The British Press vs Downton Abbey and Two Etiquette Sleuths; Historians or Hysterians?

As a fan of the first season of the critically acclaimed and popular Downton Abbey, I shared my DVD copy with fellow etiquette enthusiast, guest blogger and consultant, Demita Usher. She enjoyed it as thoroughly as I, and we have been waiting for the second season of the show to be broadcast in the U.S. As fans of the show, we have a few words for those making criticism in the British press.

Imagine our surprise upon seeing the following headline in The Daily Telegraph; Downton Abbey: historical inaccuracies and mistakes plaguing ITV show or this one in the U.K. Daily Mail; Downton shoots itself in the foot as gun enthusiast gives both barrels over historical inaccuracies

Historians, (or could they possibly be hysterians?), make numerous assertions regarding the historical accuracy of the series. One article quotes "historian and broadcaster, A.N. Wilson", as saying, "... the portrayal of country house life was sanitised fantasy."  Whereas Julian Fellowes, Oscar-winning creator of Downton Abbey, strongly defended the show's script by saying that he believes the "the programme is pretty accurate". Adding, "The real problem is with people who are insecure socially, and they think to show how smart they are by picking holes in the programme to promote their own poshness and to show that their knowledge is greater than your knowledge."  Indeed!

Now, we are not trying to be posh, nor do we want to show "how smart we are", we simply would like to defend Julian Fellowes, by providing a bit of historical perspective. As for those who are offering their comments and criticisms to the press regarding the authenticity of the clothing for a local hunt, the road sign, aerial attached to a house, etc... we won't quibble with you on those points.  We will simply discuss the criticism of cultural terminology and popular common phrases in use during the Edwardian period.

Hysterian Assertion #1- The word "boyfriend" was not used during this time.

Historian Actuality shows the phrase is found in the following: Official report of debates Council of Europe. Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, page 470 (1895): "... from yesterday's edition of The Times of London which states, 'A woman who joined a company run by fundamentalist Christians was required to sign an undertaking that she would not live with her boyfriend."

From Wenderholme: A story of Lancashire and Yorkshire By Philip Gilbert Hamerton, Page 301, (1876): "This cheered Edith's heart considerably, but still there was a certain moisture in her eyes as she bade farewell to her boyfriend."

From The life and remains of Douglas Jerrold By Blanchard Jerrold, Douglas William Jerrold Page 331 (1859): "My early boyfriend, Laman Blanchard, and Kenny Meadows, a dear friend too, whose names have become musical in the world's ear, were of that society — of that knot of wise and jocund men ..."

Hysterian Assertion #2- The Phrase "get shafted" was not used until the 1960's.

Historian Actuality shows the phrase is found in the following from: Debates: official report, Volume 2, Canada House of Commons (1888): "I do not know what assurance can be given that people can be guaranteed that they do not get shafted, to the favour of some other group."

Hysterian Assertion #3- Footman Thomas Barrow, played by Rob James-Collier, used the words "get knotted" in the October 9 episode

Historian Actuality shows the phrase is found in: The Westminster Review, Volume 124, Page 402 (1885): In foreign affairs, when they get knotted, a Special Commissioner is appointed to report upon the situation, and to advise as to means of unravelling the tangled skein of affairs.

Hysterian Assertion #4- Head housemaid Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt) told John Bates (Brendan Coyle) in last week's drama set in 1917 "So everything in the garden is rosy?"

Historian Actuality shows the phrase is found in the following from: Fraser's magazine, Volume 19 By Thomas Carlyle, page 606 (1879): He looked so rosy, so cheerful, so placid, such a picture of rewarded philosophy and virtue, surely he must be the happiest of mortals.

From: Vanity Fair: A novel without a hero, By William Makepeace Thackeray, Page 95, (1845): The honest Irish maid-servant, delighted with the change, asked leave to kiss the face that had grown all of a sudden so rosy.

From: The complete works of William Shakespeare By William Shakespeare, Johnson: Page 556, (1863): Me of my lawful pleasure she restrain'd, And pray'd me, oft, forbearance: did it with A pudenc-y so rosy, the sweet view on't Might vvelghave warm'd old Saturn; that I thought er As chaste as unsunn'd snow :—O, all the devils! (And Shakespeare actually wrote this over 200 years earlier!)
Hysterian Assertion #5- "... some viewers have baulked at the use of the word "boyfriend", as well as the concept of a "professional woman", which is used to describe a maid who wants to leave domestic service to become a secretary." We find the latter half of that statement most amusing, as there are so many, many references to the term "professional women" in newspapers and in books from the 1800s. Too many to choose from, so we picked the cream of the crop, and they are as follows...

Historian Actuality We will gladly cite all of them for any readers asking, but we feel that the article in an 1898 New York Times, referencing the spirited ongoing debate in the pages of U.K.'s The Daily Telegraph, titled "Should Wives Work?  Opinions of English Men & Women-What an American Woman Thinks About It" quite plainly spells it out, especially in the sixth paragraph in Part 1 posted here.  It quotes a British reader's comment in The Daily Telegraph, "Several professional women, talking sensibly of the subject, say that their business life will make them more careful in the choice of a husband ..."

Or then there is the article from New Zealand's The Auckland Star newspaper from 1899.  One of the paragraphs in a story by a London correspondent on the recent happenings at The International Women's Congress, London July 14 is actually titled "The Professional Woman".

So it makes us wonder what exactly qualifies contributors to be called "historians".  Demita Usher and I wouldn't dare refer to ourselves as "historians".  There is so much we do not know.  However, we are "history enthusiasts" and we certainly loved Downton Abbey here across the pond.  It is with great anticipation that we wait to watch the second season of the program, and in the meantime, comments made by your historians, or "hysterians" if you will, have kept us entertained while we wait.

But don't fret Great Britain, as I also stumbled onto this headline; Kate Middleton Named 2011's Best-Mannered Person, Kim Kardashian Slammed as "Most Ill-Mannered" Kudos to Kate!


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