of The Eminent Victorians.
“Sic transit Gloria mundi” is a comment made on the visit of the estate sale of the neighbors, who have fallen on hard times. Translation: Thus pass the glories of the world.
Britain’s longest running women’s magazine, The Lady receives a mention, when Spratt gloats over Denker, perhaps suggesting that she’ll need the want ads soon enough. The Lady was first published in 1885.
Mary’s new beau speaks often of Brooklands, which was the home of British auto racing, but is also an important cite for British aviation, and now houses the Brooklands Museum. The first British Gran Prix took place in 1926, so perhaps the handsome Mr. Henry Talbot has a chance. Whether he has a chance with Mary or not, who can say?
Hillcroft College, which boasts Aunt Rosamund for its board member, is still in existence, as a residential college exclusively for women.
As the issue of Health Care Reform plays prominently this season, it is fitting that Neville Chamberlain showed up. Most famous for his role as prime minister (1937-1940), he signed the Munich Agreement in 1938, ceding a portion of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis, part of a policy of “Appeasement” which obviously didn’t work. Chamberlain declared war on Germany after their invasion of Poland, but resigned in 1940. Though he had lost popularity, he remained a part of Winston Churchill’s cabinet, however he died of cancer in November of that year.
Back to the Health Care debate. Chamberlain’s time as Minister of Health (1923, 1924-1929, and 1931) was a time of reconsidering the effectiveness of the 1911 Health Insurance Act. A Royal Commission on National Health Insurance was appointed in 1924 and minor reforms were made under Chamberlain, but were mostly not effective. In 1926 a bill reduced the government’s contribution to insurance.
Britain’s current National Health Service was founded in 1948.
Opinion: The decentralization of medical authority is still a relevant topic, and though Lady Violet is somewhat vilified in this debate, she does make a good point about the importance of choice in personal health.
The word seems to be important this season, with Mrs. Crawley and Granny feuding about the possible changes for the local hospital. If you remember the word “alms” you will see that the meaning of “Almoner” is “one responsible for the distribution of alms,” though in this case the alms are services for the poor rather than simple monetary donations.
Barrows uses this word contemptuously referring to the former housemaid, Gwen. “I dedicated my life to service and I’m about to be thrown out on my ear,” he says, “when she scarpered away first chance she got and now she’s lunching in the dining room.”
To put someone in an embarrassing or difficult situation.
The rest of the staff try warn Barrows about revealing Gwen’s identity, suggesting, “His lordship won’t like it, your trying to wrong-foot her.”
“Jumped up little sawbones” is how Denker refers to Dr. Clarkson. The term is slang for doctor, usually a surgeon who, well, saws bones. (I guess they had a skilled sawbones on hand for when the Lord’s stomach exploded. Crikey.)
Sayings, Quips and Quotations:
“All that is required for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.” This is the line Mr. Molesley uses to try to persuade Miss Baxter to testify against the man who inspired her to commit theft. It is most often attributed to Irish orator and statesman, Edmund Burke, (1729-1797).
“Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.” Said in context of putting on a boutonnière for Carson’s wedding, meaning, “go for it!”
“All right, Madame Defarge, calm down and finish that mash.” Mrs. Padmore, referring to Daisy as Dickens’s famous French revolutionary character in A Tale of Two Cities. Mrs. Padmore also teases Daisy for her anti-classist views, asking, “I wonder if Karl Marx might finish the liver pate?”
Eating out casually was becoming more common in the 20’s, but previously health reasons were given often cited as grounds for preferring to dine at home. The Lord shows this attitude in his remark to Tom, who has eaten sandwiches at the station after dropping Mary and Anna off for their off-hours trip to London. The Lord says to Tom, “You’re a braver man than I am, Gunga Din,” slightly misquoting the last line of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, which reads, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”
In episode five, Mary is referred to as “La Belle Dame sans Merci” which is a famous lyrical poem by John Keats. Keats wrote the poem while deeply in love, and having lost both his mother and brother to tuberculosis, which would kill the poet two years later. It is Mary’s lack of romantic interest in Evelyn Napier that earns her this label.
Mary enjoys a date with Mr. Talbot at the Café de Paris, which had opened in 1924 and become a place to be seen when the Prince of Wales chose it as one of his preferred haunts. Badly bombed during the blitz in 1941, it reopened after the war and is a trendy nightspot to this day.
Bright Young Things.
It’s the visit to the Café de Paris and watching the race at Brooklands that inspires the comment that Mary and Tom are “all members of the Bright Young Things.”
The Bright Young Things was a social set of decadent bohemians in London in the 20’s, and included many writers, such as Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, and Edith Sitwell. It was famously photographed by one of its members, Cecil Beaton, who began photographing for Vogue in 1927 and went on to win two academy awards for costume design (Gigi 1958 and My Fair Lady 1964). He also won the academy award for best art direction for My Fair Lady. The genius behind the hats at the Ascot racing scene, Beaton was also a noted diarist.
It was Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel, Vile Bodies that served as the basis for the film Bright Young Things (2003, dir. Stephen Fry).
Mary makes a reference to Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre, saying, “’Mrs. Carson.’ It’s like Jane Eyre asking to be called Mrs. Rochester.” Jane Eyre was a governess who married her master and I thought perhaps the comment was meant to reveal some jealousy on the part of Mary, losing her beloved Carson to Mrs. Hughes, as the comment does have an implication that Mrs. Hughes has married above her station.
Dogs of War.
Doctor Clarkson informed Lady Violette of Denker’s ill-manneredness on the street, prompting Lady Violette to give Denker her notice. When Mrs. Crawley suggests that Dr. Clarkson wouldn’t have wanted her to lose her position, and Lady Violette says that he shouldn’t have sent the letter if that were the case. I believe it was Mrs. Crawley who replied, “When we unleash the dogs of war, we must go where they take us.”
The popular expression “the dogs of war” has its origin in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Brutus has just instructed Antony that in his upcoming eulogy, Anthony should praise Caesar, and not blame his murderers. Left alone, Antony ponders the horror of the murder, and bemoans the fact that he is “meek and gentle with these butchers.” He then gives a prophecy that “a curse shall light upon the limbs of men.” It is Caesar’s voice, looming over the earth which will, in a sense, supervise these horrors. As Anthony wraps up the monologue:
“In a monarch’s voice,
Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.”
Anthony doesn’t comply with Brutus’s instruction in the following scene, using sarcasm to undercut his line “and Brutus is an honorable man” in his famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears” oration.
A few more good lines:
“A problem shared is a problem halved.”
“A peer in favor of reform. It’s like a turkey in favor of Christmas.”
As usual, my favorite lines have been from Lady Violette, who urged Spratt to get to the point by saying, “If you were talking in Urdu, I couldn’t understand you less.” And when Denker says that she shouldn’t be friends with Dr. Clarkson now that “he’s turned against you!” Lady Violette replies: “If I withdrew my friendship from everyone who had spoken ill of me, my address book would be empty.”
More fun stuff:
Side saddle costume demonstration Video
Cecil Beaton Slideshow
Brando as Marc Anthony Video