“Re-reading”: The Makioka Sisters and Downton Abbey

When I was nine months pregnant, I decided to re-read Tanizaki’s masterpiece “The Makioka Sisters.” Written during the days before Japan’s fall in the Second World War, the novel harkens back to a quieter if modernizing time. And its major questions are the marriages of four sisters.
I realized years later that I was re-reading my favorite novel because unconsciously I was afraid I’d die–this was my last chance. Consciously, I feared I’d never read again. It was a blissful time in immersion in another world.
I didn’t die, but kept reading, and watching TV series too. Recently I saw all of the third season of “Downton Abbey.” Seen en masse, its roots are clear–some 19th century novel, a hearty dose of Nancy Mitford, a dollop of the soap opera from Dickens to now. Like “The Makioka Sisters” it is about a group of sisters–and who will marry, inherit, reproduce, die, etc. etc.
For some mysterious reason, I then felt compelled to re-watch the first two seasons. Maybe to keep certain now dead characters alive? Or just the pleasure of watching the plot for nuance, not just narrative.
I don’t re-read enough. I spent my childhood re-reading “Little Women” and “Lord of the Rings” to the point of memorization. As an adult, I wanted the new. But every so often–late pregnancy, spring break, an inner sea change–I want the flow of the expected, with the serendibity that can also bring.


I just finished watching the second season of Downton Abbey. I’m happy–things are mainly going well–and sad–it’s over.
“I’m watching it for the hats,” my mother claims.
I’m watching it because I love plot, I love how much of it derives from Upstairs Downstairs, and I love that it is predictable but not totally. Heiress runs off with chauffeur–perfect Nancy Mitford. Central but not too central character dies in flu epidemic–vintage Upstairs Downstairs. (Which I watched again recently after so many years. A bit more episodic than I remember, but still the UR source of so much Masterpiece Theater).
My mother and I were chatting about life. She said something clever, I remarked “You’ve gotten very smart.”
Then we chorused: “It must be Downton Abbey.”