Tag Archives: Sybil Crawley

Downton Abbey: Series 3 Predictions

Lately I’ve been submerged in the 1920’s as I conduct research for my next novel.  So imagine my giddy excitement when Downton Abbey released its first major promotional image.  Those gowns, the hair!  The third installment of the series takes place from 1920-21, as Europe tries to pull itself from the wreckage of World War I.  And everyone wants to know–how will the family and staff of Downton Abbey manage this enormous task?

The show is set to air in the UK this fall, while we poor Americans must wait until January to find out the answers to the questions that have been nagging us since series 2 ended (well, those of us who are patient and do not look up answers that can easily be found on the web).  So before it airs, I wanted to put out some Downton predictions/questions that I hope will be answered in this latest installment.  Warning: there are a few spoilers in here for those of you who haven’t read any of the teaser material out there about season 3.

1.) How much longer will the Mary & Matthew “will they/won’t they?” be dragged out?

From what I’ve gathered from the limited information that’s been released, it’ll go on for at least a bit longer.  You know, I really had hoped we had finished with this one.  We left Matthew and Mary hugging in the swirling snow after a perfect Mary/Matthew-esque proposal.  But Fellowes isn’t quite ready to let it go.  Apparently a bad investment on Lord Grantham’s part is going to be a major plot device for this season, and the problem is going to weigh more heavily on aristocratic Mary than on Matthew, who is used to earning a living.  My guess is the situation will bring to the forefront the fundamental differences in the way Matthew and Mary see the world.  Do I think love will win the day?  Probably.  But it looks like we’re in for a bumpy ride (but then, what else can we expect from Matthew & Mary?).  And as a side note–if and when they do marry, are we going to get to see some happy honeymoon scenes between them?  After having to see Bates and Anna’s night together, I think it’s the least Fellowes can do for us.

2.) And speaking of Bates and Anna…

Will Bates ever get out of jail?  My theory: yes, and it may be thanks to Richard Carlisle.  He was the one who heard Mrs. Bates’s rather blatant threat against her husband, after all.  But I can’t imagine that Richard would provide a favor for the Crawley family so easily after being jilted by Mary (and I’m still wondering if the Pamuk scandal is going to resurface yet again).  And what will Anna’s story line look like, with her husband in the clink?  This is just a guess, but based on the picture that was released of the entire cast, it looks like Anna may become a ladies’ maid.  She seems to be dressed the same as O’Brien.  And of course that makes me think that Mary and Matthew do indeed get married, and Mary’s new marital status allows for a promotion for Anna.

3.) And speaking of promotions…

At the end of last season we finally saw Daisy grow a spine and confront Mrs. Patmore, asking for a promotion to assistant cook.  Wonder how that’s going to work out?  And who will replace Daisy as scullery maid?  According to this article, she’ll be replaced by a doe-eyed girl named Ivy.  You know, I hope Daisy finds a man this season, one she actually loves and isn’t guilted into marrying only to become a widow hours later.  I’m pulling for you, Daisy.

4.) What will the downstairs dynamic be like?

So many changes!  We’ll need a replacement footman for the deceased William, and a new scullery maid to fill Daisy’s vacant position.  Plus, if the estate is in financial trouble, what will it mean for the hardworking folks downstairs?  Job security will surely be on everyone’s minds.  And will O’Brien and Thomas continue their conniving ways?  Who am I kidding, of course they will.

5.) What does the future look like for Sybil and Branson?

The relationship between Sybil and Branson was boring in season 2, in my opinion.  But now that they’re married, and Sybil’s pregnant, and Cora’s insisting they be allowed to come back to Downton, my interest has perked up.  How on earth are these two “rebels” going to fit in around the dinner table?  Branson, the former chauffeur, dining alongside his former employer?  Should be interesting.  And what will Granny have to say about the whole thing?

