Countdown to Downton Abbey (36 days to go) – Pharaoh and Isis

The title of today’s post refers to the countdown clock on the Masterpiece “Downton Abbey” page on the PBS website.  For those of us anxiously awaiting Season 4 (or “Series 4,” as they say in England, where this season’s episodes have already run), the Downton Abbey counter shows exactly how many days, hours, and minutes remain until the period drama airs again on U.S. television.  Which will be January 5th at 8:00 p.m. Central Time, FYI.

(On a side note, another of my favorite television shows, “Sherlock,” begins its third season on Masterpiece two weeks later.  “The Empty Hearse”—a title that’s a play on Conan Doyle’s “The Empty House,” the story in which the original Sherlock also returns from the dead—is set to run on January 19, immediately following that night’s episode of Downton Abbey.  I hardly ever watch television, so that’s going to be an unusually busy Sunday evening for me 🙂 )

In the meantime, I’ve been reflecting on small things in the show that sparked my curiosity or connected with other things I already knew.  Just for fun, I decided to devote a few blog posts to them while awaiting Season 4.

Today’s topic: Robert Crawley’s dog.

According to a quiz in the September 17, 2011, edition of the British newspaper The Telegraph, the dog’s name is Pharaoh.  That quiz also identifies the dog as a black Labrador, which is incorrect, as we all can see at the start of every episode.  The dog is actually a yellow Lab.  But according to a few sources I found online, in Season 1 Crawley’s dog is apparently named Pharaoh.  I don’t remember ever hearing that name.

However, I do remember the episode in which Thomas decided to lock up the dog in a shack in the woods and then “find” her the next day (part of his career advancement strategy to get promoted from footman to valet).  During the search, Crawley called out his dog’s name several times, and I took note because the name was so unexpected.  Not Rover, not Max, not Fido—but Isis, the Egyptian goddess.

Pharaoh and Isis.  Names that are a subtle reminder of the craze for all things Egyptian that swept England and the U.S. in the early 1900s.  But they are even more appropriate given the fact that Downton Abbey’s real-life counterpart has an exceptionally strong “Egypt” connection.

Filming of Downton Abbey’s exterior and main interior spaces takes place at Highclere Castle, an English country house that since 1679 has been home to the Carnarvon family.  The fifth Earl of Carnarvon was an Egyptologist who funded and participated in exploration of Egyptian tombs in the early 1900s.  You may recall that it was Lord Carnarvon and archeologist Howard Carter who discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

When Lord Canarvon died five months later (giving rise to the legend of “The Mummy’s Curse”), his widow was forced to sell his collection of Egyptian artifacts to the Metropolitan Museum of New York in order to pay “death duties.”  British inheritance taxes had risen incredibly high and were aimed at breaking up large estates, which was one manifestation of the class conflict seen around the world at that time, like the Russian Revolution and the rise of organized labor.

Yet some less significant portions of of Carnarvon’s collection had been stored away in cupboards at Highclere, where they were rediscovered by family members in 1987.  If you visit Highclere Castle today (and good luck to you on that score, because every available date seems to be SOLD OUT), you can see Lord Carnarvon’s Egyptian curiosities on display in the Antiquities Room.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in History, Life, Movies and film, Popular culture, Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Countdown to Downton Abbey (36 days to go) – Pharaoh and Isis

  1. Can’t wait for the new season!! 🙂


  2. mary rankin says:

    You aren’t the only one.


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