Spoilerific Discussion of Last Sunday’s Downton Abbey: Solidarity Among the Women (S3 Ep6)

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[amazon_link id=”B008FYZIVY” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ][/amazon_link]You have been warned. If you are not up on the third season of Downton Abbey, skip this post. That’s what the cut tag is for. Really.

Quick Recap: Lady Sybil has died in childbirth, and Mrs. Crawley has hired Ethel, the former housemaid and then unwed mother and prostitute, to be her housekeeper and cook. To ease the pain of Sybil’s death, Mrs. Crawley invites the Ladies of the family, including the Countess, to a private luncheon, served and cooked by Ethel.

Ethel, seeking help with her meager cooking skills, turns to Mrs. Patmore, the cook at Downton Abbey, to help her create a successful buffet. As Mrs. Patmore is leaving Mrs. Crawley’s home, she is observed by the head butler, Charlie Carson, who has given explicit orders that Downton staff are to avoid Mrs. Crawley’s home at all time to avoid any chance at scandal on the family.

After spotting Mrs. Patmore leaving Mrs. Crawley’s, Carson and head housekeeper Elsie Hughes confront Mrs. Patmore for disobeying, and it is made perfectly clear that Mrs. Hughes disagrees with Carson’s ban and that she is in support of giving Ethel a new chance in life.

Fast forward to the luncheon, where the Ladies Grantham are enjoying a fine salmon mousse when the Earl rushes in, having discovered that his son in law’s mother has hired a prostitute as a housekeeper, and demands that the women leave with him immediately.

All of them refuse. The Countess, the last to explicitly state she’s not leaving, nods at the dessert about to be served and says she won’t let it go to waste. She does so immediately after the Earl’s scene embarrassed the young housekeeper and made it clear that she was again uncertain of her future, and despite the fact that until that moment, she had been unaware of Ethel’s former prostitution.

This is an amazing example, in these two scenes, of women in solidarity, understanding that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Every woman in both these scenes was supportive, in her own way, of Ethel finding a new beginning and making a success of turning her life around.

One of the things I love most about Downtown Abbey is that it examines not only classism, but also feminism from many different angles. Because of the era and the region in question, it has limited opportunities to examine racism, and still manages to do so in a limited way through the lens of the Irish in England.

Here we have women who have places in society that vary from prostitute to servant to (nouveau riche) middle class woman to members of the aristocracy, and all of them come together against the men in their lives, all of whom have power over them, and say ‘she’s one of us’. Beautiful.

What are your thoughts on these scenes and on Downton Abbey’s treatment of women in general?


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