January 19th, 2014
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Today I join millions of Downton Abbey fans who can’t wait to watch a new episode tonight.
I am arriving at the Downton Abbey party very late, for I watched my very first episode last Sunday at the home of some great friends who have watched the popular series from the beginning.  This was very helpful to me because they were able to tell me exactly what was happening, who the characters were in relation to each other and the intricate backstory of different storylines.
I’m not sure why I didn’t embrace this amazing award-winning series earlier.  I think I had a number of television programs I was already following and couldn’t imagine adding another series to my busy schedule so I never tuned into Downton Abbey despite all the media attention and conversational buzz.
That said, I am totally taken with how the series is handling the sudden tragedy of Matthew Crawley’s death and where the characters find themselves this season six months later.  The etiquette of grief in 1922 was prescribed and deliberate especially in Great Britain.  There were rules and everyone followed them.  In a way, the rules were a comforting guide, for you knew what was expected of you and didn’t need to think twice about what you should do or say.  It was already settled.




Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley
To give you an idea of what was acceptable for a young widow in 1922 with regards to mourning, here is a passage I found in Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette, which at the time was the official reference book on social manners:
“The young widow should wear deep crepe for a year and then lighter mourning for six months and second mourning for six months longer.  There is nothing more utterly captivating than a sweet young face under a widow’s veil, and it is not to be wondered at that her loneliness and need of sympathy, combined with all that is appealing to sympathy in a man, results in the healing of her heart.  She should, however, never remain in mourning for her first husband after she has decided she can be consoled by a second.  There is no reason why a woman (or a man) should not find such consolation, but she should keep the intruding attraction away from her thoughts until the year of respect is up, after which she is free to put on colors and make happier plans.”
And so at Downton Abbey this season, we find Lady Mary Crawley, the young widow of Matthew Crawley, coming out of six months of official mourning and surprised to find herself the focus of attention from an old friend visiting at the Abbey, Lord Anthony Gillingham.  He asks her to go horseback riding and she is a bit unsure of whether to accept or not.  Is it the right time to go on such a venture?  What would others think?  Lady Mary does accept and they do go horseback riding on the grounds of the Abbey but it is all very proper and constrained.
We also find Matthew’s mother, Isobel Crawley, still processing the sudden death of her son.  Isobel Crawley, who has already lost her husband, feels her life is over because she is of a certain age and with no husband or son, finds it difficult to move forward with any real purpose in her life.
I found it very touching that the crusty Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by the incredible actress Maggie Smith, invites Isobel to a dinner at the Abbey in effort to get her to come out of her isolation and socialize.  The Dowager is compassionate and sympathetic and offering support in reaching out to Isobel and it is so painful, yet authentic, when Isobel replies to the invitation with the same thought that haunts those in mourning even today: “Every time I smile.  Every time I laugh.  I feel I am forgetting him.”
Remarkable isn’t it that human beings have not changed that much at all in our core emotions and reactions to the shock of losing a loved one: grief, solitude, resolution, frustration guilt and then a bouncing all over the place of the same emotions.In Downton Abbey I find remarkable storytelling and honest and authentic dialogue about dealing with life’s moments of deepest sorrow whether you are surrounded by servants, glamorous clothes and leisurely comfort or work by the sweat of your brow downstairs as a maid or a hall boy.Let’s see what happens tonight!


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