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julian fellowes

Julian Fellowes’ The Gilded Age coming to NBC in 2019


From Variety:

The long-gestating NBC drama “The Gilded Age” is moving forward with a series order, the network announced Wednesday.

“Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes will write and executive produce the series, with “Downton Abbey” executive producer Gareth Neame also executive producing. The series has received a 10-episode order and is scheduled to debut in 2019. The series will be produced by Universal Television. The series was first put in development at NBC back in 2012.

The Gilded Age in 1880s New York City was a period of immense social upheaval, of huge fortunes made and lost, and of palaces that spanned the length of Fifth Avenue. In the series, Marian Brook is the wide-eyed young scion of a conservative family who will embark on infiltrating the wealthy neighboring family dominated by ruthless railroad tycoon George Russell, his rakish and available son Larry, and his ambitious wife Bertha, whose “new money” is a barrier to acceptance by the Astor and Vanderbilt set.

No word yet on the cast, but I have high hopes for a story as addictive and dramatic as Downton Abbey!

Want to know more about Gilded Age New York society? Read these books!

A Season of Splendor: The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York by Greg King

The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910 by Esther Crain

When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan

Mrs. Astor’s New York: Money and Power in a Gilded Age by Eric Homberger

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Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia: Episode 2 – A Chance Encounter


Belgravia blog tour

Award winning creator/writer of Downton Abbey presents his latest endeavor, Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new book blending the Victorian-era serialized novel with modern technology.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be featured in a progressive blog tour April 14-June 16, 2016. Similar to a “progressive dinner party,” where a group of friends each make one course of a meal that moves from house to house with each course, a “progressive blog tour” is the same concept applied to the Internet. Eleven historical fiction bloggers and authors are participating, each taking one episode of the novel and offering a recap and review for that week. As a participant, you will follow the tour and join in the read-along and conversation. A fabulous giveaway contest, including three (3) hardcover copies of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be open to those who join the festivities.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is people by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever.

Episode 2

In the previous episode, we were introduced to the main players on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo: the Trenchard family–James, Anne, and their beautiful daughter Sophia–; and the family of Lord Bellasis, (fictional) nephew of the Duchess of Richmond. The duchess’s now-infamous ball, which was interrupted by the battle, is the setting of the high drama that sets off calamitous events that will tie the families together forever.

The tensions of class in the early years of Victoria’s reign tauten the events of episode two, where the Trenchards–now relatively wealthy after twenty-five years of James “The Magician” Trenchard’s nimble climb up the financial ladder–continue to hover on the fringes of High Society. We see the changes in England since Waterloo through Anne Trenchard’s eyes: the establishment of new aristocratic enclaves such as Belgravia; the invention of “afternoon tea”; the growing splendor of the aristocracy; and the hardening of etiquette rules:

“…the journey from Eaton Place to Belgrave Square was not worth taking out a carriage for and if she’d had her way, she would have walked. Of course in such matters, she did not have her way. Ever.”

Julian Fellowes’s light touch with social mores is evident in the opening scene of this episode, where he conveys the absurdities and anxieties of early Victorians about afternoon tea:

Anne saw an empty chair at the edge of the gathering and made for it, passing an old lady who started to lunge for a sandwich plate which was sliding away from her down her voluminous skirts when Anne caught it.
The stranger beamed. “Well saved.” She took a bite. “It is not that I dislike a light nuncheon of cakes and tea to carry one through to dinner, but why can’t we sit at a table?”

The hostess (and inventor) of the tea, the Duchess of Bedford, has only invited Anne under obligation from her family’s business dealings with James Trenchard, but she is summarily hoisted on her own petard when the old lady with the runaway plate turns out to be the Dowager Duchess of Richmond. Yes, that duchess. She remembers Anne’s attendance at her infamous ball, and if Belgravia were a television show, the Duchess of Bedford’s face would look like a gasping trout!

The reminisces of the duchess and Anne are quite visceral. I’ve read many novels and watched many period dramas either set during Waterloo or around the battle; however, reading the perspective of characters looking back is a stark reminder that it was not this heroic, valorous, and slightly glamorous event in history: much blood was shed and though time moved on, the survivors still lived with their losses.

This poignant memory binds Anne and the duchess–and her sister, the Countess of Brockenhurst, the mother of the late Lord Bellasis. It seems amazing that Lady Brockenhurst could hold onto bitterness over her son’s death and his relationship with Sophia after nearly thirty years, but she has. Snobbery, it seems, has been the only thing she’s clung to in her grief, and she loosens it on Anne.

“Please forgive my curiosity, but I have always heard tell of you both as the Duke of Wellington’s victualler and his wife. Seeing you here, I wondered if I was misinformed and your circumstance was rather different from the version I had been given.”

