One of the very best parts about writing this column over the last three years has been the questions and comments from readers. Along the way I’ve usually incorporated questions into future columns, but now that the end is nigh, I thought it would be fun to dedicate a whole column to answering the backlog of questions I’ve gotten. So, without further delay, the AMA version of Watching Downton Abbey with an Historian!…
Cars are sexy, beautiful creations that promise a world of speed and freedom. They are also symbols of risk and danger. By the episode’s end, neither Mary nor Edith is entirely ready to embrace the risks of a new relationship. But, as Tom says, "Being hurt is part of being alive."
The men and women who queued up to see Downton were expected to be envious and larcenous. Instead, they were serious-minded and inquisitive. In a series of quick vignettes, we see Cora, Edith, and Mary all stumped by basic questions about art, architecture, and history. Only Molesley, standing in the background, seems to know who painted the paintings, but he is silenced by his position in the hierarchy.
Sunday night’s episode of Downton Abbey felt different. What seems to be a simple domestic drama can be read, instead, as a dream-like meditation on the menace of war and the corrosive power of secrecy. This episode works through symbols and allusions, rather than Downton’s usual blend of realism and exposition.
Can hard work get you ahead? Will laziness be punished with a fall? To what extent do our parents’ fortunes determine our own? The answers to these questions say a great deal about what it’s like to live in a particular time and place. If this season of Downton Abbey has an argument thus far, it is that social mobility is increasing.
Across the internet this subplot has been dismissed as inscrutable and interminable, but The Toast is made of sterner stuff. At a moment when the funding of the National Health Service in Britain is under constant debate, and junior doctors are demonstrating in the streets and talking about strike action, it’s worth taking Downton’s invitation to think about the history of paying for medical care.
It is 1925, and change is coming to Downton. No one who watched Sunday night’s episode could possibly have missed this point. Repeated by numerous characters, it was underscored by the rumors of impending staff reductions at the Abbey -- and even more by the auction held at a neighboring manor house, Mallerton, after its owners have been forced to sell.
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