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Spinsters Get Up for Breakfast: Gender Issues in Downton Abbey


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#1

Boton

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Posted Jan 16, 2013 @ 10:50 AM

Quote from pallas429

Hello to you again, shimpy! What a terrific observation. As you spell it out so well, it really does seem true that authors in the 19th, 20th and now 21st century take a terrible glee (or savage sorrow) in punishing their female characters for the circumstances in which their authors placed them. The circumstances to which they were "born" -- the need to marry -- not circumstances they then "created themselves." Male or female, authors find it easy to be cruel to female characters who aim for the one goal offered them by their society.

The key seems to if the young woman in question is seen to be too nakedly intent on the goal, precisely because she begins at a disadvantage. Fiction's "other sisters", be they called Bennet or O'Hara or Crawley. Along with the TV and movie trope of the leading lady's best friend, or the "working gal" of the last century. She is available for ridicule, self-deprecation that may be funny but somehow not charming, and extreme disappointment that is often enough played for comedy.

Does this cruelty spring from guilt on the author's part? Guilt, along with the desire of the author to placate the status quo, and his or her privileged but precarious place as an artist within it? Guilt -- expressed as a sort of nervous titter -- that for most of history, half the human race began life with exactly one possible desirable destiny...and among those, many were born with their hopes critically foreshortened? Is there also even some unacknowledged anger, along with the titter, that most of these less advantaged women still wangled their way to a husband?


I brought this over and started a thread because I find the gender issues on this show, and others like Mad Men, fascinating. I think that there is an unescapable tension between the actual cultural expectations of the period, and our own cultural expectations, such that we tend to import modern reactions into period pieces. Case in point, Sybil vs. Edith. To me, Edith is much more authentic. A woman of this period wanting her own home, perhaps children, and a career ("a position") had to marry -- this was the only way to avoid the unsatisfying life of a spinster. And she didn't just have to marry, she had to marry well -- she had to find a man who could give her the position, or in effect "employ" her to run his estate, in order to have the best chance at power, money, and influence, all very modern-sounding goals. Yet because of our modern, post-sufferage, post-women's movement viewpoint, we tend to bristle at these characters. We admire the pluck of a Sybil who would throw it all away on marrying the chauffeur, when realistically this would mean that her chances for independence, power, and control of a certain type in her life would be wildly curtailed. Yet I bet, if polled, that the writers of the show would more likely consider themselves a Sybil than an Edith.

Anyway, here's the forum for discussing gender issues in the show!
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#2

Pallas429

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Posted Jan 16, 2013 @ 3:42 PM

Fantastic thread title, Boton.

We admire the pluck of a Sybil who would throw it all away on marrying the chauffeur, when realistically this would mean that her chances for independence, power, and control of a certain type in her life would be wildly curtailed. Yet I bet, if polled, that the writers of the show would more likely consider themselves a Sybil than an Edith.


You're so right: Sybil's "romantic" choice made her an instant outlier, deprived of a bounty of opportunities. I was going to say, far more so than any spinster stuck at home, but then I wondered. The voice of the spinster stuck at home is nil, except perhaps when it comes to occasional middle-management of staff and medical supervision of the household. Even the household middle-management would be restricted to large events and always subject to appeal by the staff and overrule by the Lady. The spinster's opinion about anything else would have the power of opinion only, and be received with tolerance at best...Oy.

Then again, security, comfort and access to the life of ideas aren't nothing. And while the outlier of the times might make a place for herself within a community circle, that circle was enclosed not by glass but by stone. Chipping away at the stone might last a lifetime and avail nothing, or, it might be satisfying in itself and fruitful. That is, if there were any time, energy and opportunity to spare from child-rearing. Bearing and caring physically and every other way for children could enrich most of one's adult lifetime, or steal it. Or both.

