Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why Edith is the real heroine of Downton Abbey

[Spoilers for Downton Abbey ABOUND in this post, if it is not immediately clear.]

There are many things about Downton Abbey that I have disliked over the years.  I will not go into them now.  Suffice it to say that, for most of the time it's been running, I've just been watching for the costumes.  And Lady Edith.

Yes, Lady Edith.  Not her older sister, Lady Mary.

I've always liked Edith more than her sisters.  She is the only character on the entire show who has, in my opinion, really showed any consistency whatsoever from episode to episode and season to season.  She's the only one abovestairs who, if all the glamour and money disappeared, would find a way to make it work on her own.

Maybe it's because I'm a middle child, but I've always felt that Lady Edith always got the shaft.  Personally, I don't really see the draw of Mary.  She's self-absorbed and vindictive, and by the end of the series, I didn't believe at all that she was capable of deeper feelings, no matter how many times Ana and Branson and all the others insisted to the audience that she had a heart of gold inside.  She didn't.  By the time the series ended, she was probably in her early to mid-30s.  At that age, you just need to get over yourself and try your hardest to be a good person.  Mary made zero effort to do so.

In contrast, Edith spends the entire series trying to better herself.  I'm not saying that Edith was very likable at the beginning.  And she definitely had some horrible things thrown her way.  But, through it all, she was true to herself and what she wanted, and I just love her for that.

Edith never got the love from her parents that she deserved.  (And people wonder where middle child syndrome comes from.)  They seem to always compare her unfavorably to her mean older sister and her rebellious younger sister, and I don't really understand why.  Even the servants seem never to notice her.  We get so many deep, soulful moments between Ana and Mary, but I assume Ana is also Edith's maid (if not, someone must be), and apparently, none of those conversations are worthy of documenting.  Basically, Edith spends much of her life trying to prove to other people that she is worthy of their love and consideration, and that's just so heart-breaking.  But then she comes completely into her own in the last season, and you're just so thrilled for her for FINALLY GETTING IT TOGETHER.  But really, there were hints all the way through that Edith would be the shining star here.

For example, when Lady Mary goes to a late-night assignation with a stranger and the night bizarrely ends with the man dead, she forces her mother and maid to help her deal with the situation.  If that had been Edith?  She would have dealt with it LIKE A BOSS.

Lady Edith, dealing with catatonic lovers
Throughout the whole series, Edith has been quietly dealing with the strictures that are placed upon her by competently and consistently knocking them out of her way.  Unlike her older sister, who feels compelled to marry to retain her place in society, or her younger sister, who rebels by completely going against her parents' wishes, Edith finds a way to expand her role.  Sure, she makes some bad decisions, like thinking she's in love with someone a gazillion times her age.  But, hey, she really DID think she was in love with him, and she fought so hard for him, in a way that her sisters would never have done (ok, fine, Sybil fought for her man).  Lady Mary needed interventions both times she married so that she wouldn't ruin her own life because people love her so much.  "Oh, that's just Mary being Mary, ruining people's lives with a flippant shake of her hair.  Don't mind her!"

Lady Mary, ruining people's lives with her hair

But you know what?  It's better for Edith that no one cared about her own happiness but her because in the end, she came out the winner.  After a whole lot of scrapes, she ends up financially independent in a way that Mary can only envy (and, in my opinion, does envy).  She also has way more direction and purpose to life with her paper than anyone else in her family.  She talks with people outside her class, she gets along well with her employees, she falls for a kind and dependable man (a man that, of course, Mary thinks is boring and not nearly so dashing as her own choice for a husband).

But most of all, Edith knows that she can depend on herself.  She has Marigold (whom, admittedly, she brings up in conversation a bit too often, but hey, she's a mom).  She has a job.  She has an apartment.  So even when sweet, perfect Bertie Pelham leaves her at the end of this past week's episode, she holds her head up and takes it.  She could be so very happy with Bertie, but she is totally fine on her own, too.

Lady Edith.  Handling Life.

And then.  AND THEN.  As if that were not enough, she finally tells her sister off.  And she doesn't tell her off in a mean, spiteful, vengeful way.  She tells Mary, quite calmly and factually, that she is the worst.  But that she's still going to stand by her because, well, they're sisters, and no one else will share the same memories that they do.  And that's all very true and grand and kind, but let's be honest - we all know that Mary would never have abased herself in such a manner on Edith's behalf.  At every step of the way in the series, Mary ruins anything that would make Edith happy, and yet everyone on the series seems to love Mary the most.  I hate when characters get unconditional love without deserving it (I understand that is the whole point of "unconditional" love, but it still irks me).

By my estimates, Edith is approximately 500x a better person than Lady Mary is.  She isn't afraid to get hurt, she rolls with the punches, she fights for what she wants, she owns up to her mistakes, and she's the most likely to succeed in the post-aristocracy era.



  1. YES to everything! I love Edith. (and I am also a middle child...)

  2. Edith is awesome, every season killed me cos Edith got the short end of the stick every freaking time

  3. Haha! This is awesome! I actually quit watching Downton after the (I think) third season because the show was working so hard to make me like boring awful Mary and dislike Edith when Edith was clearly more interesting and likable.

  4. I stopped watching the series when Ana was raped (because, how else would you get DRAMA?), and the one character that make me think twice was Edith, who I was also rooting for since the beginning and by that time was taking her first steps in journalism. Your post made it clear in my mind why I loved her!

  5. I love this post! And I love Edith, too! You are spot on with assessment of this character, especially in comparison to Mary (who is the worst!). I've already finished this final season and was happy with how things were left with Edith. Throughout the seasons, I've grown more and more fond of her. Mary is the one that I've grown to dislike - she is just incapable of ever being truly happy for anyone but herself. What a great post!

  6. I am also #TeamEdith! I wasn't immediately, but she's one of my favorite characters now. She's not flawless and sometimes prone to self-pity, and the whole Drewes thing was a disaster. But from the first season where she paid attention to current affairs more than Mary, I came to like her for her perceptiveness and willingness to throw her shoulder against the wheel (the time the estate became a convalescent hospital, and esp. her magazine work). I used to like Mary too, but I could not bring myself to care about her in this last season at all.

  7. I love this SOOOO much. Edith is definitely one of my favorites...especially as she's grown into more of a badass throughout the series. WRITE, GIRL! You and Edith! :)

  8. I love this post! I have to admit that I'm a couple of seasons behind, but even so I feel like Mary is SOOOO overrated, and can't help but think Edith is the more interesting, complex character. It makes me happy to know that she kicks some ass even up to the end. ;)

  9. I love this post! I have to admit that I'm a couple of seasons behind, but even so I feel like Mary is SOOOO overrated, and can't help but think Edith is the more interesting, complex character. It makes me happy to know that she kicks some ass even up to the end. ;)

  10. I really wanted to slap Mary when she dropped the info about Marigold to Bertie. I felt no interest or joy in Mary's wedding. Edith's response to Mary had so much dignity. I hope she gets the happiest of endings in the last episode, whatever that may be.


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