I’m concerned about Branson’s safety, and not just because of Granny’s barbed one-liners.  He’ll most likely be involved in the Irish political movement, which was at times violent (though the civil war did not begin until 1922, which will be after the time period of the upcoming series).  Speaking from a story/plot perspective, it makes sense in some ways for Branson to leave Sybil behind at Downton, and she and her “crazy” progressive notions will have to fend for themselves in a house full of traditionalists.  Now, whether this “leaving” is in the form of taking off to fight in Ireland, or perhaps a more…permanent exit, I don’t know.  One thing’s for certain, there’s going to be a lot of head-butting when these two re-enter the scene.

6.) Will Edith finally find her place?

Poor Edith.  I hated her the first season, but mostly just pitied her the second.  However, the war seemed to help her realize she had more valuable contributions to make to society besides sending off letters about her sister’s improper behavior in the bedroom.  At the end of season 2 she went to see Sir Anthony Strallan, the man who almost proposed in season 1 until Mary intervened.  He didn’t want to court her due to his crippled condition, but Edith didn’t seem inclined to take no for an answer.  My prediction–she’s going to wear him down at some point and the two will be married (unless long-lost cousin Patrick Crawley somehow makes his way back into the picture–and boy I hope not, as that was one of the more soap-opera-ish plots in season 2 I could have done without).

Finally, an overall thought about the upcoming season.  I think that the money issue will divide the house between the aristocrats (Lord Grantham, Mary, Lady Violet) and those who don’t quite “get” the English obsession with tradition (Cora, Sybil, Matthew, Cora’s mother, who will be played by Shirley Maclaine and who I can’t wait to see).  I think this is where the main conflict is going to stem from.  And I think (hope) it will reflect what was going on throughout England during this period of enormous change after the First World War.

So now it’s your turn–what are your Downton predictions for season 3?  And what do you hope will happen?

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 6 recap

This episode opens in 1919, as Edith watches the last medical vehicle leave the property of Downton, signalling that the home can finally return to normal.  Downton Abbey’s definition of “normal,” that is: this two-hour episode was packed with drama, culminating in a wedding and a funeral.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Now that the war is over, the inhabitants of Downton are ready to move on, or rather, move back to the way things used to be (much to Lady Sybil’s dismay).  As Cora goes about looking for new work to put her energy into, her husband continues to mope about, feeling his life no longer has purpose.  He apparently finds that purpose in one of THE oddest hookups in Downton Abbey history with the housemaid Jane.  Honestly, I know the man’s lost, but this seems so far out of character for Robert that I just couldn’t buy into it.  And his wife is in the other room battling for her life no less!  Who is this man and what has he done with the Earl of Grantham, caring husband/father/lord of the estate?  Fortunately, Jane decides it best for both of them if she turns in her notice, but not without giving Robert a goodbye kiss to remember her by first (in the library, really?).

Of course, that’s not the only social-barrier-crossing romance that reaches its conclusion in this episode.  After much deliberation (and a great deal of patience on Branson’s part), Lady Sybil finally decides that she cannot go back to her life before the war.  We see her sitting in the grand drawing room, staring off into space while others chat around her.  The wheels in her mind are turning, and she goes to Branson, telling him she’s made her decision, and he’s her ticket out of her old life.  Her statement left me feeling that Sybil is using Branson just as much as Branson seemed to be using Sybil in previous episodes.  But I had to respect the resolve of the couple, which never wavered despite a botched elopement and retrieval by Edith and Mary, and a large amount of blustering by Papa (who apparently is okay with double standards).  So maybe there’s love there, after all.

But of course the big news of the episode (besides the fact that Dr. Clarkson made a mistake in his diagnosis of Matthew’s spinal injury) is the development in the driving “will they/won’t they” plot between Matthew and Mary.  The dance scene between the two of them (the one that Lavinia unfortunately witnesses) is one fans have no doubt been waiting for all season.  Thanks to Granny’s advice, Matthew has been left to mull over the unsettling thought that he is marrying the wrong woman, but out of obligation and duty he feels he must marry Lavinia, who sacrificed everything to be with him.  Even though he doesn’t really want to.