Choices there were few, and consequences all-consuming.
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#3

Good Queen Jane

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Posted Jan 16, 2013 @ 4:19 PM

Let's not forget the role of the widow. In the nobility, the widow is dependent on her son. Violet talked a lot in the last episode about where she would go if Downton Abbey was sold. As the Dowager Duchess, she has a separate house on the estate for her life, but if the property is sold, she has to find her own accomodations. Isobel and Lady Rosamund, whose husbands were not titled, have a little more independence in that they inherited money and not real estate, and could make their own decisions on how to spend it. But they, like Martha, would only receive an allowance, while the principal of their husbands' estate would most likely be handled by a trustee.

Edited by Good Queen Jane, Jan 16, 2013 @ 4:22 PM.

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#4

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Posted Jan 16, 2013 @ 6:29 PM

Pointlessly I am still very disappointed to have not learned much more about Cora's adjustment to living in Violet's house under Violet's rules having been brought up by the apparently liberal-minded and doting Martha Levinson.

IMHO, this experience likely to be mirrored somewhat as Matthew is forced to adjust to life in the house of Robert Crawley. Matthew, a much more of a self-sufficient adult, seemingly fatherless for quite a while when we first met, and less spoiled or of more modest aspirations than Cora was at the time of her nuptials, and yet, also having to walk-the-line and avoid antagonism by alarming tradition-upholding change-averse Robert OR Violet OR Mary. Somehow, I doubt Cora will reach out to Matthew in this except to advise him to cave ... Fellowes' loyalty to the home team is total.

Matthew has my deepest sympathy. As I've said, I think he and Lavnia most likely would have been very happy together...
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#5

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Posted Jan 16, 2013 @ 7:25 PM

You're so right: Sybil's "romantic" choice made her an instant outlier, deprived of a bounty of opportunities.


Yup, that whole 'you're my ticket out' seemed a lot less than romantic to me. She could have made a career of some sort in medicine, or gone to college, or even just taken up radical causes with Isabel, if she wanted to broaden her horizons. It would be interesting to see what her life in Ireland is like. I would expect that a lot of her time would be taken up with everyday chores - washing, cooking, etc, which were far more arduous in those days. Isabel and Rosamund both seem to have a good deal of choice in their lives, having enough cash to be independent, and able to make their own way without interference. (If their choices were too far outside the mainstream, of course, I'd expect them to suffer for it.)
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#6

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Posted Jan 16, 2013 @ 10:51 PM

It would be interesting to see what her life in Ireland is like. I would expect that a lot of her time would be taken up with everyday chores - washing, cooking, etc, which were far more arduous in those days.


And what does it say about the writing or attitudes about women that we don't get to see any of her life in Ireland on the show, but we spend endless amounts of time in prison with Bates?

Edited by izabella, Jan 16, 2013 @ 10:52 PM.

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#7

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Posted Jan 17, 2013 @ 8:14 AM

Pointlessly I am still very disappointed to have not learned much more about Cora's adjustment to living in Violet's house under Violet's rules having been brought up by the apparently liberal-minded and doting Martha Levinson.


If Robert was already the Earl when he married Cora, then Cora would have entered Downton as Lady Grantham, lady of the house and not have lived under violet's roof under Violet's rules.

If he wasn't already Earl, it's possible that they lived elsewhere, perhaps at the home Violet currently occupies or in one of the other homes they most likely have.

It's too bad, it's just the Crawley sisters and not the Crawley brothers and sisters. The younger sons of titled nobility basically had to fend for themselves. They got allowances too, but it wasn't enough to support themselves and their families.

Edited by Milz, Jan 17, 2013 @ 8:23 AM.

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#8

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Posted Jan 17, 2013 @ 9:01 AM

And what does it say about the writing or attitudes about women that we don't get to see any of her life in Ireland on the show, but we spend endless amounts of time in prison with Bates?


Great question. First, I'm sure it says something about lack of desire to find or build additional sets, or a lack of desire, from a story perspective, to establish a second "home" in Ireland to follow. That's probably the reason that we have seen Crawley house, the dower house, etc., but realistically everyone comes to Downton for the drama.

