Downton Abbey : A Reminder of the Rate of Women's Progress
11 January 2013
The third series of glamorous, glossy Downton Abbey came to an end last month and already its fans are waiting impatiently for its return this year.
Some of them have already gone online to compose their own hypothetical futures for their favourite characters in this award - winning series.
There are over 2,000 such stories (link)
Through bankable actors , stylish costumes, idyllic locations, and good music , the series has shown aristocrats and their domestic servants living in a palatial baronial home , each with their own separate status distinctions overarched by a shared system of class structure and layers of deference.
Downton is the country estate home of the Tory earl, Lord Grantham whose very wealthy American wife’s money has been the upkeep of it, and, as is subsequently revealed, he has also used it to make ruinous investments in failing Canadian railway companies.
Ed Miliband has already drawn political lessons from the series, comparison the fictional Tory Lord with real Tories in the Coaltion Cabinet.
“On the proposal on film tax relief, it's great to support great British success stories like Downton Abbey,” he told the House of Commons, “ A tale of a group of out-of-touch millionaires, who act like they're born to rule, but turn out not to be very good at it.
'It sounds familiar doesn't it? We all know it's a costume drama - they ( the Coalition Cabinet) think it's a fly-on-the-wall documentary”
The Americans have lapped up Downton Abbey.
Perhaps a few of them see in the drama a satisfying, subliminal message that the US did the right thing in casting aside rule by monarchy and aristocracy over 200 years ago.
Simon Schama has attacked it as “ cultural necrophilia" and that it serves up a “ steaming, silvered tureen of snobbery.”
The programme’s producer defended it, responding , “Downton is a fictional drama," he said. "It is not a history programme, but a drama of social satire about a time when relationships, behaviour and hierarchy were very different from those we enjoy today.”
Downton Abbey isn’t history.
It’s a period drama , with its share of melodrama, and set in a time in recent history when a new Britain emerged from World War One.
As such, Downton Abbey can serve as a reminder from drama to both men and women of where women have come from in the past century, and how much further women still have to progress towards equality of opportunity.
At the outset of the entire Downton Abbey series, we learn of the crisis gripping the Grantham family because of the threat to the supremacy of male succession in property rights
On the death of a father, the estate was inherited by the nearest male heir, over the heads of daughters.
The settled line of succession is in jepoardy when the cousin of Grantham’s daughter Mary, to whom she is engaged, goes missing, presumed dead, a passenger on the fateful Titanic.
To secure the family home and fortune, Mary must marry the next in line male heir, a solicitor cousin , Matthew Crawley.
In Downton , sexual coupling has very different outcomes for women from the different strata in the hierarchy of the house.
Upstairs Mary is seduced by Kemal, a young Turkish diplomat who gains entry into her bedroom by duplicitous means.
She informs Kemal that she “has never done anything with a man”.
He responds saying that they can have sex, which he will keep secret , which would allow her still to be a “virgin” for a future husband.
Disaster follows their adventure when she awakens to find him dead in her bed.
She is consumed by the fear of scandalising the highest circles of society.
But the story never spreads far enough.
Downstairs servant Ethel’s reputation goes through several degrees of humiliation.She is dismissed from her post when found in bed with Major Bryant who was receiving treatment for war wounds at Downton Abbey, operating as a wartime convalescent home.
When she discovers that she is pregnant, she writes to him asking for help and to but he ignores her plea.
After his son is born, Bryant wants nothing to do with him.
Bryant returns to the war front and is killed in action in Italy.
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