And what of poor Lavinia?  It is somewhat disheartening to see your fiancee embracing his former fiancee just days before your own wedding.  She takes to bed with a case of the Spanish flu (of which Cora and Carson are also afflicted), and has a heart-to-heart with Matthew, and even she has to admit that Matthew and Mary are a better match than the two of them. She takes a sudden turn for the worse, and lives up to her predictions from previous episodes that she will not be able to live without Matthew.  On her deathbed she informs him that it is better this way, and she wants him to be happy.  I’m sure her intentions were good, but her words left Matthew wandering around the estate, wracked with guilt.

Matthew and Lord Robert discuss funeral arrangements

After the funeral Matthew informs Mary he feels certain that Lavinia died of a broken heart (while I yelled at the TV “NO!  It was the Spanish flu!”).  Because of her parting words he knows he and Mary can never be happy together.  A devastated Mary leaves the graveside on the arm of skeeze ball Sir Richard (you know, the one who tried to bribe Anna to spy on Mary for him).

"We are cursed, you and I."

Amidst all this, Bates and Anna’s relationship is taken to the next level when evidence surfaces of Bates’s possible involvement in his wife’s death.  Anna refuses to let him go through it alone, and basically orders him to go ahead and marry her, which he does.

The two get one night of happiness together before he’s carted off to prison on the charge of willful murder.  I’m still of the opinion that Mrs. Bates’s demise was self-inflicted, and she set up the letter and other evidence in order to frame her husband, but I suppose the upcoming trial will shed some light on what really happened.  Poor Bates and Anna, will these two kids ever catch a break?

Bates being handcuffed, with a helpless Anna watching on

Hard to believe it, but next week wraps up season 2 with Christmas at Downton.

Interested in learning more about the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19 featured prominently in this episode?  You can read my post about it here.

Miss any of the other episodes?  Read my recaps here:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 5 recap

All was doom and gloom in the fifth episode of Downton Abbey as the war draws to a close.  After last week’s focus on the horrible repercussions of fighting on the front, this week the drama generated within the household as a mysterious stranger arrived claiming to have some pretty serious ties to the family.

Warning: Spoilers galore ahead

While Lady Edith has stayed mostly in the background the last several episodes, she finally had a large part in a plot this week.  Officer Patrick Gordon, whose face is disfigured from terrible burns, arrives at Downton and poses as long-lost cousin and heir Patrick Crawley (the one who was supposed to have gone down with the Titanic and thus created the central plot of the first series, when new heir Matthew Crawley comes into the lives of the inhabitants of Downton).  Only Edith buys into Patrick-if-that’s-even-your-real-name Gordon’s story.  Maybe because it’s her unexpected chance at becoming the future mistress of Downton (at last winning a victory over Mary), or perhaps because she genuinely wants to believe the man she once loved has returned from the dead.  But Patrick makes a hasty retreat when information is learned about a “Peter Gordon” who was good friends with Patrick Crawley.  And with him goes Edith’s little glimmer of hope.

Edith reflecting on the house that will never be hers

Regardless of whether or not he believes Patrick’s story, Matthew wishes the family would entertain it as a valid possibility, as in his mind he is no longer a suitable heir for Downton.   I’ve read many reviews that feel the character goes a bit overboard on the self-pitying, but really, can you blame Matthew?  Yes, he’s still alive, but his entire life has changed, and he does not want to subject anyone to a life of looking after him.  He does perk up a bit when Mary is around, and we are treated to a few scenes with the two of them alone together.  Richard Carlisle has a right to be concerned.

Cora grows concerned that Mary’s time with Matthew will dash her chances at a good marriage to Richard.  In a rather un-Cora-like move she contacts Lavinia and convinces her to grow a spine and come back to Downton to care for Matthew.  This raises the ire of Robert, and their marital strife deepens.  Robert continues to feel neglected, and is slipping ever closer to a scandal with new maid Jane.