More to your point, however, I think that the lack of attention on Sybil/Brandon in Ireland allows the writers to avoid following a story line that potentially doesn't fit in with modern gender expectations. For example, I can see Sybil potentially being disenchanted enough with the class system that she grew up in that she feels stymied by it and freed by her life with Branson. But to demonstrate this, we'd see an awful lot of "housewifing." She might feel liberated that her mealtimes and food choices aren't dictated by others because she is the one to do the marketing and cooking; she has more privacy because she dresses herself and maintains her own clothing and underthings; she has more independence because she can go anywhere without a chauffeur or groom as an escort. But filming this would require filming a lot of cooking, cleaning, mending, and the like, and modern audiences don't like the story line of the housewife as happy with domestic duties.
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#9

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Posted Jan 17, 2013 @ 1:07 PM

Almost anything that gets away from the Abbey for a scene or two is good, if only to show that not everyone in Britain lives in a place like that. Class issues in the show are as compelling to me as gender issues. Showing Sybil at work or at home would add a lot, and I hope it happens, somewhere along the way. The one scene of Matthew at work in season one was a window into a different life. I like the shots of the prison, if only because it is so very dreary - it's another window into early 20th century. But then, I'm a Bates fan.

I'd love to know whether Sybil feels more freed by a lack of people hovering abut her, or imprisoned by the load of daily chores and worry over money. Perhaps it's a bit of both, that would be realistic.
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#10

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Posted Jan 17, 2013 @ 1:28 PM

I'd love to know whether Sybil feels more freed by a lack of people hovering abut her, or imprisoned by the load of daily chores and worry over money. Perhaps it's a bit of both, that would be realistic.


After hearing my relatives who grew up in Depression Era America talk about what was involved just in doing laundry, I'm inclined to think that some feeling of imprisonment and general weariness would be natural. And these were people who were born into the working class.
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#11

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Posted Jan 17, 2013 @ 2:54 PM

And what does it say about the writing or attitudes about women that we don't get to see any of her life in Ireland on the show,but we spend endless amounts of time in prison with Bates?


The time viewers spend imprisoned at the Bates Motel only seems endless due to the extreme tedium of that storyline

On a more serious note, I think the lack of any scenes of Sybil's life in Ireland says as much about JF's attitudes and interest in Ireland, which appear to be marked by utter indifference. From S1 one would never know that the British Army in Ireland mutinied over the prospect of Irish Home Rule, and that many think one reason Britain entered WWI was to keep the Irish problem at bay a little longer (which isn't to say it was the sole or primary reason). In S2 there's a vague mention of the Easter uprising. In S3, Ireland is largely been mentioned in the context of spiked drinks. Serious questions are cut off with remarks about gardening or comments such as "Tom is our tame revolutionary". Though largely an accurate description of Branson, it doesn't indicate much of an interest in one of the most significant issues facing the UK and Ireland.

That being said, Sybil's "arc" hasn't been particularly riveting.

S1: Interested in numerous, largely unspecified social causes, attends political rallies, acts as a one-person employment agency

S2: Learns how to bake a cake, Branson lectures her that she loves him, gives up everything to wed Branson (who gives up what exactly), gets pregnant (though remains sufficiently well shod not to be barefoot).

S3: Remains pregnant, which apparently obviates the need for further character development.

It's not as if there are no models for Sybil. There's Isobel (JF's character assassination of her doesn't speak well of his attitudes about women though this may be as much a comment on middle-class officiousness as about women). There is the real life Beatrice Webb who, in addition to getting married, wrote several books, helped to found the London School of Economics & the New Statesman, was a member of a Royal Commission on poverty, etc. The University of London started awarding degrees to women before Sybil was born, and Oxford and Cambridge had colleges or halls for women (though no degrees).

Perhaps not exploring any of her options is worth it for Sybil. But it's hard to credit given that Sybil and Branson have less chemistry than any past or present couple in all three seasons of DA (even Matthew & Edith, who never were a couple, showed more chemistry during their church tour).
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#12

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Posted Jan 17, 2013 @ 3:43 PM

I'm also miffed that Tom's writing or journalism has never been defined -- writing what for whom? -- while it's "obviously not important"to JF, how educated is Tom (and his family) is important wrt what kind of father and husband he will be and what his long-term prospects are. While I may be wrong, my impression is that if England at this time was fairly wretched for most people, Ireland was considerably worse. Hence, Tom's literacy and literary aspirations are exceptional. (I've also wondered about what sort of education the girls received and where ... They seem to have few interests that we've seen outside of family and Downton.)
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#13

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Posted Jan 17, 2013 @ 4:18 PM

That being said, Sybil's "arc" hasn't been particularly riveting.


