Downton Abbey Meets Kellynch Hall

Or What’s Old is New Again

Downton AbbeyIf 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.)

Crawley_GirlsIt 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.

P2AnneWe 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.

BransonAnne 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.

Some things you just keep to yourself.

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.


13 thoughts on “Downton Abbey Meets Kellynch Hall

  1. Robin Helm

    I enjoyed this post, Susan. I hadn’t thought of the similarities between the two, but it is obvious once you point it out. I don’t really see Lady Violet as a Lady Russell because she wasn’t very close to Sybil, and she is not close to Lord Grantham. They do not take her advice.


  2. Diana Oaks

    That was a great read – very insightful. Just like Anne, everyone loved Sybil too.
    I see a slight comparison between Lady Violet and Lady Russell, in that both serve as an interfering “voice of propriety” coming from outside the strict boundaries of the household. Both strongly opinionated, with their opinions driven largely by society’s rules, they are driven by love of the family, but their opinions are sometimes misguided. In both cases, their advice is valued and respected.


  3. Susan Kaye Post author

    I don’t know about Lady Violet being the voice of propriety. She joined forces with Cora in Season One to try and break the entail in favor of Mary. And to save the fortune Cora brought to Downton on marrying Lord Grantham. And she was pretty instrumental in ,making Lord Grantham see that fighting Sybil on the Branson Issue was a nonstarter.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Lady Russell, but she’s far more hidebound in her view of the world than good old Vi. IMO.


    1. Laura Hile

      Can you imagine Lady Russell encouraging Sir Walter to solve his financial woes by marrying an uber-rich American, for example? (If there were many rich Americans in pre-industrial early 1800s!)

      Lady Russell is more concerned with the proprieties, yes. She is, after all, only the widow of a knight. Whereas Lady Violet has the grit and self-preservational instincts of the true aristocrat. 🙂


  4. Laura Hile

    A stellar post … brilliant comparisons!

    You are so right, Lady Sybil is Anne. But from a storyteller’s perspective Anne is problematic. She shows best against adversity, and yet we so desperately want Anne happy and secure!

    The similarities you point out between Lady Edith and Mary Musgrove are well made. Given time and opportunity, Mary could scheme and tattle with the worst of them. Our Mary lacks the intelligence and social position to become a true Lady Violet. But when she finally becomes mistress of Uppercross, she’ll certainly have a go at being queen and lording it over everyone. Without the endearingly accurate jabs Lady Violet pulls off.


  5. Susan Kaye Post author

    I think the proof of your comparison of Lady Violet and Mary are the character quotes viewers pull. Mary is known for “Bring me some dry toast,” while Lady Violet is a wealth of good one-liners. I especially like the one (paraphrasing) when she tells Edith that she has a good mind and that she needs to find something to do.


    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      I have loved her since she was in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. My favorite scenes in all the Potter movies seem to have her in them. Now, another stellar character.

      Thanks for coming by, June.


    2. Laura Hile

      Actually I would LOVE to see her as Lady Russell. So much room for subtle expression during her interchanges with Sir Walter! Can you imagine?

      And in Mercy’s Embrace, where Lady Russell’s tight-lipped exasperation reaches the breaking point? Whoo-ee!


  6. Robin Helm

    My Navy daughter just sent me season 3 of Downton Abbey! Now I don’t have to wait for the rest of the episodes to air. I can watch it at my leisure. ; ) Merry Christmas to me! (We are all procrastinators.)


  7. lindsay

    I’m an avid Austen fan. I’ve read and re-read her every year of my life. I always thought Persuasion was one of her less appreciated novels. I also adore Downton Abbey….However, I really don’t see the comparison. Elizabeth is a rude, pretentious woman that cares only for money and titles and would never DREAM of being seen with the likes of Branson. Mary does put emphasis on title and money but she isn’t mean to others and doesn’t snub Branson and Sybil the way Elizabeth did to Wentworth. Mary is a pitiful hypochondriac that married (may I point out) and had children before both of her sisters. While she does enjoy drama she never did anything near as horrible as Edith did with the whole Pamuk scandal. Yes, Edith does whine some but thats about it in comparisons. Anne is a kind, gentle spirit that is a little past her prime (for that time) that missed out on her love due to PERSUASION….thus the title of the book….her persuasion come from her closest family friend since they had lost their mother some time ago….Sybil is the youngest and while she is kind and gentle like Anne…thats about it..if there is one thing Sybil won’t do is be persuaded to change her mind! Sir Elliot was a narcissistic man that was obsessed with his baronet and his desire for social standing and good looks…not Lord Grantham…so really Downton is nothing like Persuasion…but I highly recommend both!


  8. Susan Kaye Post author

    Please don’t think I meant that Downton Abbey is some sort of point-by-point recreation of Persuasion. My overall point is that life has not changed much whether you hang your hat upstairs or downstairs.

    Thanks for stopping by, lindsay.



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