Friday, January 6, 2012

Hidden Jewish Roots on PBS

This blog comes from Lisa, who loves a good period drama, and anything else featuring actors from across the pond who brood quietly over their afternoon tea.

I, along with approximately 4.9 million other viewers, am anxiously awaiting the second season of Downton Abbey, which begins this Sunday, January 8 on PBS.

Fancy, shmancy soap opera? Hurrah for excellent storytelling, compelling social history, superb acting, a spectrum of British accents, beautiful costumes, and magnificent settings, along with a good dollop of Maggie Smith.

In preparation, last week I watched the re-broadcast of the first season and took PBS up on its excellent suggestion to visit their website for exclusive videos and background information about the show. In reading the characters’ back stories, I made an intriguing discovery about Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern), an American born heiress who is the wife of the owner of Downton Abbey: Cora is the daughter of Isidore Levinson, “a dry goods multi millionaire from Cincinnati”.

Well, that came as quite a surprise! In this homogenous, aristocratic Edwardian world that revolves around fixed class structures and where there are occasional jibes at Lady Cora’s American background, there has been no mention of any Jewish roots.

I did a little searching on the Internet to see if I could learn more. Fan sites had various theories: Cora’s father was a non-practicing Jew married to a Gentile, ergo Cora is not technically Jewish. Or perhaps, the family was secular especially since in 1888 they married Cora off outside the faith, and she likely had to convert to Anglican to marry the Earl. Or, perhaps her family isn’t Jewish at all, but then why would creator Julian Fellowes choose to give her father such a distinctly Jewish name?

Maybe one day there’ll be a flashback scene or a prequel series…In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a smashing Downton Abbey: Season 2. Cheerio!


David Sucher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Sucher said...

It could be flashback but the Jewish element -- a major one: Cora, Lady Grantham -- might be foreshadowing.

The inclusion of a Jewish name is too obvious a fact to be ignored in a story about such a Waspy family.

The more I think about Cora's background the more astonished, amused and curious I become.