It had a lot of potential - women's rights, being the first one to leave home, and not to get married, but to work as a nurse's aide, and eventually marrying outside her class. Sadly, her interest in getting the vote comes almost at the expense of Branson's job. She doesn't truly leave home when she starts working. It's quite a contrast with Vera Brittain, who argued her way into college (her father didn't see the point for long enough that she was a couple years older than most of her classmates), then worked as a nurses' aide, in London, Malta, and France. All the men she danced with also died - her brother and fiance among them. Sybil could have had so much more to say, but she might have had to leave the Downton triangle to say it.

Sybil complains about her governess, so I think the girls were educated at home.
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#14

stillshimpy

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Posted Jan 18, 2013 @ 8:49 AM

S3: Remains pregnant, which apparently obviates the need for further character development.


This has been driving me slightly crazy (or somewhat crazier than usual) because whereas Fellowes tends to be a dog with a bone about most of the stories he writes, revisiting them over and over, he did actually progress Sybil's story in the first and second seasons. At a glacial pace, mind you, and in a manner that featured another Fellowes go-to: characters having essentially the same conversation, over and over and over.

So married Mary has to have one last "you're against us!" flailing, to which Matthew will respond "Lavinia! I wronged that poor dead girl!" and Mary won't really react to the repeated implication that Matt is practically brandishing a Scarlet Letter in Mary's direction every time he brings up Lavinia. "Poor dead girl. I hurt her because I am a bad, bad man and I was tempted by a hussy! *makes with the crimson letter brandishing some more*"

Same deal with Bates and Anna. Don't ever have a drinking game wherein you do a shot every time Bates says some version of, "I don't deserve you. You deserve better." and then Anna replies in some way that indicates she's there for the duration. You'd likely not make it out of the previously segment sober.

Yet, for some reason having married Branson, presumably having a life that bears no resemblance to her old life whatsoever, among people who would not necessarily be well-disposed to her, Sybil has zilch to say about any of it. She's about to produce a child with seemingly no concerns, questions, or even regrets about how different that child's life is likely to be from the only one she knows. Hell, apparently Sybil is so unflappable that it has yet to occur to her that she knows nothing about babies.

Not only has pregnancy halted any need to further develop her character, apparently it's caused her brain to seize like an over-heated engine.

Also, another specific thing that drives me a tiny bit up the wall about gender in this show is that Cora always refers to "My money" but the "my" has no actual meaning. Did Robert lose "my money", she asks and of course he did. Not only did he lose it all, he'd apparently invested it all in one place, which even before the crash someone ought to have known better than to do.

So why does she always say "My"? It has no meaning or bearing on anything. Usually when someone speaks in a possessive it at least has meaning to them, but this seemingly doesn't occur to Cora. In fact, almost all of Fellowes female characters seem to doggedly circle the same thought and motivation without ever expanding on it. Cora calls her dowry "my money" as if it gives her some sense of identity and worth, but apparently doesn't even blink that Robert has lost it all. She just worries about making him feel better.

Mary similarly mainly thinks "Downton. Love Downton." on repeating cycle and lets her husband constantly throw Lavinia's name around in a decidedly shaming manner...but Mary doesn't react with guilt (does she agree with him?), anger (because dude, how fast would that get Jurassic levels of old?) or even sheer exasperation ("what precisely is supposed to be wrong with you? You went through a war, why don't you have any sense of proportion or perspective about whether or not people die of broken hearts?").

I just don't even want to talk about the "lather, rinse, repeat. Repeat some more. Go 'head, keep up that repetition." of Edith's story.

