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Stories in 'Downton Abbey' offer relief, and inspiration
Linda White's op-ed column on "Downton Abbey"

 The popularity of PBS series 'Downton Abbey' reflects our longing for a world of order, beauty, love, and family ties.
Nick Briggs/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 1/6/2013

TONIGHT, the critically acclaimed, lavishly beautiful "Downton Abbey" returns for its third season on PBS. A costume drama set in post-Edwardian England, the series follows the fictitious, landed Crawley family, led by the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), as they struggle to maintain their estate in the midst of 20th-century trials.

In the U.S., the Emmy award-winning show is a runaway hit--Season 2 averaged 4.2 million viewers per episode. But why do we egalitarian Americans love it so much?

The show, which aired in England in the fall and America beginning in January, began with the sinking of the Titanic, and has continued with World War I and the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic providing the backdrops against which the Crawley family and their servants play out their personal dramas.

Love, intrigue, death, and the possibility of financial ruin are the undercurrents that sweep rapt fans from one episode to the next. Only their good manners keep them from searching the Internet for spoilers from British reviews.

From time immemorial, mankind has loved a story, from ancient legends to sophisticated plays and novels, and now, movies and television shows. Stories provide not only escape and entertainment, they inform us of others' manners and customs and help us make sense of our own lives.

The best of them offer slices of transcendent truth--the deeper, eternal things of life--along with their plots. For as much as we may try to escape the real-life struggles of our homes and our news headlines, we cannot. We long for answers and we look for them in stories. That is the secret behind the perennial popularity of such massive works as J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and "The Hobbit," as well as C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." Beyond the story is reality, a reality that strikes a chord in the deepest parts of our souls.


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