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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thomas Barrow as the Iago of Downton Abbey: his hidden fictional ancestor (and don’t you dare Pooh-Pooh it, Mr. Milne!)



For those who missed it, my quiz yesterday went as follows:

I’m thinking of a fictional story by an English male author with great name recognition, a story that has received great acclaim in the English country house upstairs/downstairs genre, and that has all of the following specific elements:

ONE: A man is murdered who has been at the country house.
TWO: The murder is committed a few years after the end of WWI.
THREE: Suspicion is cast on one or more of the main characters at the country house.
FOUR: The apparent murder victim appears to be a disruptive figure.
FIVE: A main character deeply involved in the murder mystery is named Tony Gillingham.
SIX: There is a main character who meets all four of the following criteria:
     His first name is Matthew and his last name begins with C and ends in ”ley”;
     He has an older cousin named Robert;
     He is related to the owner of the country house family estate where the action occurs; and
     He is or might be in the line of inheritance of the estate .
SEVEN: There is a main character at the country house who is extremely Iago-like in his manipulativeness and expertise at exploitation of foibles in other characters, and who expresses the anger and bitterness which motivates him, most saliently in relation to the murder mystery.     
EIGHT: Description of action in this story has been posted during the past week in the Janeites & Austen L groups.

So…..what is the title of the story?  ;)     

ANSWER(S) TO THE QUIZ

I received one answer-a correct answer--from Jane S. Fox, in the Janeites group:
“By A. A. Milne of all people but the title escapes me. Red Manor?”

Bravo, Jane! The title of the novel is The Red House Mystery. A.A. Milne (of course most famous for creating Winnie the Pooh and friends) wrote this, his one and only detective story, in 1922.  Before I run through my Quiz points, and show how they all apply to BOTH Downton Abbey AND The Red House Mystery (with massive spoilers as to the latter), I want to first acknowledge novelist and blogger Maya Corrigan, who, two weeks ago, wrote the following post:

“Children's author A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie-the-Pooh,  also wrote a detective novel. An odd connection exists between Milne's The Red House Mystery and Downton Abbey. The bones of the classic British mystery are on display in Milne's book: the English country house setting;  a crime investigated by an amateur;  a sidekick; a locked-room puzzle; a whodunit with clues that play fair with the reader.
The book opens "below stairs" . . .The housekeeper and a parlor maid discuss the arrival of the host’s long-lost brother, the disruptive stranger amid the guests already at the house. The murder is investigated by a gentleman sleuth named Tony Gillingham.
Aha. Tony Gillingham is also the name of Mary’s suitor in Downton Abbey and the man whose rapist-valet died last season in an “accident.” Is the choice of the man's name a coincidence? I wonder.  Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey’s creator and writer, is certainly familiar with British mysteries from the same era as Milne's. Fellowes wrote the country house mystery Gosford Park and has a screenplay for Agatha Christie’s The Crooked House in the works. Fellowes says “murder in a genteel setting” never goes stale.  Downton Abbey was originally conceived as a spin-off of Gosford Park. Though the series went in another direction, the remnants of that initial idea remain in the suspicious deaths that affect upstairs and downstairs at Downton. So will the Tony Gillingham in Downton Abbey follow in the footsteps of his namesake? Will he try to unravel the mystery surrounding his valet’s death? “ END QUOTE

It was 2 days ago that I serendipitously discovered the Downton Abbey connection to The Red House Mystery, and then Googled and found Maya Corrigan’s earlier post. My serendipity lay in Ellen Moody having posted the text of a 1950 essay by Raymond Chandler entitled “The Simple Art of Murder”. As I was reading it, without any thought of Downton Abbey, my eye was arrested halfway through Chandler’s description of Milne’s novel:  “The detective in the case is an insouciant gent named Antony Gillingham, a nice lad with a cheery eye, a cozy little flat in London, and that airy manner.”

I was instantly certain that Julian Fellowes’s suave “Tony Gillingham” MUST be derived, at least in part, from Milne’s “insouciant gent Anthony Gillingham”, and that’s when Google led me to Maya Corrigan’s blog post. That, in turn, encouraged me to do the sleuthing which quickly led me to find the multiple points of correspondence which I will now outline, as I now run through the double answers to each of my Quiz points:

ONE: A man is murdered who has been at the country house.
DT: The rapist valet Green.
RHM: Mark Alblett is shot by his cousin Matthew Cayley.