I'm not sure if it is gender specific, but it does feel that way. No matter what experiences, or even fresh input a female character receives, she apparently returns to factory settings at the top of each season and it looks like Sybil just flat-out isn't going to boot up this season.

Edited by stillshimpy, Jan 18, 2013 @ 8:55 AM.

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#15

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Posted Jan 18, 2013 @ 3:11 PM

Please be sure you're focusing on GENDER ISSUES in this thread. If that's not the focus of your post, you're in the wrong thread.

#16

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Posted Jan 18, 2013 @ 5:37 PM

It had a lot of potential - women's rights, being the first one to leave home, and not to get married, but to work as a nurse's aide, and eventually marrying outside her class. Sadly, her interest in getting the vote comes almost at the expense of Branson's job.


Sybil's time as a VAD would have been a great chance to explore gender issues across classes at a time when those were changing. We already saw what was expected of aristocratic females; we could have used Sybil's foray into the kitchen to explore a little more about what servant women knew/did that aristocrats didn't by going beyond the obvious joke of not being able to fill a kettle.

Then, there was the actual VAD service. I will allow the conceit that it makes more sense to ultimately station her at Downton for set/story constraints, but my understanding of aristocratic women who became VADs is that they may have joined thinking they'd be bringing cups of tea and soothing fevered brows, and that many of them wound up being asked to "hold that limb while we amputate." That kind of proximity to pain and death and the opposite sex would tear down the walls between the sexes in a way that would affect the way women related to men in the Jazz Age -- who cares if they can see that you rouge your knees and drink gin when you or your sisters just spent four years seeing men naked, vulnerable, and in pain. Sybil could have shown us how that changed her perception of herself as a woman.

Also, another specific thing that drives me a tiny bit up the wall about gender in this show is that Cora always refers to "My money" but the "my" has no actual meaning. Did Robert lose "my money", she asks and of course he did.


I agree that this sound foreign to us, because most modern women refer to "my money" as the money they earn and make decisions over. However, I actually think it is at once a period-appropriate gender usage and a bit of a reference to the Cora/Robert relationship. Cora's family gave money to the entail for her marriage. In many ways, that no more "her money" than Downton is "Robert's house." Neither one of them are true owners in this case; Robert fairly called himself a custodian, which was extremely self-aware for a man who can ignore 6 years of rumors about his eldest daughter that most of Europe knows about.

But it is also a window into the marital relationship with these two. I think it is a gentle needling. Robert, what happened to my money? You wanted my money so badly, how well are you handling it for the entail? It is a subtle reminder of the origins of the relationship, and I wonder how many other of these female American Buccaneers kept their husbands in mind of how they ultimately got the funds that rescued the estates.
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#17

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Posted Jan 18, 2013 @ 7:38 PM

WWI nurses influenced a definite Gender Issue. K-C is Kimberly-Clark & here's how US nurses "invented" the company's first consumer product.

After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, K-C produced wadding for surgical dressing for the government and the Red Cross at the rate of 380 to 500 feet per minute. Red Cross nurses were using the new material as sanitary pads during their menstrual periods. Until then, "American women wore a diaper of bird's-eye or outing flannel, which they were obliged to wash and reuse," according to the book The Curse, A Cultural History of Menstruation.


This invention eventually helped all women deal with the outside world better at all times of the month. Of course, the Crawley ladies never had to rinse out their "diapers." That's what servants were for....
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#18

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Posted Jan 18, 2013 @ 8:01 PM

Fascinating bit of history - sounds like it was almost an accidental invention.
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#19

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Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

Something they could have explored and haven't was that by marrying, Sybil's career as a VAD was over. It was something she enjoyed doing and appeared to be good at. Married women were not allowed to be nurses.
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#20

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Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 11:49 AM

I was assuming she would work until she got pregnant, but that makes it even more of a dead end for her - by picking Tom, she gave up not only her life at Downton, but also a lot of her aspirations to 'do real work', to change the world into a better place. Wonder how much she thought of that, in all her months, if not years of considering Tom's proposal.
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#21

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Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 12:12 PM

