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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, February 28, 2015

If HE were a Rothschild: the proof that Downton Abbey alludes to Sidonia in Disraeli’s Coningsby

Yesterday I posted about my discovery of the veiled allusion to Benjamin Disraeli’s 1842 novel Coningsby in the Jewish subplot in Season Five of Downton Abbey --- Rose’s romance with, and marriage to, Atticus Aldridge, heir to the Sinderby (aka Rothschild/Sidonia) fortune. Little did I imagine that with a little more digging, I’d be able to connect the dots between that allusion by the clever Fellowes, and some real life Highclere Castle history, as the following book blurb reveals:

“Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for…Downton Abbey, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war. Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart, Lady Cora Crawley, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de ROTHSCHILD, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon's ancestral home.  Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman…..”

“…Widely believed to be the illegitimate daughter of industrialist Alfred de Rothschild and his French mistress, Marie Wombwell, Almina married George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, in 1895, when she was just nineteen. In Lady Carnarvon’s telling, it was a felicitous match romantically and financially. Dubbed “the Pocket Venus,” diminutive Almina was a renowned beauty, reportedly besotted with her new husband, a budding Egyptologist. More important, perhaps, Almina brought to her marriage the cash desperately needed to run Highclere. Lady Carnarvon’s book focuses on the tumultuous years of World War I, when Almina converted her palatial estate into a convalescent hospital for wounded officers, and ends rather abruptly in 1924, shortly after the Earl’s untimely death. Downton Abbey fans will note the striking parallels between Almina’s life and that of her fictional counterpart, Lady Cora Crawley. This is hardly an accident: Lady Carnarvon and her husband, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon, affectionately known as Geordie, have been friends with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes for more than a decade. Though Lady Carnarvon calls Fellowes a “genius,” she’s too involved with the show to call herself a fan. “It’s too much of a bloody muddle,” she says.”

So is Julian Fellowes “telling” us that Cora is an illegitimate heiress of her family’s fortune?

And….just to tie the knot even tighter to Disraeli’s Coningsby, check out this factoid, courtesy of  :

“Disraeli was an intimate friend—both financially, socially and politically—of the Rothschilds. In fact, he once considered marrying a Rothschild daughter and only shrank back because it would undermine his career. He was hounded enough as a Jew, and could not "afford" to identify himself openly with the Jewish religion. He was attracted to Baron Lionel de Rothschild, in part because like himself, a Rothschild was an "outsider" in English society.”

You guessed it—Lionel de Rothschild was the FATHER of Alfred de Rothschild, and therefore was the grandfather of Almina. And…a final irony: Alfred was born in 1842, the very same year that Disraeli wrote Coningsby!

And I’ll conclude with a tangential tile of the complicated mosaic underlying Fellowes’s incorporation of this Disraeli-Rothschild subtext into Downton Abbey:

“One of the first girls I went out with was a Jewish girl,” Fellowes said. “It was sort of my first experience of not being desirable. She belonged to one of the great Jewish families. I won’t name them. They certainly didn’t want a Catholic in the family.”

So, I hope your enjoyment of DT is enhanced by having this glimpse of the huge iceberg of “juicy” (if you’ll forgive my pun) allusion hidden beneath its Season Five Jewish subtext!

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