Penn State York professor offers a look at 'Downton Abbey'

April 11, 2013

Jennifer Nesbitt, associate professor of English at Penn State York, will offer a look at the PBS hit drama “Downton Abbey” at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 22, in the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center at the campus. The event, sponsored by Penn State York’s Lee R. Glatfelter Library, is free and open to the public.

“Entails, Coattails, and Cocktails:  The World of ‘Downton Abbey,’” addresses the reality behind Downton’s characters, plots and sets.  Nesbitt’s presentation covers changes in women’s roles, a typical day in a servant’s life, and the historical events shaping life in the early 20th century in England.  The talk also features historical photographs and video clips from the series.

A specialist in 20th-century British literature, Nesbitt wrote a book, “Narrative Settlements,” about women writers responding to cultural change after World War I.

“One of the chapters is about country house novels,” she noted, “and Downton’s inheritance troubles are right in line with these stories. People were really questioning what the role of large estates, and the lavish lifestyles that went with them, would be in the modern world.”

The lecture was first developed for “Dine like the Duchess,” a dinner sponsored by witf for the premier of season three of “Downton Abbey.”  Response to her lecture was so positive that Kathleen Pavelko, witf’s president and CEO, asked her to expand the lecture for “MindMatters,” a project that witf has undertaken  to deliver intellectually stimulating lectures, given by skillful presenters, to residents living in Continuing Care Retirement Communities’ (CCRCs).

“MindMatters was fortunate that our first lecturer was Dr. Jennifer Nesbitt from Penn State York," said Pavelko. “As a scholar of 20th-century British literature, but especially as a captivating speaker, Jennifer was an excellent model for future presenters. She engaged the audience by making literary and historical information come alive in the minds of curious older citizens.”

“Working with witf was rewarding, and I am excited that "Downton Abbey” has generated so much interest in this period of history,” said Nesbitt.  “In these troubled times, we like to look back to what seems to be a more orderly, beautiful world.”  

A fan of the show, Nesbitt calls “Downton Abbey,” “Pride and Prejudice” meets “Dallas.”  She explains that “Downton” combines the soapy sexiness of “Dallas” with period drama, and further notes that people want to know what’s going to happen next to the characters wearing those gorgeous clothes.

Nesbitt plans to revise the lecture in preparation for season four for a talk to Penn State York’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) group.  OLLI is a nonprofit, volunteer driven organization established to enrich the lives of mature adults living in York County by providing a variety of educational and social enrichment activities.  OLLI at Penn State York is one of more than 100 lifelong learning institutes across the nation that is supported by a grant from the Bernard Osher Foundation.  

“There are already ‘spoilers’ out on the Web, and so I’ll use what’s been leaked to shape the lecture,” said Nesbitt.

Race will be a plot element in the new season, scheduled to premiere in the United States on Jan. 5, 2014.

“Paul Robeson, an African-American actor and singer, was very popular during his visits to London, and I’d like to talk about his impact.”

Nesbitt has been teaching at Penn State since 2003. In addition to her work on women writers, she is writing about rum as a symbol in Caribbean literature and James Cameron’s 2009 film “Avatar.” In 2010-11, Nesbitt served as an Institute of Arts and Humanities (IAH) Resident Scholar at University Park. This was the first time a faculty member from York has been named an IAH Resident Scholar since the program began in 2003-04.

She earned an undergraduate degree in history and literature in 1987 from Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., and a doctorate in English with a certificate in women’s studies in 1999 from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. She is originally from Winchester, Mass.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 11, 2013