So, what about the men? What made a man? Modern times praise cleverness, competence and often brawn ... not much of which is on display. A man reigning over his extended family on the basis of inherited wealth and their dependence on same (thinking more of Gosford Park's horrid patriach than Sir Robert) might be fearfully respected for his control over one's destiny but equally likely despised for same with ample personal animosity/gossip thrown in for amusement. Being able to sit a horse, being a good sport at "games." I have no idea how the idle rich spent their time meaningfully. The great age of amateur scientists was in the past, I think. Playing sidewalk superintendent to construction projects on an estate required the wherewithal to affort said projects. If Robert's primary "job" was to manage the estate, wrt finances and investment, his inattention damns whatever expertise he may have been thought to possess. I can imagine that both Matthew and Tom (like Isobel) could have impure thoughts on the subject. I wonder if Fellowes will let us hear them.
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#22

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Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 12:35 PM

So, what about the men? What made a man?


As I understand it, which this is not really my area of expertise so it might not be the whole of the story, birth. The class system relied partially on the belief that people who were born into the upper classes were actually simply better. Ordained by higher powers to be leaders of men, the aristocracy/nobility truly believed that they were better than working class people and not in the "more refined" sense (although that too) but in the "God Almighty sees me as being your better" sense.

So what made a man prior to World War I in Britain was often simply an accident of birth. I think some people took this as a responsibility bestowed upon them to be a good custodian of those around him, but clearly not all. Everything I've ever read or been taught also seems to indicate that is part of the reason that people who made their money through trade or hard work, who improved their circumstances weren't just viewed with huffy disdain, but also a sense of how dangerous that could be to a structure that relied on a belief that things were ordained to be so by powers greater than man. It sounds religious as can be but whereas I think it had its roots there, primarily it was accepted as the way things simply were. I think by the dawn of the twentieth century it was really being questioned (the industrial revolution allowing people to make more money in trade also brought with it workers demanding rights for decades prior to the turn of the century) and then the Edwardian age actually started putting nails in the coffin of the class system. Edward was pretty scandalous in a lot of things that went down and was known to be so, causing natural questions about how "This jerk is supposed to be better than other men?"

But I think it was really how many of the aristocracy died in World War I that started the dissolution of the rigid class system. Not only had men fought and died, it was sort of apparent that there apparently wasn't any higher power preserving this class of "better" men.

So what made a man prior to World War I was almost always the class to which he was born, although he might gain money through hard work in trade (which so often called up that person to treat his workers horribly, weirdly reinforcing the class system he was bucking), he was never really accepted outside of his own class. What made a man afterward became more Westernized (for lack of a better term), ingenuity, the willingness to change, hard work and the ability to bounce back.

I think the show did a good job with depicting the inherent difference in men of one class, vs. men of another in the first season. When Matthew is found as an heir, there's a general sense of "Oh good God, an upper middle class, working man? Heaven forfend!" , but hey, they were stuck and were forced to make the best of a bad situation. To give the show the credit to which it is entitled, all characters reacted with the "this is a bad situation, and we are making it known as to why, he is not one of us." It sort of foreshadowed what would happen after the war, in that doors were forced open through that same necessity.

I think the show has done a bad job this season of showing the change following World War I in the attitudes of the men returning from service. The new footman's (O'Brien's nephew) interest in being a footman in a grand house is unlikely. Also it seems like someone like Thomas, despite having crashed and burned in his schemes last season, would be casting about for a different opportunity.

I guess seeing the aristocracy/nobility bleed, cry, scream out and eventually die in great numbers really drove home the "Hey, these men aren't any better than I am. This is a sham!" and World War II eventually just shoveled the dirt onto the coffin, the hole for which was started by World War I.

The show did a better job with all of that in the first season, sort of touched upon it in the second and thus far has only vaguely hinted at something that would be really coming to a head here in the third season. The role of women changed dramatically (and we see that in Daisy as she starts questioning things) but the men returning from war really were not content (and thank goodness) to return to business as usual. I do think the show should depict that more clearly and they have several characters that should be leading the way.

