Friday, January 13, 2012

Downton Abbey and Gone with the Wind

Posted by Connie

How many of you are addicted to Masterpiece Classic's award-winning series, Downton Abbey? I know I'm not the only one. It ensnared us last season with the very first episode, when the sinking of the Titanic left a noble English abbey without a direct heir (as the current Lord Crawley has only -- gasp! -- three daughters, who cannot inherit).

This past Sunday began season two, bringing the residents of Downton Abbey as well as the rest of England into World War I, and there is no character that remains untouched by the trenches.

As I have been watching this recently, I cannot help but compare it to one of my favorite books (even if Chioma didn't like it), Gone With the Wind. Both illustrate the effects of war and chronicle the end of an era by following one previously privileged family, allowing the reader or viewer to experience the changes more personally.

In Gone with the Wind, the O'Haras are rich, slave-owning plantation owners in Georgia. At the beginning of the novel, at the very end of the Southern Aristocracy's rule, Scarlett and her sister think only of what balls to attend and how many beaux they can acquire.

Similarly, Downton Abbey begins with the wealthy, aristocratic Crawley family, whose three daughters' primary concerns involve marriage and maintaining their wealth after their father's future passing. In place of slaves, Lord Crawley's family employs an entire staff of servants, who live separately in another part of the house and work night and day to maintain the status and respectability of the abbey and its family.

I think it can easily be argued that both have very similar themes. Both demonstrate a love for the land that will eventually die out in both societies. Gerald O'Hara constantly expresses his love for Tara plantation, which Scarlett does not originally understand, though she comes to feel the same love later. Lord Crawley loves Downton Abbey so much that he is unwilling to pursue legal actions to separate his wife's money from his, because he fears that the land will be split in the process.

Both also investigate the social changes that accompany their respective wars, particularly through the slaves and servants. In Gone With the Wind, when the war begins and the slaves are freed, we see the field hands abandon Tara without any attachment, while the house servants stay with the family out of loyalty. You see a similar tension in Downton Abbey. The higher status servants, so to speak, such as the head butler, Carson, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, are fiercely loyal to the Crawleys. The younger and lesser status servants, however, such as the maids and footmen, are happy to leave for other jobs and openly talk about being equal to the aristocracy.

We come at last to our heroines. I can't help but see the similarities between Mary Crawley, the eldest of the Crawley daughters, and Scarlett O'Hara. For Mary, especially in season one, life is a game of attracting the richest and most desirable man. She flits from beau to beau on a whim, and she even steals a suitor from her less attractive younger sister, just as Scarlett O'Hara steals Frank Kennedy from Suellen. Both are beautiful and privileged, driven by pride and a desire to maintain their status of living.

They are foolish and selfish, and both fail to recognize until too late that the man she loves is not the man she had always fantasized about, but rather the man who is her equal.

There is no sequel to Gone with the Wind, so whether there is hope for Scarlett and Rhett will only ever be left to our imaginations. As for Mary, well, we've only just started season two.