The letters detail the everyday goings-on of the aristocratic life at Highclere.
“Dinners parties and christenings and the ins and outs,” Donohoe says.
His favorite letter has shades of a “Downton Abbey” drama: It details the day a houseguest died when visiting Highclere, an event that caused the countess to faint three times.
Donohoe says it reminds him of a similar incident on the show, which caused the acid-tongued Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Dame Maggie Smith) to declare, “One can’t go to pieces at the death of every foreigner.”
The exhibit features letters, photographs and objects that belonged to that family, such as the Wendell family coat of arms, calling cards, furniture and a monogrammed seal. There’re also modern-day photos of Highclere from the current Earl of Carnarvon, and “Downton Abbey” plays onscreen at one end of the room.
Donohoe says he hopes the exhibit will draw fans of the show to the Athenaeum. But he also thinks the exhibit will have more universal appeal as well.
“Even people who don’t watch the show (will) find it interesting,” he said, adding an aside from the Athenaeum’s librarian, who says “It’s popular because everybody is a bit of a snob.”
If you go
What: “Downton Abbey — A Portsmouth Family’s Connection”
Where: 9 Market Square, Portsmouth, N.H.
When: Now through Dec. 1
Cost: FreeLearn more: 603-431-2538 or portsmouthathenaeum.org