Matthew really ought to be the person with a lot of questions too. Instead he's been sort of fixated on Lavinia. Maybe that is meant to be a sign of what the war did to him. I think there was also a lot of pressure to not talk about the horrors of war, so maybe that kind of "dude, you MUST be projecting" is Fellowes way of showing how damaged Matthew is? I don't know.

ETA: (sorry for the book length here, it's just a dense subject) I just remembered that there was a scene last season that really rather subtly suggested the huge change that was afoot: When Lord Grantham pleads for Bates and although it seemingly saves his life, that's all it does. That was pretty significant, I thought.

Edited by stillshimpy, Jan 19, 2013 @ 12:47 PM.

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#23

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Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 1:27 PM

stillshimpy: Excellent answer, thank you -- It's hard to remember just how little upward mobility there was for the 99% prior to the industrial revolution. Much of this class struggle is played out well in Howard's End which I read last year (after seeing the movie several times and still not really understanding the marriage between Margaret and Henry Wilcox). Published in 1910, apparently the arrest of the Wilcox son for the death of the working class lover/baby daddy Leonard Bast was similarly shocking, like the failure of Robert's word to win Bates' freedom.

I wonder if the obsequious Mr. Moseley and endlessly deferential and proper Carson see the rule-breaking schemers and bounders like Thomas and Tom as their successors. We've seen so little of Bates actually acting as valet (and his masculine bona fides assured by his bravery with his war injury and enduring his 'ordeal'). I wonder how well he will adjust to "civilian life" in service. Will Anna and Bates get the inheritance from Bates' mother or has that all been spent on lawyers? Living independently while still being in service could be interesting also, with Anna having another job description added to her burden.

Daisy seems to like tall men in livery ... although that pretty much describes all the age-appropriate men in her vicinity, though William and the current new footman were particularly tall, compared to Thomas. She may well inherit independence along with William's father's property.

Just sort of playing with the yin/yang of gender issues in times of rapidly evolving gender roles. Men of manual labor for generations might raise their head up and become more than just a laborer. Women could leave the dank darkness of their home and work in the mills (which might be horrific in many ways but afforded a varied companionship of other independent women). I had been thinking of both Matthew and Tom as largely self-made men, which might present a reality-check for Lord Grantham, a man whose class made actually "earning a living" unthinkable. I guess I'd never really appreciated how much traditional male roles were changing. Women's issues having predominated.

Edited by susan sunflower, Jan 19, 2013 @ 1:33 PM.

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#24

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Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 1:56 PM

Thanks, susan sunflower, I appreciate that :-)

I think one of the more interesting challenge the show faces is that when I think of something like equality, in my mind that applies to gender first. It's a function of when I was born and the fact that it has the most bearing on my actual life. So when someone talks about equality, that's where my mind goes.

The characters in the show also don't think in terms of gender equality first in terms of definition. The class system was just starting to be questioned, but the notion of equality between men and women basically came through the door at the same time. The domino effect of the tumbling of structures comes into play too.

It is just interesting to contemplate the world of Downton Abbey where opportunity would be defined first by class and then set in stone by gender. They are inter-related subjects in a way that's sort of hard for me to wrap my head around from this modern perspective.

Sometimes the shows does well with this, sometimes it doesn't. I do wish it was trying more because this is a fascinating time in the history of the world. Talk about a great sea change in both gender and class.
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#25

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Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 3:10 PM

There'd always been limited class mobility, as Violet points out occasionally - Lord Painswick's grandfather made the leap upwards, and when Lord Grantham accepts Branson at the end of season 2, she says that there have always been people breaking into their class. The difference, perhaps, is that after WWI, it shifts from a trickle to a flood, and that there's much less of a sense, at least amongst the younger generation, of inherited superiority.

the Edwardian age actually started putting nails in the coffin of the class system. Edward was pretty scandalous in a lot of things that went down and was known to be so, causing natural questions about how "This jerk is supposed to be better than other men?"


Interesting thought. He was such a change after Victoria. And then WWI killed off a lot of heirs - I wonder how may aristocratic families died out? The combination of fallen families and new blood must have made people feel that a new era had begun, for better or worse.

