Period Dramas

Still image from The Forsythe Saga

I was nine or ten the first time I watched a Jane Austen movie, Sense and Sensibility. I read the book the following year. I think what I first liked was all the females characters, and the central role of sister relationships. My mother is one of four surviving daughters (a fifth girl died as a babe.) Her sisters were major characters in my early life, and Austen captured the intimacy and in fighting of female relatives.

Since then I’ve read and seen more Austen – Mansfield Park, Emma, and of course, Pride and Prejudice. I’ve also expanded beyond this one author and one era to enjoy historical fiction and period dramas from a range of times. There is something equal parts reassuring and draining in recognizing how much and little has changed over the centuries.

Just as all genres of literature and film are plagued by tropes, there are some tropes or story elements that I can depend on in British period dramas. Some of these themes touch on timeless matters like love and pregnancy, and others on old fashioned knowledge limitations, like love and pregnancy.

You might be trapped in a British period drama if:

– you’re dying of consumption
– you’ve gone off to fight an imperialist war
– you’re in a workhouse and have tuberculosis
– you’ve just given birth and men are smoking cigars in baby’s face
– you never went to school, or dropped out young to find work
– you’ve discovered a secret corner of your vast family estate while running from the mean governess
– your husband is abusive
– you can’t get a divorce
– you are tragically queer
– rumors (true or false) abound that you are no maid
– you’ve only borne daughters and need a male heir
– your father has promised you to a man older than he is, to save the family home
– you employ several servants while talking about how poor you are
– you are a servant and really excited about your half day off per month
– you’ve been run over by a horse

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