If you were a fan of "Monarch of the Glen," you may remember Julian Fellowes as the actor who played aristocratic troublemaker Kilwillie. If you were a fan of the movie "Gosford Park," you may recall Fellowes taking home an Oscar for his screenplay.
And if you fell in love with "Downton Abbey," the smash TV series that ended its first season on PBS a few months ago, then you should certainly recognize Baron Fellowes of West Stafford as the man behind all that delicious drama.
Luckily for those suffering "Downton Abbey" withdrawal, Julian Fellowes is also a novelist. The wit, the sly humor, the intimate knowledge of class and money and position and the never-ending drama inherent in haves and have-nots having a go at each other... It's all there in "Gosford Park," in "Downton Abbey," and also in "Snobs," his 2004 novel.
"Snobs" is a look at contemporary British society, as Fellowes' narrator stand-in, an actor who happens to have gone to the right sort of schools and grown up with the right sort of people, befriends a beautiful young woman who aspires to escape the middle class. Our narrator introduces lovely Edith Lavery to an earl, Charles Broughton, who happens to be an unexciting but ever-so-eligible bachelor, and then watches as Edith snares the Earl, his family doesn't react well to the interloper, she meets a much more dashing man, she strays, society treats her like dirt, and then our social-climber Edith has to decide whether it's better to get good sex on the wrong side of town or to be rich, pampered and terribly bored with the Lord of the Manor.
It's not the specific plot points that make "Snobs" so entertaining, but the inside look at the British class system. We may think, because we know a bit about the Donald Trumps and Paris Hiltons on our side of the pond, or because we've seen "The Philadelphia Story" a million times, that we understand the the spectacle of the "privileged class enjoying its privileges." Au contraire!
For one thing, England's privileged class is very different from ours. Landed gentry, titles, hounds, horses, clubs, generations of learning how to make others feel small... Donald Trump has a lot to learn. Fellowes knows this milieu and portrays it with affection as well as some measure of cynicism, and it's hard not to try to figure out if he's really talking about somebody specific in his tale of an unsophisticated girl marrying a man who is so far above her station.
Whoever he's dishing on, whatever point he was trying to make, Fellowes is definitely funny in "Snobs," and the book can fill a few hours while you wait for more "Downton Abbey." Or wait for the newest Royal Wedding, wherein Kate the Commoner will exchange vows with Prince William the Charming. Kate seems a lot smarter and less self-destructive than fictional Edith, and I hope Prince William has more on the ball than deadly dull Charles Broughton in the book. Let's hope so!