The Representation of English and American Characters in Downton Abbey and The Remains of the Day

Term Paper, 2017

13 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. History and Tradition
2.1. The Importance of the English Aristocracy
2.2. What is English dignity?



1. Introduction

The declaration of independence was signed in 1776 and by freeing the American colonies from the British rule it marked an important step in the relationship between England and America. Many settlers left England in search of religious freedom and to start a society with new rules and values. In both “Downton Abbey” and “The Remains of the Day” the rules and values embodied by the American characters are way more modern than the English ones. To truly understand the differences between English and American characters one first has to ask: what exactly is “Englishness” and how do the American characters show contrast to that? Doyle mentions “a national sense of ancestry, tradition and universal ‘free’ citizenship”[1] (p.18) in “English & Englishness” and thus takes up one of the most important aspects: tradition. The American characters in “Downton Abbey” do not value tradition as much as the English ones do. A reason for that may be the fact that America does not have as much of a country’s history as England does. The aristocracy and class system in England may be a “national disunity” (Doyle, 49) but it is nevertheless an aspect that has strongly shaped the English society. This is clearly shown in “Downton Abbey” where the main characters are consequently divided into ‘masters’ and ‘servants’. Even though there seems to be a serving class under the wealthy Americans, too, they have no aristocracy in America. A point that gets more attention than the aristocracy in “The Remains of the Day” is the importance of dignity. The protagonist Stevens dedicates the majority of his thoughts to the question of a good butler. In his mind this question is strongly linked with a feeling of dignity and the question of how one should behave. It gets obvious that in his opinion his former employer Lord Darlington knew how to behave while the American gentleman Mr. Farraday often brings “bewilderment, not to say shock,”[2] (Ishiguro,15) about. A similar opinion is held by the Dowager Countess Lady Grantham. She is openly judging Martha Levinson’s manners and behaviour.

Boyle also mentions the importance of a country’s own language and culture and the education of it. Another aspect is the love of one’s country and landscape that is stressed by Stevens during the beginning of his journey.

It has never, of course, been my privilege to have seen such things at first hand, but I will nevertheless hazard this with some confidence: the English landscape at its finest – such as I saw this morning – possesses a quality that the landscape of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess. (Ishiguro, 28)

The Englishmen in “Downton Abbey” sometimes go to Europe for vacation but most of them voice that they would never want to leave England to live in America. Even for Mary it is kind of a last resort if her reputation in England would have been destroyed.

In conclusion to that one can say that the importance of tradition, aristocracy and dignity for the English is depicted by contrasting them with American characters in both “Downton Abbey” and “The Remains of the Day”.

2. History and Tradition

One of the aspects in which England and America differ most is the importance of history, heritage, and traditions. As mentioned by R.Baena and C.Byker in “Dialects of Nostalgia: Downton Abbey and English identity” Englishness is often closely linked to nostalgia. Englishmen are likely to live in the past and idealize it.[3]

Most English characters in the series as well as in the novel share the belief that the English way of living is always the old way, bound to tradition and things done what they call “properly”. The American way of life is new, progressive and lined with modern inventions and technologies. Martha Levinson, Cora Crawley’s mother and the best contrast to the Dowager Countess one could have thought of, mentions it during her very first appearance in the show. She arrives in a modern car and promptly voices that “It seems so strange to think of the English embracing change.” (DA, S3E1).

The most conservative English figures in Downton Abbey and therefore probably most un-American ones are presumably Lord Grantham, the Dowager Countess Lady Violet Crawley and Carson the butler. While the Dowager Countess is best at accepting changes, she could still be called the “upholder of tradition” (Nostalgia, p. 264). Although she is sceptical towards innovations and especially foreigners she does, in contrast to Robert, always put family and especially the girls over tradition and history. In the first season, she fights for Mary’s rights in the inheritance of the estate. Both men are eager to keep the status quo. Stevens, the butler in Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the day”, resists change as much as Carson and Lord Grantham. He, too, is rather nostalgic as he always speaks of “Lord Darlington’s days” (Ishiguro, 18) when the house was under proper rule and everything was better according to his point of view. When Mr. Farraday arrives at Darlington Hall everything quickly starts to change for Stevens.

The importance of tradition is recognised by most English characters but immediately questioned by Martha Levinson before Mary’s wedding.

LEVINSON: “Nothing ever alters for you people, does it? Revolutions erupt and Monarchies crash to the ground but the groom still cannot see the bride before the wedding.”

DOWAGER COUNTESS: “You Americans never understand the importance of tradition.”

(DA, S3E1)

The estates of old aristocratic families are an important part of the English heritage culture. Downton Abbey as well as Darlington Hall are estates that stand as a symbol for the past and make it visible. These classical English country houses are mostly inherited along with a title, the furniture and everything. This Lady Mary Crawley explains to Sir Richard Carlisle when they are about to buy their future home.

MARY: “What do we do about furniture? And pictures and everything?”

SIR RICHARD: “What does one do? Buy it, I presume.”

MARY: “Your lot buys it. My lot inherits it.”

(DA, S2E6)

The irony of the old English estate being rescued by Lady Cora’s American money is brought up in the very first episode of the first season. Robert Crawley values the Abbey as his ancestors works and therefore marries a foreigner to rescue it. The issue is alike in Remains of the Day, Mr. Farraday is a foreign American who buys Darlington Hall after the former owner Lord Darlington left. The shown difference in both cases is that Englishmen usually seem to inherit estates and land while American with their made (and not inherited) money can easily come along and buy themselves in. Cora Crawley bought herself a title while Mr. Farraday bought a classic English country house and alongside with it the staff running it. He shows it to his guests and explains “’what the English lords used to do’ in each room.” (Ishiguro, 129) making it sound like a long-forgotten past.

I mean to say, Stevens, this is a genuine grand old English house, isn’t it? That’s what I paid for. And you’re a genuine old-fashioned English butler, not just some waiter pretending to be one. You’re the real thing, aren’t you? That’s what I wanted, isn’t that what I have? (Ishiguro, 131)

Mr. Farraday bought Darlington Hall because he thought it nice and fashionable while to Lord Darlington and the Crawley their family estates are their homes and part of family history.


[1] Doyle, Brian. English & Englishness. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.

[2] Ishiguro, Kazuo. Remains of the day. London: Faber and Faber limited, 1999. Print.

[3] Baena, Rosalía and Christa Byker. “Dialects of Nostalgia: Downton Abbey and English Identity.” National Identities. Vol. 17 No.3 (2015): 259 – 269.

(used abbreviation: Nostalgia)

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Representation of English and American Characters in Downton Abbey and The Remains of the Day
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (English Studies)
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ISBN (Book)
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Britische Identität, Kultur, Downton Abbey, Remains of the Day, Ishiguro, Dignity, Aristocracy, Tradition
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Ina Noschitzka (Author), 2017, The Representation of English and American Characters in Downton Abbey and The Remains of the Day, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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