Anne dishes it back at her, unperturbed by the countess’s baiting, and then lobs a bombshell: Sophia Trenchard, the beautiful “nobody” the countess spent the past twenty-five years fuming about, was dead. She died not very long after Lord Bellasis was killed at Waterloo.

This revelation, and Anne’s cagey ruminations on her only daughter’s death, are so breathtaking, I’m almost frustrated when the plot pulls us back from the brink to a scene of the Trenchard’s surviving child, Oliver, and his tiresome wife, Susan. Oliver is the prototype of the Great Man’s son: he is content to live on the wealth his father labored to build. And yet, one cannot disagree with the Trenchard’s butler a delightful scene belowstairs:

“My sympathy is with Mr Oliver. They’ve brought him up as a gentleman, but now they seem to resent him for wanting to be one.” He had no problems with the social system then operating, only with his own place in it.”

So far, the servants do seem a tad like copies of the Downton Abbey characters we know and love, but I have hope they will grow into their own character types.

The unexpected meeting with Lady Brockenhurst contiues to weigh heavily on Anne’s mind, and we soon discover why: Sophia died in childbirth. Her pregnancy was the result of Lord Bellasis tricking her into a false marriage in order to bed her. The son she bore, Charles, is the last link to Lady Brockenhurst’s beloved dead son.

James is disturbed by Anne’s desire to inform Lady Brockenhurst of her grandson’s existence, blustering about it ruining his daughter’s name. I like to think it’s his lingering guilt over being so eager to climb the social ladder, he gladly–behind Anne’s back–gave Lord Bellasis his blessing to wed Sophia.

Anne’s agreement with James to keep the secret wars with her sympathy for Lady Brockenhurst’s anxieties over having no heir, or no children at all, to keep the memory of her alive. After a month, her sympathy wins out, and she arranges a meeting with the countess to inform her of the secret she’d carried for twenty-five years.

The unraveling of the events that occured in 1815 lay open wounds for both of the women. Lady Brockenhurst takes refuge in her rank, forcing Anne to wonder if this will be the undoing of them all.

“Will you keep our secret?” She hated to ask but she had to. “Can I have your word?”


The free app will be launched via the Belgravia website on April 14, 2016 and is also available via Googleplay and iTunes. The first episode, “Dancing into Battle” will be free to download. You can subscribe to the full 11-episode weekly serial for £9.99/US$13.99 (both text and audio) or purchase individual weekly episodes for £1.49/US$1.99 which will be delivered automatically to your device the moment they air every Thursday.

Delivered directly to your cell phone, tablet or desktop via a brand new app, you can read or listen to the audio recording read by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, or jump between the two. In addition, you will have access to exclusive annotation available only through the app, including: historical facts, social context, biographies, fashion, architecture and politics that will frame the story while immersing you within the character’s sphere.


Belgravia Website | Grand Central Publishing | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Powell’s | Indiebound | Goodreads


Educated at Ampleforth and Magdalene College, Cambridge, Julian Fellowes is a multi-award-winning actor, writer, director and producer. As creator, sole writer, and executive producer of the hit television series Downton Abbey, Fellowes has won three Emmy awards.

Fellowes received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park (2002). His work was also honored by the Writer’s Guild of America, The New York Film Critics’ Circle and the National Society of Film Critics for Best Screenplay. Other writing credits for film include Piccadilly Jim (2004), Vanity Fair (2004), Young Victoria (2009), The Tourist (2010), Romeo & Juliet (2013), and the three-part drama Doctor Thorne for ITV. Fellowes also directed the award-winning films Separate Lies and From Time To Time. Fellowes wrote the books for the Tony-nominated stage production of Mary Poppins and School Of Rock – The Musical which opened on Broadway in December 2015, and is written and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Fellowes has authored two novels: the international bestsellers Snobs (2005) and Past Imperfect (2008/2009).

Julian Fellowes became a life peer in 2010. He lives in Dorset and London with his wife, Emma.



Giveaway Contest

Win a Copy of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia

In celebration of the release of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, Grand Central Publishing is offering a chance to win one of the three (3) hardcover copies of the book!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the stops on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour starting April 14, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 22, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on June 23, 2016. Winners have until June 30, 2016 to claim their prize. The contest is open to International residents and the books will be shipped after July 5, 2016. Good luck to all!

Primer to Gilded Age New York Society


julian fellowes

By now you’ve probably heard the news of NBC’s new deal with Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes to create a period drama set in Gilded Age New York titled–naturally–“The Gilded Age.”

In its release, NBC described the series, which will be called “The Gilded Age,” as an “epic tale of the princes of the American Renaissance, and the vast fortunes they made — and spent — in late 19th century New York.”

Mr. Fellowes said in a statement, “This was a vivid time with dizzying, brilliant ascents and calamitous falls, of record-breaking ostentation and savage rivalry; a time when money was king.”

