Or What’s Old is New Again
If you aren’t faithfully watching the PBS hit Downton Abbey on Sunday nights, and hoping to see it in its entirety on DVD, I’m spilling the beans on a major event so you better stop reading now. In my opinion, you’re dreaming but I wish you luck in the attempt.
Anyhow, Sunday was a biggie in that Lady Sybil, third daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham, died in childbirth. Very sad, but we all knew there would be a death in the family at some point.
“Upstairs, Downstairs,” the grandmama of all PBS, multiclass, period pieces used the sinking of the Titanic to kill off Lady Marjorie Bellamy. Major characters’ succumbing to death and disease is a cornerstone of serialized drama past or present. It was only natural that Downton Abbey, starting with the death of the heir to the title, would have one or two more. (It could be argued that the death of Lavinia Swire last season was one such event, but unless she had married Mathew Crawley, I think she remained a secondary character. Her death was a teasing plot twist in the Mary/Matthew romance and little more.)
It came to me this week that the Crawley girls and the Elliot girls of Persuasion are comparable. For instance, Mary Crawley and Elizabeth Elliot both are beautiful eldest daughters who are their daddy’s favorites. Each is an ice queen with high expectations in life. Lady Edith Crawley and Mary Elliot Musgrove are are alike. They are not mirror images of one another, but twins in tone. Each has perfected that “look at me, look at me” whine of daughters who are not terribly pretty and ultimately overlooked. Lady Edith is outright wicked. She spread damaging news about her sister Mary and the unfortunate Turk, Mr. Pamuk, in Season One. Mary Musgrove doesn’t do anything more dastardly than try to keep Henrietta away from Charles Hayter on the walk to Winthrop, but I get the feeling if Austen had just given her more pages she might have done some real damage.
We finally come to Anne Elliot and Sybil Crawley Branson. Being that Anne is a middle daughter and Sybil the youngest, they interact differently with their sisters. Anne is ignored by Elizabeth and mothers Mary. Edith and Mary Crawley pat Sybil on the head through the first season and then stand back blinking when in Season Two their little sister steps up and begins nursing the wounded when Downton is turned into a hospital. Admit it, you can see Anne begging Mrs. Patmore to teach her to cook, and she would fit her nurses role perfectly as goes about her duties amongst those poor officers.
Anne and Sybil are alike in their choice of men as well. While Anne didn’t choose a servant in her father’s house, like Sybil she chose a man out of her class and completely unsuitable in the eyes of her family. The differences between Wentworth and Branson are minimal as well.
Both Wentworth and Branson disdain the social order as it stands. To be honest though, there is a chance Wentworth’s rank, exploits, and ability to make money could put him in the upper classes. I doubt he’d refuse the elevation. Branson on the other hand, being a good Socialist, would refuse the change and probably spit in the eye of whoever suggested it.
Branson and Wentworth both could be killed in their endeavours. Wentworth serving for the Crown could easily be killed, becoming “a gallant Captain Wentworth, in a small paragraph at one corner of the newspapers,” as he told the Musgrove girls in Chapter 8 of Persuasion. As well, Branson having a revolutionary streak could easily be killed in some terroristic undertaking. Unlike Wentworth, his death would never make it into the papers.
Aside from the sisters, there are other similarities between Downton Abbey and Persuasion. While Lord Grantham and Sir Walter Elliot are similar only in that they each have a title, both men do lose their fortunes. Lord Grantham loses through a bad turn in the stock market and Sir Walter through his own foolishness. I’m still considering whether or not Lady Violet and Lady Russell are playing analogous parts or not. Let me know what you think.
All my rambling is to say that the human experience doesn’t really change. No matter what the time periods or the technologies, girls still choose boys their families don’t like. Great families lose their fortunes, sometimes deservedly so and other times not. People break out of their slots in life to do great things, and other times they come to infamy. Nothing is new under the sun, and we love to watch it all happen, over, and over, and over again.
Take care—Susan Kaye
Part Two, Matthew Crawley vs. William Elliot HERE.