Downton Abbey And Electricity

  • Scott Detrow

What does Downton Abbey have to do with today’s changing energy economy? More than you might think, as our partners at StateImpact Texas explain:

Telephones, automobiles and electricity all make their way into the world of Downton Abbey during the show, and the at times feeble response of the characters to these new technologies is part of its charm. “First electricity, now telephones,” Violet the Dowager Countess of Grantham, the matriarch of the family says in the first season. “Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an HG Wells novel. But the young are all so calm about change, aren’t they?”
But while Downton Abbey is an affectionate look at the past, the show may actually tell us something about the future of electricity and the best way to adapt to it.
First, let’s look at what electricity was like back then. Like many technologies, early adopters were a select group. “The only people who would have had residential electricity or any type of power during that time are incredibly wealthy people, as you’ll see in the show,” says Phillippa Levine, co-director of the British Studies program at the University of Texas. “I mean it really is a sliver of the population who can afford this at this point. They are as we would say off the grid, because the national grid, which is what produces electricity potentially for everyone in Britain, is built in the 1930s.”

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