It’s happened again. Like recurrent malaria, I’ve just suffered another attack of Anglophilia.
I’m not sure what brought it on, but it became particularly acute this week as I watched the six hour English-made miniseries Downton Abbey on PBS. There’s a beautiful estate, a righteous nobleman, a couple of headstrong daughters, a rich American wife, a downstairs filled with servants who have intrigues and loves of their own, and an acerbic harridan of a mother (played by the inimitable Dame Maggie Smith!).
I cannot pinpoint precisely when the mosquito-vector carrying Anglophilia bit me for the first time. I did love Sherlock Holmes as a boy. The first time I went to England I stayed a block from 221B Baker Street (or at least where it should be). After college, I studied English history over there along with cricket and lawn tennis and pubs and garden parties. What a life.
I remember Blackwell’s, my favorite bookstore in the world, located on Broad Street in Oxford. I know women who go shopping for shoes to cheer themselves up. Me? During my two years in England, when the least bit bored or out of sorts, I’d just drop by Blackwell’s and leave in the best of spirits. Back then, you didn’t even have to worry about paying for your books. On the way out of the store, I’d just wave a volume and call out my name. At the end of the quarter, a bill would show up. When it came time to move back to the States, I dropped off all my books at Blackwell's and they packed and shipped them to me. (My memory says there were four dozen cartons, but reason tells me there could not have been that many.)
In the last month or so I’ve read memoirs by Ivana Lowell about her privileged (and crazy) upbringing as granddaughter of a marquess and by Dame Antonia Fraser, historian, mystery novelist, daughter of an earl, and widow of Harold Pinter. I’ve also knocked off The Lessons by Naomi Alderman, which is set against a background in Oxford, and Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, the Man Booker Prize winner that explores being a Jew in England – which I was, at least for two years.
The United States has a population over 300 million compared to England’s 51 million, but do we write six times more novels worth reading? And why do the English do television so much better than we do? In addition to Downton Abbey, thanks to Netflix, I’ve recently watched the fabulous mini-series The Politician’s Wife and State of Play; the movie version of the latter with Russell Crowe couldn’t hold a candle to the original.
I wish I could say the books I write have been influenced by my Anglophilia. Nope, not that I can tell. My two published books are set right smack dab in Silicon Valley where I grew up and live now. The action in my latest manuscript is centered in Washington, D.C. I think I’d better start following the example of pal and fellow Inkster G.M. Malliett, who is setting another series in England. (Her Wicked Autumn featuring an MI5 agent who has retired as an English vicar will be out, when else, this autumn.) Ah, her research trips must be wonderful. Maybe I should take a chance and get myself over there and wait for inspiration to overtake me. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep reading those English novels and watching those English TV programmes until this latest bout of Anglophilia subsides.