Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), "Poor old Edith. We never seem to talk about her."
Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), "I'm afraid Edith will be the one taking care of us in our old age."
Lord Grantham, "Oh, what a ghastly prospect!"
Does anyone love Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael)? Anyone except Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst), who after much back-and-forthing finally proposed, only to cave at the absolute worst last minute and leave the poor girl at the altar with the parting words, "Goodbye, my dearest darling, and let God bless you." Hardly reassuring to know that someone cares enough about you enough to jilt you in front of all of your friends and family on what should have been your most special day.
Continuing my Downton Abbey ruminations from yesterday's post, I wanted to focus on who has become the series' most interesting character in the show's third season — and the one with the most potential to truly reflect the changing times of the 1920s — Edith. Elder sister Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) has long been the family favorite and youngest Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) the prettiest, leaving poor Edith, like many middle children, a little lost and unsure of their position.
It was heartbreaking watching how happy Edith was in this episode, and how everyone else in the family was either not-too-interested or outright opposed to her pending nuptials. More than one character said "Let's just get through this wedding ...," their minds on more important-to-them issues.
Edith, "Something happening in this house is actually about me."
By the end of the episode Edith ranged from pure despair to being resigned to becoming the unloved, luckless spinster. But I don't think that should be her fate. Edith is a spinster, yes, but she is also living at a time when women could start to lead more independent lives and even (gasp) get a job. Downton Abbey may be saved by the end of the episode, and the family and its staff can continue to follow their daily patterns, but Edith has no reason to stay there.
Edith needs to reflect on her mostly enclosed existence and how slight her chances have been to have marriage be her way out of Downton and come up with another plan. Her first love was the rightful heir to Downton, a cousin named Patrick Crawley. But Patrick went down with the Titanic, and Edith never had a chance with him anyway, as her parents intended for first-born Mary to marry him and secure the family manse forever.
|Driving Miss Edith|
She made a feeble play for the new heir apparent, Matthew Crawley, but again didn't stand a chance, as he and Mary were instantly drawn to one another. She had a brief, mostly innocent fling with a local farmer until his wife put an end to it. An injured veteran claiming to be the deceased Patrick Crawley briefly gave her hope that she might be reunited with her true love (and be able to stick it to her sister by becoming Countess of Downton), but that soon went up in smoke as a false claim. She had a genuine affection for Sir Anthony, but everyone else seemed bound and determined to stand in their way, especially her father, urged on by his mother the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith).
Edith has displayed more modern tendencies than either of her sisters throughout the series. She is more independent than she or anyone in her family suspects. She was the first to learn how to drive an automobile, taking lessons from the family chauffeur, and she really enjoyed the feeling of freedom and accomplishment that driving gave her. Her short bob and marcelled hair is more au courant than either sister's fashions, and even her wedding gown was more stylish than older, more traditional Mary's.
|Although they are both simple in style, Edith's dress has a more attractive sweep, and the neckline seems more modern than Mary's which has an eye to the past.|
Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary are comfortably ensconced at Downton, and the Earl and his wife are already letting the power shift in their direction. Sybil is about to give birth to her first child, and if the previews for Sunday's episode are true, may have to go on the lam to Ireland with her politically-inclined husband, former Downton chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech). Edith has led a sheltered life — part of the reason her romantic prospects have been so scarce. Maybe it's time to leave Downton and find her own way. Her other grandmother, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), would certainly be supportive of her showing some independence. Why not a trip to America? It's time for Edith to branch out and turn a defeat into a triumph. I'm looking forward to seeing where this season takes her.