We also find Cora in cahoots with her mother-in-law this episode, as the two manipulate Isobel Crawley into staying out of Downton Abbey’s future.  I liked this scene (as I like all the scenes when Lady Violet is at the helm), but I never believed cousin Isobel to be so gullible.

Thanks to Cora’s meddling, Mary is ousted from her position as caretaker of Matthew, something she makes the mistake of mentioning to Sir Richard.  He demonstrates just what he’s capable of during a withering exchange in which he tells Mary she has given him the power to destroy her and she best not jilt him.  Oh Mary, you’ve met your match–h0w are you going to get out of this one?

Things are no better downstairs.  As I predicted, Daisy feels nothing but guilt over marrying William, and refuses to go to meetings to learn about getting her pension as a war widow.  Carson must make the difficult decision between staying at Downton or leaving to take charge of Mary and Richard’s new estate (and since Carson would “open his veins” for Mary, we all know which he will choose).

Then there’s Bates.  His patience for his wife’s refusal to sign on the dotted line and make their divorce official is long lost.  After a trip to London where he tries to “reason with her” there’s a tell-tale mark on his face that leads one to believe that more than a calm discussion was had.  And then Mrs. Bates is found dead.  This is not looking good for Bates (or Anna, for that matter), as there’s some incriminating statements floating about that O’Brien overheard, and that were said directly to Lord Grantham (perhaps you should not tell your employer that you wish your estranged wife was “the late Mrs. Bates”).

As usual, there are the other odds and ends throughout the episode.  Lady Sybil and Branson have another short exchange and it seems that Branson’s endless lectures of sacrifice (or perhaps his partially unbuttoned shirt and rolled up sleeves) have finally convinced Sybil that he’s the man for her.  Judging from next week’s preview it looks like the news is going to break, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Thomas is scheming to sell rationed food on the black market to make some extra cash, and O’Brien is busy gathering information to bring down Bates (I know she doesn’t like the man, but why is she so dead-set on “making him pay?”).  Ethel’s last hope of being saved from a life of poverty is extinguished when the father of her child is killed in battle (I still can’t get into this particular story thread).

If there was any sort of silver lining at all in this episode (and boy was it hard to find), it was when Bates wheeled Matthew out of the great hall after the armistice was observed.  It seemed Matthew was able to feel something in his legs, which he begins to ask Bates about, but then retracts his question, saying that it didn’t matter, at least not until he felt it again.  Could it be that Matthew won’t be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life after all?

Next week it looks like the Dowager Countess finally takes the Mary/Matthew matter into her own hands, and Cora becomes very ill, prompting O’Brien to perhaps confess her part in Cora’s miscarriage five years prior.  With only two episodes left, I still have no idea how these plots are going to tie themselves up, and can’t help but wonder what else will be thrown at us in the meantime.

What were your thoughts on episode 5?

Miss any other episodes?  Read my recaps here:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 4 recap

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Last night Downton Abbey did not end with a cheery song and the return of an unscathed missing man.  Instead viewers were hit with one piece of depressing news after another.  This was the darkest episode yet (except for a few light spots with the Dowager Countess, such as when she calls the telephone an instrument of torture.  Oh Granny).

Two of my Downton Predictions proved accurate in this episode.  During the battle of Amiens (which was the beginning of the end of the war and was a major success for the Allied forces), Matthew and William are wounded by a nearby shell explosion.  William sustains a serious lung injury that will slowly kill him, while Matthew’s injury leads the doctor to suggest that he will never walk again, and will never have a “proper marriage.”  Now the future of the entail is called into question again, as well as Matthew’s engagement to Lavinia.  He tells her to leave, refusing to tie her down to a cripple who won’t be able to give her any children.

