Downton Abbey and Spoilers

I never mind finding out the ending of a book I am reading or a series I am watching. Doing so takes the pressure off. I can relax and enjoy the journey. If you do mind, take note that while there are no explicit spoilers here, beyond the discussion of events in the episode broadcast by PBS on Sun. Jan. 27, 2013, there are hints.

The third season of Downton Abbey, which many of us are watching on PBS on Sunday evenings, included in its British run a Christmas Day special that elicited cries of outrage. People declared it had ruined their Christmas. Julian Fellowes, the series creator, took most of the heat, but really he wasn’t to blame. He can only working with actors that are available to him and within the logic of the plot so far.

I had heard a rumour that an important actor was quitting, but I had ignored it, until last Sunday’s episode in which Lady Sibyl died in childbirth. I began digging around on-line and, among tearful comments about Sibyl’s all-to-realistic death from eclampsia, I chanced upon the December news from Britain. Clearly, we do not like to have our favourite characters cut down before our eyes. Our response in this case has been to grieve. I wonder if North Americans will be as angered as the British by the remaining episodes (two, #6- 2 hrs long and #7-90 min. long, ending on Feb. 17).

The ruling class is in decline in England in 1921. The war has made inroads into the capital of the wealthy and made the people, who fought and won the war, less accepting of that  power. The sheer boneheadedness of that patriarchal system is apparent when Lord Grantham, Sibyl’s father, insists on employing a noted obstetrician from London instead of local Dr. Clarkson. It is Dr. Clarkson, who has known Sibyl all her life and knows, for example, that she has not always had fat ankles, who sounds the alarm that Sibyl is in trouble and needs a caesarean section. Grantham convinces Sibyl’s husband that the noted and knighted specialist is right. And, at first, after a baby girl has been successfully delivered, it seems so. Unfortunately Sibyl starts to have seizures, as Dr. Clarkson predicted she would. By the end of the episode, Grantham has been exiled to the dressing room by his wife and it seems unlikely, he will that he will ever get back into Lady Grantham’s bed.

Meanwhile, his son-in-law Matthew, whose money has saved Downton Abbey is about to tackle Grantham about his mismanagement of the estate. In short, the old power structure is beginning to crumble. Patriarchy is doomed.

Only a few of the great houses survived that second excursion into democracy, World War II. It and the subsequent heavy taxation of the wealthy ended them. They became residential schools or eventually found themselves in the hands of wealthy Americans. A few of them like Chatsworth survived because the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire turned it into a tourist attraction.

Baron Fellowes of West Stafford is a life peer and, therefore, a member of the British House of Lords. His wife is Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Michael of Kent. He knew Highclere Castle, the house where Downton Abbey is filmed because he had been a frequent house guest there. Highclere, itself, needs the tourist dollars of Downton Abbey fans to keep going. It seems likely that it will continue to be in the public eye for another one or two seasons at least.

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