TWO: The murder is committed a few years after the end of WWI.
DT & RHM: Obvious in both.

THREE: Suspicion is cast on one or more of the main characters at the country house.
DT & RHM: Obvious in both.

FOUR: The apparent murder victim appears to be a disruptive figure.
DT: The valet Green rapes Anna while at Downton Abbey.
RHM: The victim, Mark Ablett, is murdered while in disguise as his long lost brother Robert Ablett, whom Mark has spoken of as a ne’er-do-well who went off to Australia.

FIVE: A main character deeply involved in the murder mystery is named Tony Gillingham.
DT: The murder victim Green was Tony Gillingham’s valet.
RHM: Tony Gillingham is the amateur sleuth who solves the murder mystery.

SIX: There is a main character who meets all four of the following criteria:
     His first name is Matthew and his last name begins with C and ends in ”ley”;
     He has an older cousin named Robert;
     He is related to the owner of the country house family estate where the action occurs; and
     He is or might be in the line of inheritance of the estate .
DT: Matthew Crawley is the younger cousin of Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, patriarch of Downton Abbey, but then Matthew inherits Downton Abbey.
RHM: Matthew Cayley is the younger cousin of Mark Ablett, owner of the Red House, and they are the last survivors of the Cayley family, so Matthew would have inherited the Red House after he murdered Mark.

SEVEN: There is a main character at the country house who is extremely Iago-like in his manipulativeness and expertise at exploitation of foibles in other characters, and who expresses the anger and bitterness which motivates him, most saliently in relation to the murder mystery.     
DT: As I have been asserting for over a year…
…I am certain that Fellowes has been consistently modeling Thomas Barrow on the character of Iago from Othello.
RHM: Like Iago, Matthew Cayley manipulates his narcissistic elder cousin Mark Ablett, after first insinuating himself into the role of indispensable Man Friday to his elder cousin, and then eggs Mark on to play a trick on others by impersonating his own (dead) brother, which trick provides Matthew with the necessary cover for what he hopes will be a foolproof murder.  I.e., Mark trusts Matthew the same way Othello trusts Iago, and Matthew causes Mark’s death just as Iago causes Othello’s death.

EIGHT: Description of action in this story has been posted during the past week in the Janeites & Austen L groups.
See above, re the serendipitous posting by Ellen Moody of Raymond Chandler’s essay which alerted me to Fellowes’s sly allusion.

DISCUSSION RE IAGO IN MILNE & FELLOWES:

Surely these extensive points of correspondence will lay to rest any reasonable doubt that Fellowes was indeed covertly alluding to Milnes’s novel, and it is indeed fitting and delightful that Fellowes chooses the year of Milne’s novel as the year in which Green is murdered.

But, aside from the fun of detecting Fellowes’s clever and multi-layered in-joke, hidden in plain sight for the pleasure of those who might recognize in Fellowes’s murder mystery as an homage to Milne’s, the real takeaway for me (and, I believe, for all dedicated Downton Abbey viewers) from all of this is Quiz Point Seven.

I find it an extremely strong additional corroboration of my claims that Barrow has been intended by Fellowes, from the very first episode of the show to the present, to be recognized by the knowing viewer as the Iago of Downton Abbey.

And there’s more, much more, where that came from. It turns out that Milne’s novel contains the following two EXPLICIT references to Othello, both in the confession by Matthew at the end, shortly before he kills himself:

"You will say that it was impossible to do the thing thoroughly enough. I answer again that you never knew Mark. He was being what he wished most to be—an artist. No OTHELLO ever blacked himself all over with such enthusiasm as did Mark.

“…Oh, just tell me one thing. Why did Mark tell Miss Norbury about his imaginary brother?”
“That’s puzzled me rather, too, Bill. It may be that he was just doing the OTHELLO business-painting himself black all over. I mean he may have been so full of his appearance as Robert that he had almost got to believe in Robert, and had to tell everybody..”

