Is Downton Abbey a Copycat of “Pride and Prejudice”? from Guest Author, Ginger Monette

Is Downton Abbey a Copycat of “Pride and Prejudice”? from Guest Author, Ginger Monette

Is Downton Abbey a Copycat of Pride & Prejudice?

by Ginger Monette, author of Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes

Is there something magical about a houseful of daughters with no heir? If I were to pitch the premise to a television producer or literary agent, I wouldn’t expect him to sit up and clamber for a pen to underwrite the project. But for both Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey, the simple premise has made millions.

As a Jane Austen and period drama fan, I devoured Downton Abbey right along with the rest of the world. And one day it dawned on me that a houseful of unwed sisters wasn’t the only thing the two hits had in common. Was it possible that Julian Fellowes found inspiration for Downton Abbey in Austen’s Pride & Prejudice? There are a number of uncanny similarities….

Entailed Estate, Unsuitable Heir, Headstrong Heroine

In Pride and Prejudice, the odious (unsuitable) Mr. Collins is destined to inherit the Bennet’s entailed estate, and spirited heroine Elizabeth Bennet narrowly escapes engagement to him. In Downton Abbey, when heirs #1 and #2 both perish with the sinking of the Titanic, the nearest male kinsman, Matthew Crawley, is found to be a mere “man in trade” (again unsuitable), whom headstrong heroine Lady Mary Crawley is determined to despise.

Furthermore, in both cases the girl’s mother strongly encouraged marriage to the new, but unwelcome heir. 

These aspects of the plot are important in both stories as they create some of the conflicts that drive the decisions and actions of the characters. It seems plausible that Fellowes, noting Austen’s success, may have adapted these plot points to serve Downton Abbey.

A Grand Estate

In both Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey, a grand house is a silent, yet central character. For nearly 200 years women have been swooning over Pemberley, the estate of Austen’s heartthrob Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Described as “…a large, handsome, stone building standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills…” many believe Austen had Chatsworth House in mind when she described its grandeur.

Highclere Castle’s gold rectangular structure topped with corner towers and spires is instantly recognizable as the Crawley’s family home on Downton Abbey. Fellowes, a personal friend of Highclere’s current owners, had firsthand knowledge of the home’s magnificence and was instrumental in securing it as the filming location.

These lavish homes set our hearts to dreaming and become beloved characters in and of themselves. Are these grand houses part of what has made both Downton Abbey and P&P breakout successes? It is worth noting that even the name Downton Abbey is suspiciously similar to Donwell Abbey, the name Austen chose for George Knightley’s estate in her classic work, Emma. In any case, there’s no doubt that the public is enamored by these magnificent homes. Chatsworth House and Highclere Castle have become two of England’s most popular country homes.

A Crotchety Matriarch

Colorful characters bring life and personality to stories, and Austen’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh is no exception. Her domineering and intimidating temperament make her an antagonist of sorts, which further heightens the conflict in Pride and Prejudice

Fellowes chose a similar character in the dowager Lady Grantham. Although she no longer lives at Downton, the matriarch’s imperious disposition and sharp tongue make her a force to be reckoned with. The two women are so similar, it is hard for me to believe Fellowes wasn’t thinking of Lady Catherine when he first envisioned Lady Grantham.

High Society Characters Falling in Love With, Well, Those Not so High Society

Fitzwilliam Darcy can hardly believe that he’s fallen in love with country girl from Hertfordshire—one who grew up without a governess, no less! His struggle leaves him off balance and ultimately leads him to propose marriage to Elizabeth in a most unflattering manner. Was Fellowes envisioning just such a match when he dreamed up Matthew Crawley, a lowly solicitor from Manchester, and paired him with the high and mighty Lady Mary?

Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and if indeed Fellowes did look to Austen’s Pride & Prejudice when crafting Downton Abbey, he made an excellent choice. Clearly the popularity of Downton Abbey and Pride & Prejudice has shown these elements to be a winning combination, and perhaps it is one of the reasons why readers like us keep returning to P&P fan fiction again and again.

Do you see any other parallels in the two works?

Meet Ginger Monette

Ginger lives with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon. Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize.

Introducing Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette

1916. World War I has turned French chateaux into bloody field hospitals, British gentlemen into lice-infested soldiers, and left Elizabeth Bennet’s life in tatters.

Her father is dead and her home destroyed. Never again will Elizabeth depend on a man to secure her future!

But when an opportunity arises to advance her dreams of becoming a doctor, she is elated–until HE arrives….

Heartbroken. Devastated. Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy is left rejected by the woman he loved and reeling from the slaughter of his men on the battlefield. “Enough!” Darcy vows. “No more sentimental attachments!”

But arriving at a field hospital to pursue a covert investigation, Darcy discovers his beloved Elizabeth training with a dashing American doctor and embroiled in an espionage conspiracy.

With only a few months to expose the plot, Darcy is forced to grapple with his feelings for Elizabeth while uncovering the truth. Is she indeed innocent? Darcy can only hope….