I fell in love with the Gilded Age after reading Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth when I was a teenager, and couldn’t resist setting a significant portion of my book, The Townsend Inheritance, in New York and Newport, so I am excited to see it gaining more attention–both positive and negative–on this side of the pond. American history isn’t just about the Civil War! *g* I have blogged a fair bit about life in America (specifically New York City), but to refresh your memory I am creating a brief primer, and look for more posts about the era in the future.

The lavishness we associate with the Gilded Age did not reach its fruition until the 1880s, when “swells” like the Vanderbilts–spearheaded by Alva Vanderbilt, wife of Willie K.–launched a social campaign against the small, snobbish clique of old New York elite known as the Knickerbockers. These were the descendants of the great Anglo-Dutch families who settled in New Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries, and built their wealth on “respectable” trades like shipping and real estate. The boom in American industry after the Civil War created millionaires out of nobodies, and the glitter and glamor of New York attracted them over any other major US city, which meant the old Knickerbockers had to devise ways to keep them out.

Most of the old, genteel Knickerbockers retained their English brownstones in quiet and elegant Washington Square, though some had begun to move up Fifth Avenue towards Central Park. Department store millionaire A. T. Stewart threw down the first gauntlet when he built a grand marble mansion directly across from the Mrs. Astor’s discreet brownstone, but she pointedly never acknowledged the man or his wife, and after their deaths in 1876 and 1886, respectively, Stewart’s magnificent house was rented to the exclusive Manhattan Club–the irony!–before being razed in 1901 to make room for the new premises of the Knickerbocker Trust Company. Many other new millionaires attempted to assail the deeply entrenched society focused around Caroline Astor and her “court jester”, Ward McAllister (from whom the term “The Four Hundred” derived), but it took a woman to best Mrs. Astor at her own game–the pugnacious Southern belle, Alva Erskine Smith.

Alva married William Kissam Vanderbilt, grandson of the family patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, in 1875. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s vulgar behavior kept the family out of NY high society, but Alva was determined to use her new millions to become a social leader. She noticed that the stuffiness of the Knickerbockers, with their simple dinners and quiet living, was beginning to grate on younger members of society and correctly predicted that they as well as New Yorkers, thirsted for lavish consumption. She immediately commissioned a magnificent house from Richard Morris Hunt at 660 Fifth Avenue. Her father-in-law, William H. Vanderbilt, had commissioned twin mansions nearby, and both Vanderbilt homes were completed around the same time.

The size and grandeur of these mansions staggered New York, and set off a flurry of media attention about the size and dimensions, the treasures that lay within, and the lifestyle of those who lived within them. Alva solidified her pursuit of prominence by hosting a fancy dress ball for 1000 guests at a cost of $3 million. Carrie Astor, Caroline’s favorite daughter, spent weeks practicing a quadrille with her friends, and in a cunning move, Alva sadly mentioned that Carrie could not take part in the quadrille as she did not know her mother. That sent the Mrs. Astor scrambling to pay a call on Alva Vanderbilt after repeated snubs, and Alva promptly dispatched an invitation to the ball!

Another coup in which Alva was involved was the establishment of the Metropolitan Opera House. Weekly attendance at the opera was de rigueur for Knickerbocker elite, and the opera boxes in the small Academy of Music were coveted by nouveaux riche who were barred from purchasing even one by the directors. The millionaires got their revenge when the Metropolitan Opera House opened in 1883. This building was, as usual, lavish, opulent, lush, and grand, and the three tiers of boxes designated for high society were known as the “golden horseshoe”. The Metropolitan Opera House supplanted the Academy of Music within three years, forcing the Academy out of the opera business and into cheaper entertainments like vaudeville! After these K.O.’s to the Knickerbockers, New York established itself as the playground for America’s social elite, and other major cities emulated their markers of prominence (wealth, mansions, summer homes, Paris fashions, exclusive dances and clubs, and of course, American heiresses).

For a closer peek, here are some of my previous posts on the topic!

The New York Social Season

The Four Hundred

The Origins of the Waldorf=Astoria

Upstairs Downstairs in Gilded Age America

Lobster Palace Society

American Resorts: Newport

Further Reading:
To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace
A Season of Splendor: The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York by Greg King
When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan
Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt by Arthur T. Vanderbilt
Gilded: How Newport Became America’s Richest Resort by Deborah Davis
Edith Wharton at Home: Life at the Mount by Richard Guy Wilson, John Arthur and Pauline C. Metcalf
First Four Hundred : New York and the Gilded Age by Jerry E. Patterson
The Splendor Seekers: An informal Glimpse of America’s Multimillionaire Spenders by Allen Churchill
The Opulent Interiors of the Gilded Age