Lavinia pours her heart out to Lady Mary, then promptly departs for London, leaving Mary to care for Matthew.  Given Lavinia’s meek and mild nature, someone with Mary’s strong resolve is probably what Matthew needs (and of course I’m rooting for them to reunite).  Mary devotes herself to Matthew’s care, and seems to finally have found her place among all the change occurring around her from the war.

But Mary has other problems to tend to.  Vera Bates returns (thanks to O’Brien) and has every intention of revealing Mary’s secret, and plans to bring Anna down along with the Crawley name.  Anna tells Mary, who goes to see Sir Richard about the matter.  You know you’ve made a mistake in your choice of fiancee when he says he’s happy to help, but it also pleases him to know that he’ll have something on you and you’ll be in his debt.  As we can see from next week’s preview, it looks like Sir Richard plans to play the “Pamuk card” to get what he wants.

Mrs. Bates is paid off by Sir Richard, who then promptly announces his engagement to Mary (again, not a good sign, given that Mary had no knowledge that he would do so).  This news infuriates Vera, and she swears that she will get Bates back another way.  This woman is on an entirely different level than O’Brien and Thomas in her one-dimensional vendetta against Bates and Anna.  O’Brien and Thomas can be nasty, but who knows to what lengths Vera will go to get back at Bates.

Meanwhile William is dying at Downton (after a few strings are pulled by Lady Violet to get him there) in the largest bedroom he’s ever slept in.  Daisy is basically peer-pressured into marrying William in order to receive a widow’s pension.  You can’t help but feel badly for her, and I know the guilt is going to eat away at her as that pension starts coming in.  The marriage, quickly followed by the death of William, left us reaching for the tissues (if Lady Violet is allowed to shed a tear, so are we!).

There were a few odds and ends tucked in throughout the episode.  Lady Edith quietly nurses William, keeping him comfortable during the final days of his life.  A  few short scenes between Lady Sybil and Branson show that he seems to be chipping away at the barrier she’s put between them (really, this relationship grows creepier each week, like Sybil is some sort of trophy that Branson’s trying to win).

Lord Grantham is being ignored by Lady Grantham, who is busy running the convalescent home, and like some sort of spoiled child he pouts with his newspaper, and then takes an all-too keen interest in the new maid (did anyone else notice that lingering look he gave after she left the room?).  Mrs. Hughes has been looking out for Ethel and her illegitimate child, who the father wants nothing to do with (is it just me or does this thread fall somewhat flat–I didn’t have enough time with Ethel to become emotionally invested in her).  And Isobel Crawley returns at last, and the look Matthew gives her before breaking down when he sees her was enough to make me bring out the tissues again.

So what next?  Nothing was resolved in this episode, and it looks like several story arcs are getting ready to hit their critical peaks.

What did you think of this week’s episode?

Miss any of the other episodes?  See my episode 1, episode 2, and episode 3 recaps.

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 3 recap

Bates is back, and all is right with the world.

Or at least, downstairs at Downton Abbey.  There’s something about Bates’s presence that makes the other staff feel that they’ve got someone looking out for them (which perturbs O’Brien and Thomas to no end, and refreshes their need to scheme).  Even the Earl of Grantham needs Bates, prompting a surprise visit to the pub where Bates works to ask for forgiveness and for him to come back to help the Earl “through the veil of shadow.”

Bates turns to find a surprise visitor

That shadow, of course, is the news that Matthew (as well as William) has gone missing.  As the news slowly spreads upstairs, it somehow makes the war a little more real, a little “closer to home.”  Sure, there are convalescents all over the place and Sybil is in her nurse’s garb, and yes, Matthew’s been to the front (always returning home without a scratch), but so far the house has seemed one step removed from it all.  The war’s been used as an abstract backdrop for the series, but now the Crawleys (and the viewers) are face to face with its sober realities.