• Cameo appearance by John Thornton of North & South

• Rated PG-13 for mild language & war scenes. Romance is clean.

• Note: Darcy’s Hope has a happy ending but will continue in  January 2017. In the sequel, readers will experience the full resolution of the mystery, and our beloved couple’s love will face a new, tragic test in Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey.

You may also enjoy Tree of Life: Charlotte & the Colonel, A Pride and Prejudice Companion Story.

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April 6, 2022 2:09 PM

I saw this shows on Amazon now and I decided to finally give it a try. I’ve watched four episodes and I’m astonished at the commenters here who needed this article to spell out them that this is basically an even more boring version of Pride and Prejudice, if that’s possible. It’s obvious, you don’t even have to think about it. I’m four episodes in and the Dowagers catchy dialogue just isn’t enough. It’s SOOOOO boring, nothing happens.

December 20, 2016 9:14 AM

I watched the entire series of Downton Abbey and never thought about this before. Thanks for sharing the similarities you have found, it will definitely be something I look out for next time I watch the show.

Sophie Turner
December 19, 2016 8:58 PM

I had the same thought myself last time I rewatched and realized Matthew insults Mary when they first meet, thinking she’s out of earshot. But you’ve found so many more parallels — very insightful post, Ginger!

Sheila L. Majczan
Sheila L. Majczan
December 19, 2016 11:01 AM

While recognizing the similarities I have to add that many, on the other hand, give recognition to the fact that this series was based on the book How to Marry an English Lord. It is a marvelous book with lovely photos which tells of all those American millionaires “buying” a title for their daughters. It also tells of how they were or were not accepted into British society. And of how some became quite well known as hostesses or a consort to the Prince. So while the book states on the cover that it is the book on which Downton Abbey is based we can also believe the author was influenced by having read Jane Austen’s P&P.

Diana J Oaks
December 18, 2016 11:22 PM

I’ve thought on this topic myself in the past, and think you’re onto something. He certainly borrowed something of Austen’s “formula” in putting together DA. Another thing to note is the mis-match of Lord and Lady Grantham in their marriage. Theirs wasn’t a love-match, but he, a titled and landed nobleman married an American for her money, and then fell in love with her after the fact. And Lady Grantham’s American mother is a piece of work! She’s the one who reminds me of Mrs. Bennet. I think Lord and Lady Grantham are the same “type” of pairing as Darcy and Elizabeth, simply more matured than young D&E in P&P.

Ginger Monette
December 19, 2016 8:32 AM
Reply to  Diana J Oaks

Hadn’t thought of the parallel between Lord and Lady Grantham and D&E. But you are so right! The age difference ‘disguises’ that it is a similar concept merely re-dressed. And just as E would have been somewhat ‘out of her element’ stepping up into D’s world, Lady G was thrust into an unfamiliar culture when she married a British gentleman.

December 18, 2016 6:57 PM

Ginger, thank you for sharing your amazing insight!

Ginger Monette
December 18, 2016 6:04 PM

Shelia–I’m jealous! I would love to see a whole collection of the costumes together. I viewed a lot of images from Downton Abbey scene when I needed to describe a dress in my Darcy’s Hope books.

Emma–It goes to show that re-dressing something ‘old’ makes it seem new. And no one can deny that both P&P and Downton Abbey have been hugely successful!

emma wood
December 18, 2016 2:33 PM

Great points! Having watched both over and over, now feel foolish not to have noticed myself!

Sheila L. Majczan
Sheila L. Majczan
December 18, 2016 1:33 PM

Very interesting. I never gave comparing the two a thought. The period clothing/costumes from Downton Abbey were on display near us in the DuPont, Winterthur Museum and I did make a special trip with friends to view those – so lovely!

December 18, 2016 12:15 PM

What fun! You are spot on in your comparisons. I love it.
I must add yet another parallel that has little to do with Downton Abbey.
Your author photo looks exactly like a younger (and much prettier) Catherine O’Hara, the actor.


Ginger Monette
December 18, 2016 11:02 AM

Nancy and Glynis–you are so right! It makes the ‘copycat case’ even stronger!

Special thanks to Austen Authors for hosting me today : )

Nancy Lawrence
December 18, 2016 7:36 AM

OMG, I never made the comparisons before but you are so right, Ginger! Other parallels: 1) youngest daughter Lydia ran off with undesirable Mr. Wickham in P&P, just as Lady Sybil ran off with Branson in DA; 2) middle daughter Mary was destined to remain single as was middle daughter Lady Edith (until the final episode of Downton); 3) Elizabeth Bennet had her Aunt Gardiner as a confidante and the Crawley sisters had their Aunt Rosamund. I’ll bet there are more. Thanks for a fun post!

December 18, 2016 3:08 AM

Oh my goodness. I never thought to compare these two but now you have I see the similarities. They also have the youngest daughter eloping with someone unsuitable (although in Downton he really loves her!) Thanks for this post Ginger.

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