Feb 21 2012

Downton Abbey: dealing with change and searching for significance

maureen

 

CONTAINS SPOILERS: Downton Abbey appeals to me the way Jane Austin does. It’s thoughtful reflection on the human condition and relationships makes the setting somewhat irrelevant. Nobles and servants alike deal with love, pride, fear, and the longing for significance and belonging. Yet the setting is what creates the tension in the story. Downton Abbey takes place in a time of tremendous social change. The characters are products of the social expectations and traditions associated with British peerage. The modern era is pushing against the way of life they’ve always known. Downton manages to weave social and historical perspective into its storytelling but story and characters are its heart.

Robert Crawley takes his responsibility as a member of the British peerage seriously. He feels an obligation to his servants, to the people in the community, and to the traditions of the nobility to which he was born. He is willing to lose his house to preserve the integrity of that system. His personal desires are second to his sense of honor. The butler Carson represents this same commitment to tradition on the other side of the house. Carson treasures his role and is fiercely loyal to the Crawley family. They both find significance in their roles, as does his mother Violet and housekeeper Mrs. Hughes.

Downton’s heir Matthew has made a place for himself in the modern world as a lawyer. He comes to Downton with prejudices toward the lifestyle of nobility. As he spends time learning about Downton from Robert, Matthew comes to appreciate Robert’s perspective. He is not won over by the philosophy of the peerage but by Robert’s grace and honor. Continue reading