Robert seems to be, if anything, a bit of a radical for his position in the hierarchy. More interesting is what the men with more to gain think. Carson, Moseley, and William all seem to accept things as they are. Carson, in particular, resists change. To a large extent, their opinions are rooted in their actual prospects - Robert has no idea what to do besides maintaining Downton, and Carson has also made the house his life's work. The idea that it is a fading way of life is a huge threat to both of them. Thomas and Branson are all pushing for a better future. Bates seems rather on the fence. He seems to worship Robert, but he also can envision running a hotel with Anna. Matthew also seems torn between his old life - he wants to live simply - and buying into Robert's and Mary's vision of Downton.

It is just interesting to contemplate the world of Downton Abbey where opportunity would be defined first by class and then set in stone by gender. They are inter-related subjects in a way that's sort of hard for me to wrap my head around from this modern perspective.

Sometimes the shows does well with this, sometimes it doesn't. I do wish it was trying more because this is a fascinating time in the history of the world. Talk about a great sea change in both gender and class.


Very fascinating. After seeing the first two seasons, I watched a few other period shows - Lark Rise to Candleford and Cranford are the ones I remember most, and though they take place earlier, the sense of changing times in the countryside is huge. I think the whole 19th century was full of major changes, and then WWI ushered in even more.
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#26

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Posted Jan 20, 2013 @ 2:46 AM

Overall, I think the show is quite reactionary in its depiction of gender roles. Sybil, who worked outside the home as a nurse of all things, is not depicted as particularly proactive about gender roles after marriage, when by all rights she should be. Cora is the one who brings all the money to her marriage, yet she does not attempt to take control of it.

Now, I would agree the men on the show tend to be emasculated when it comes to personal relationships. But what does it matter, when they still control the money and power?


Matthew is the most interesting example. By birth and sex he controls the title, status and money. But as a person, what does he control at all?
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#27

Luciaphile

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Posted Jan 20, 2013 @ 10:20 AM

Cora is the one who brings all the money to her marriage, yet she does not attempt to take control of it


I don't know about that. Cora is a Victorian and while she may call it "my money," it's unlikely she ever had actual possession or control of it. It probably went straight from her father to her husband. And even if she did have it, I'm sure she was asked to sign it over as soon as she was married.
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#28

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Posted Jan 20, 2013 @ 3:16 PM

I'd agree that the money went from Cora's father to Robert' or his father, and she probably wasn't even in the room when it happened. She gets to run the house, in terms of deciding menus, overseeing the hiring of maids, and such, with ample interference from Violet. As both of them have so little to do outside of that, it's no wonder that they have never gotten along.
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#29

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 12:58 AM

As both of them have so little to do outside of that, it's no wonder that they have never gotten along.


Ditto, for why Mary and Edith devoted their adolescence to sniping at each other. Kept at home,not even in school, they had no other venue in which to try out their personalities and test their powers. They had no chance to measure themselves against their peers in academics, discourse or sports; no contest or achievements to be gained -- no lesser, youthful prizes to be sought and won -- except the very crucial, first and final competition for a husband. Nothing they did mattered, until everything came down to one thing. No wonder they wrangled like Bates and his cellmate.
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#30

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 2:19 AM

When the ever-more-useless Robert bitched about Edith's letter, he mentioned something about a Women's Rights Bill. Nope.

In 1918, the Representation of the People Act granted the vote to all men over 21 and women over 30 who met certain property criteria--or had husbands who did. Property qualifications had denied many men the vote; since they'd shortly be coming back from the war, it was thought fitting to let them all vote. Women had earned respect by doing men's work on the home front. The militant Suffragettes stopped causing trouble; in fact, Emmeline & Christabel Pankhurst handed out white feathers to "shirkers." It's said one reason for the female age requirement was the imbalance caused by so many men killed; there would have been more women than men eligible for voting. Another Representation of the People Act in 1928 equalized matters.

So--there was no women's rights bill. And 1921 is an odd time to become conscious of the limits on the franchise for women. While I'm glad that Edith found a cause--I wish Fellowes had done his homework. Or hired somebody who knew about Wikipedia...
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