And, guess what—Othello had been on Milne’s brain for quite a while when he wrote The Red House Mystery....Milne’s 1922 novel itself is a revisiting of his own 1915 short story “The Actor”, which is about a small town actor who is playing Othello when chance brings a theatre impresario to the hotel where he works, and that is his big break as an actor.
Turns out that Mark Ablett, the murder victim, had been a small town actor himself:

"I don't know if Beverley has told you about Mark's acting. He was an amateur of all the arts, and vain of his little talents, but as an actor he seemed to himself most wonderful. Certainly he had some ability for the stage, so long as he had the stage to himself and was playing to an admiring audience. As a professional actor in a small part he would have been hopeless; as an amateur playing the leading part, he deserved all that the local papers had ever said about him. And so the idea of giving us a private performance, directed against a professional actress who had made fun of him, appealed equally to his vanity and his desire for retaliation. If he, Mark Ablett, by his wonderful acting could make Ruth Norris look a fool in front of the others, could take her in, and then join in the laugh at her afterwards, he would indeed have had a worthy revenge!”

 And, by the way, that leads to yet another broad wink at Milne’s fiction from Fellowes----that impressario’s name in his short story just happens to be LEVINski (a Jewish name, very much like LEVINson, Cora’s maiden name in Downton Abbey!).  So Fellowes has apparently been a serious enough scholar to have connected Milne’s novel to Milne’s obscure prior short story!

And here’s the final takeaway of all of the above. It’s not just an esoteric literary game to be played only by literary sleuths like myself. I remain confident that Fellowes has been playing fair with this veiled allusion to Milne and Shakespeare, and that, sooner or later, in Season 6 if not later in Season 5……

….Julian Fellowes is going to spring his own carefully laid five-year trap on the viewers of Downton Abbey, and show us how Thomas Barrow, his Iago, somehow, some way, carefully planned and instigated the murder of Green, and then worked, meticulously, tirelessly, and creatively, to frame Bates for that murder!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: As a delightful additional touch, Julian Fellowes is, I am sure, well aware that there is, not far from Highclere Castle, the great estate where Downton Abbey is filmed, a “lovely country pub” called…..the “Red House”!:


PPS: For a further quick excellent summary about Milne’s novel, read the following as well:
“The Red House of the title is a country cottage owned by Mark Ablett. As the novel opens, we find Ablett entertaining a handful of guests, among them the young Bill Beverley. At breakfast one morning, Ablett announces to his guests – as well as his cousin Cayley, who plays the roles of secretary, confidante and business advisor – that his brother, the wastrel Robert, has returned from his 15-year exile in Australia and will be visiting the Red House that very afternoon. When Robert arrives, the guests are off playing golf, and only Mark, Cayley and the servants are present in the house. A shot rings out just as Anthony Gillingham arrives to visit his friend, Beverley, and along with Cayley, he finds Robert dead, lying on the floor of the office, and Mark nowhere to be seen.
In some ways, The Red House Mystery is an homage to the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with Gillingham taking on the role of Sherlock Holmes to Beverley’s ever-eager Watson. As the plot unfolds and we gain more information, Gillingham walks us through a number of equally plausible theories, and we learn the secrets that the Red House holds at the same time as our amateur sleuths. In other ways, the book is a playful satire of the entire mystery genre – Bill’s boyish keenness about the matter at hand, Gillingham – a man with a photographic memory – falling accidentally into the role of sleuth, and still managing to outthink not only the murderer but the police as well – but Milne manages to avoid cliche, despite the hidden passage and an abundance, of Christie proportions, of suspects.
When the final reveal comes, it’s not entirely unexpected, and sharp-eyed readers will have picked up on the clues Milne scatters throughout the story, but it’s no less satisfying a book for that – the joy of this novel comes more from the journey than the destination, and Milne provides us with a cast of likeable characters and an interesting enough mystery to keep us entertained throughout this light and entertaining whodunit.”

1 comment:

Maryann Corrigan said...

Arnie, Thank you for the shout-out to my blog post. Your exploration of the many links between Downton Abbey and Milne's mystery was fascinating. We share an enthusiasm for Shakespeare, Austen, and NY Times crossword puzzles. I look forward to reading your other posts and your book when it comes out.
Maya Corrigan
mayacorrigan.com