Adoration and Descent at Downton Abbey

Downton-Abbey-period-films-15626885-1896-1090This week, North Americans are absolutely ecstatic over the PBS return of Downton Abbey. In celebration, here’s a bit of a piece I wrote about the series last year, at the start of the second season:

I suppose I adore the plot of the series most of all. As the story unfolds it bitingly exposes the timeless, cross-cultural notion of human adoration. Every episode asks: What do these characters worship? What do they want? And how do they go about getting it?

It’s helpful, here, to parse out the customs and expectations prized by the separate societies – the “upstairs” and “downstairs” characters, as fans and critics call them.

Much is revealed by the very way those upstairs prepare to enter a room. The Crawley family adores being adorned. In shot after shot, servants carefully apply necklaces, hairpieces and hats to the Countless of Grantham and her three twentysomething daughters. The Earl of Grantham has cufflinks to suit every occasion. After all, they all must fit the rooms they’re walking into, where intricate wall tapestries grace walls and diamonds decorate every plate.

Upstairs, propriety is power and beauty is etiquette.

Downstairs, servants thrum about at a frenetic pace – bustling about with dustbins and high tea trays and ornate napkins. Scene after scene they stop just before ascending the stairs or entering a dining room to talk over the duties ahead, to remind each other to attend to their masters and mistresses with grace and calm.

Thankfully, however, those below the great halls and ballrooms don’t get the posture of humble adoration right all of the time. They, too, have misplaced and selfish desires. They are felled by pride-driven decisions similar to those made by their masters.

Read full the post here.

3 thoughts on “Adoration and Descent at Downton Abbey”

  1. We’re big Downton fans, Adele, so I’m glad I found this old post. In the linked version, your tie-in with the Isaiah passage is really insightful!


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