Around this time of year I start to get nostalgic. For the last 5 years, I have looked forward to mid-January as a time when Downton Abbey (which, in my humble opinion, is the greatest TV series of all time) started its Season Premiere. Alas, this year is different. Now that the series is finished there is a Sunday Night Sadness where beauty, wit and goodness once reigned. As someone who enjoys observing social and cultural trends, I find it interesting that people (it’s not just me!) still reminisce about Downton Abbey and its rich tapestry of characters, which leads me to wonder…why? What was it about the series that grasped our hearts and made us fall in love with the characters? Yes, the scenery and costumes were glorious, but there are plenty of period pieces that haven’t amassed the same fan base that Downton did in its 6-season run. Part of the draw of Downton was the timelessness of the characters and the time-honored truths that came from the situations that they found themselves in. Although that wasn’t the only draw of this series (I may delve a little deeper into this in the future), I thought that it would be fun to explore some of my favorite Downton quotes and life lessons learned from them.
“You’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.” ~Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham
This post could well have been titled “What the Dowager Countess taught me about Life, Love & the Pursuit of Happiness”. Most of my favorite quotes come from her, but in the interest of diversity I will limit myself to just two quotes. This one is my favorite. Poor Lady Edith, who has just been jilted at the altar, is found moping about the house trying to figure out how to occupy her time. The Dowager doesn’t rush in to try to solve her problems, but encourages her to explore her skills and talents to figure out her next steps.
Lesson: Don’t waste time whining about things that are out of your control; use your passion and talents as a starting point to determine your life’s work.
“Vulgarity is no Substitute for Wit.” ~Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Rudeness as the basis for comedy is not a new concept. The ancient Greek street performers had their own form of slapstick humor and lewd jokes. In fact, there is a term for this type of humor – “low comedy”. Wikipedia defines low comedy as “a dramatic or literary form of entertainment with no primary purpose but to create laughter by boasting, boisterous jokes, drunkenness, scolding, fighting, buffoonery and other riotous activity.” In contrast, “high comedy” is defined as “a type of comedy characterized by witty dialogue, satire, biting humor, or criticism of life.” The Dowager seemed to understand this difference as well and eschewed vulgarity, as it had no place in high society among people who were seen as leaders of culture.
Lesson: A vulgar joke is worse than no joke at all.
“Fear not. I’ve never traveled with a maid, you can share my knowledge of the jungle.” ~Isobel Crawley
Mrs. Crawley was always the voice of reason and a breath of fresh air. She lived a simpler life than the residents of Downton (having to make do with just a cook and a butler rather than a full staff), and refused to alter her modest lifestyle to conform to societal expectations. When she and the Dowager take a trip to London without any staff present to transport their luggage, the Dowager has a bit of a “freak out” moment, as she lived in an era when a woman relied heavily on her maid to work out life’s little details and logistics. Mrs. Crawley is a refreshing example of independence of mind and spirit in contrast to the traditionalist ideas of the Dowager and her family.
Lesson: It’s important to have at least one person in your life that challenges your ideas about who you are.
“It’s easy to be generous when you have nothing to lose.” ~Lady Mary Crawley
Lady Mary’s character was a fascinating blend of wisdom and folly. We loved her because of her flaws, not in spite of them. We cringed when she made biting comments to her sister Edith, yet if we’re honest we related to the ugliness of sibling rivalry. When her distant cousin Matthew Crawley first arrives on the scene, the family is fearful because this new heir of the Crawley family estate had no obligation to take care of the women of the estate, as both title and assets were legally passed only to the male heirs of the family. So when Lady Mary’s aunt, Lady Rosamund writes Matthew Crawley to welcome him into the family, Matthew is surprised. Lady Mary’s cunning comment implies that generosity requires sacrifice, which Lady Rosamund does not have to make since she is a wealthy widow whose livelihood is unaffected by the next heir of the Crawley estate.
Lesson: True generosity requires sacrifice.
“No one ever tells you about raising daughters. You think it’ll be like Little Women, and instead they’re at each others’ throats.” ~ Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham
Any mothers reading this will immediately identify with Lady Grantham. This commentary on family life shows that the ideals and stereotypes we had about children before we had them are very different from the day-to-day realities of motherhood. Lady Mary and Lady Edith had a cutting and tumultuous relationship for most of the show’s six seasons – even as adults who are perfectly lovely people in every other sphere of their lives. Can you relate?
Lesson: Relationships are complicated – teach your children to love each other well when they are children, but realize that they have to find their own way to each other as adults.