A Source Critic Looks at ‘Downton Abbey’

Betsy Childs | March 4, 2013

Editors' note: Students of biblical interpretation know how source criticism attempts to find the original sources used by Scripture's various authors and editors. Inspired by their example, an aspiring source critic of the popular television show Downton Abbey searches for the stories behind the story.

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Readers familiar with the period drama Downton Abbey will have encountered it in final form as broadcast by PBS to an American audience. It is widely assumed that the screenplay for the mini-series was written by one Julian Fellowes of Dorset. This mistaken assumption, though promiscuously propagated by the press, evinces a lack of sufficient attention paid to the uneven, at times contradictory, nature of the narrative. It is patently obvious to this author and to those of a critical ilk that the so-called Downton Abbey storyline is the product of multiple authors with several different aims.

The first clues to the interlaced source texts of Downton Abbey are the alternative versions of the same events. Twice we witness the deserving hero, Matthew, inherit the immense fortune of a man he barely knows. Twice we see a middle-aged servant resist proposals of marriage

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