This may already be a stale comparison, but “Downton Abbey” puts one in mind of the great medieval monasteries, such as Cluny. In the riches it accrues, the devotion it commands, and the scale of its cottage industries, the show seems at once a product of the twenty-first-century entertainment business and of the eleventh-century Benedictines. Not that I’ve seen much of it: though usually a sucker for the country-house milieu, I found “Downton Abbey” cloying from the start, and after watching the episode where that dreamy slab of Turkish beefcake dies in the saddle I nearly threw my shoe at my own TV—that was it for me. Still, I remain amused and amazed by the “Downton” phenomenon, and when I heard that Consuelo Vanderbilt’s The Glitter and the Gold was being reissued on the strength of it—“She was the real American heiress who lived long...


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