Downton Abbey and Star-Crossed Plots

Lady Sybil, Lady Mary and Lady Edith

In the popular TV show Downton Abbey, it seems the course to true love never runs smooth, although that is not to say that the writer Julian Fellowes doesn’t  give the viewer what they want (weddings, children, resolutions) in the long run.

In season one, the beautiful, yet at times icily aristocratic, Lady Mary takes the pragmatic advice of her aunt and rejects Matthew Crawley’s proposal, based on his prospects at that moment, and lives to regret it in a plot reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. However, Mary’s initial mistake is compounded by Mary’s and Matthew’s engagements (to other people), scandal, duty and even temporary paralysis.

None of the Crawley sisters are spared Fellowes’ barriers to true love: Lady Sybil must overcome class, political and national boundaries in her bid to marry the chauffeur, while Lady Edith must contend with age and injury.

In all of these cases, the difficulty is short lived, and I would argue, less satisfying for it. Lord Grantham’s opposition to Edith’s love interest is solved within the same episode by one conversation with his interfering mother-in-law (who, disappointingly, is a flat character whose mantra seems only to be ‘change’ in opposition to Downton’s tradition and history). Perhaps Fellowes speeds through to the idealistic endings to offset the slow pace of their lives, but I would argue that he could learn from Austen, whose tortured Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth quietly forgive and slowly rebuild their admiration of each other to a triumphant finale.

Persuasion  is the second novel on the Star-Crossed Lovers course, which meets on Thursdays from 4-6pm in Continuing Education from October 11th to December 13th, 2012. For more information and details of how to register, visit the Liverpool University Continuing Education website.

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