The world of "Downton Abbey" draws us in with the many twists and turns of its aristocratic occupants, but one of my favorite aspects of watching the show is seeing what technology was available to the characters. Downton Abbey is set around 1920s, which is not so long ago, but in terms of technology, it is different world from what we're used to. During the show some very important technological advancements were made that changed the lives of the characters, here are my favorite moments:
Electrical Chandelier: In Season 1, the Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) enters the main room and holds a fan up to her eyes. At first, it isn't apparent what is blinding her. "Oh, such a glare!" she says, looking at the chandelier. Later she says, "I couldn't have electricity in the house. I wouldn't sleep a wink!" For many of us, electricity at home is so taken for granted, that we would never think twice about whether it was glaring or not. Perhaps we are all living in ignorance about how calming and warm the room would be if we lit it only with candlelight!
Telephone Installation : Throughout both seasons of the show, the main way the characters receive information, especially important information, is via letter and telegram. However, later in Season 2, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) decides to modernize his home and install a telephone. At first, his servant, Carson (Jim Carter), is insulted by this need for a phone. As head of running the home, Carson thinks that he must not be delivering all the needed information in a timely manner. It takes several episodes to install the phone. Someone from the phone company visits the home and at a dinner party, Lord Grantham takes his visitors on a tour to see where he will be installing the phone. The moment when Lord Grantham takes his guests to the site where the phone will be installed reminds me of how we would show off our gadgets today - or even a new car.
The First Time the Telephone Rings: Once the phone is installed, Carson is too proud to ask for directions on how to use it, rather, he fiddles with the lever and earpiece. Then he is faced with the correct protocol of how to answer the phone. He practices several variations before being confronted by the voice of an operator, whom he rudely chastises. But the cherry on the telephone cake, so to speak, comes the first time the phone rings. The phone rings in Carsons office and the whole kitchen staff jumps and freezes on the spot. No one knows what just happened! Mrs. Patmore, the cook exclaims that it sounds like a "banshee!"
Although it may seem quaint and funny to see these characters confronted with new technology, it was only a few years ago that many of us were confronted with the wonder of new gadgets that are taken for granted now. I remember the first time I saw a cell phone, or received a text message. We're not so different from the characters in "Downton Abbey," and in one hundred years people will look back at us and giggle at our naivety.
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