Reading the favorite books of the previous century can be very illuminating. Who would expect to find most of the plot elements of the TV series Downton Abbey--minus the servants' dramas--in Nancy Mitford's novel? It's all here, the magnificent house and estate that is beloved by family members and their friends and hangers-on, the male line inheritance dilemma, the unsuitable love affairs, scandal, links to royalty. The difference is the tone and language. Mitford is more satirical and bitter. The pace is slower, minor characters are stereotypes. It's a very revealing book about British society, especially if read with a companion biography of Nancy Mitford.