This to me was the best episode of season 2 so far, for that very reason.  The family is putting on a performance for the convalescents, trying to keep things bright and cheery, while internally they are all concerned about Matthew.  Downstairs, everyone keeps on with their work, but William is never far from their minds.  The two missing men reappear during Mary and Edith’s performance, when the family and staff (along with the viewers) are temporarily distracted.   Real joy replaces the fake smiles the inhabitants of Downton Abbey have been wearing, knowing that their men are safe, for now.

Matthew and William return

There are several other mini-plots going on throughout the episode.  Scandal erupts when Mrs. Hughes finds one of the convalescents in bed with Ethel, who is immediately dismissed and later shows up pregnant.  Another potential scandal is brewing between Lady Sybil and Branson the chauffeur.  Sybil’s always been one to shirk tradition, but her rebellious nature revs up in this episode, no doubt stoked by Branson’s prodding.  It’s just a matter of time before she is willing to acknowledge what she already knows.  I can only imagine what the ramifications would be of such a match (and what Lady Violet will have to say about it!).

Sybil contemplating the choice she has to make

Mary decides to accept Richard Carlisle’s proposal (a decision she’ll regret, no doubt), and writes Matthew to let him know (he then promptly goes out on patrol, but takes Mary’s good luck charm, so he’s okay!).

Isobel Crawley, feeling she is no longer wanted at Downton (and rightfully so) leaves for France to work for the wounded and missing inquiry department detachment set up by the Red Cross (can’t say I was sorry to see her go, she’s been a real pain this season).  Her maid and Mr. Mosley decide to set up a soup kitchen of sorts for the wounded veterans of the village, and Mrs. Patmore steps in to help.  O’Brien catches wind of it and promptly informs “her ladyship,” who goes to investigate.  Fortunately Cora does not disapprove and actually pitches in to help.

This episode took place in 1918, so the war will be drawing to a close soon.  Looks like next week Matthew and William will be put in more danger, and Mary’s past comes back to haunt her.

Miss either of the other two episodes?  Read my episode 1 and episode 2 recaps.

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Downton Abbey Season 2, episode 2 recap

Tensions ran high on Downton Abbey this week (but then, when do they not?).  The house is turned upside down as it is prepared as an officers’ convalescence home, leading to all sorts of trouble.

Mrs. Crawley overstepping her bounds.

Mrs. Crawley and Lady Cora butt heads over the running of the household and which rooms should be sectioned off for the convalescents.  We already knew Mrs. Crawley could be assertive, but she seems to forget her place here and the family has to remind her with some force.  O’Brien, who has become Cora’s protector after the bath tub debacle of last season, conspires with Thomas to make sure that Cora is put in charge of the household alongside Mrs. Crawley, much to the latter’s chagrin.  O’Brien also uses her pull over Cora to get Thomas assigned as the household manager, which Carson is none too happy about.

Sybil busies herself with setting up beds in the various grand rooms of the house, with Edith watching on, feeling she has no purpose and is only in the way.  Sybil gives her some kind advice which Edith takes to heart, telling her everyone has a purpose, she just needs to find hers.  Edith does so by making the newly arrived officers feel at home, getting to know them, and helping them write letters to loved ones.  She shows compassion (something I wasn’t sure Edith possessed), and many of the soldiers note this to General Stratt when comes to visit the house, garnering her recognition at the dinner given for the general that evening.  Mary’s face was priceless in this scene, though I’m not sure if it was envy that I saw, or once again that sensation of feeling somewhat out of place, not knowing what her role is exactly now that the war is here.

Sybil bears the brunt of Branson’s anger when the army rejects him due to a heart murmur and he cannot make the public protest he hoped for when he is called up.  Sybil does not understand the source of his anger and tells him as much.  Branson informs her his cousin was gunned down by an English soldier during the Easter Rising in Ireland (which took place in 1916).  Branson later comes up with a new way to make his voice heard, concocting a special “soup” for the general.  Carson, Mrs. Hughes and Anna stop him before he has a chance to spill the disgusting concoction over the top of the general’s head.  With such anger and conviction, this won’t likely be the last of Branson’s attempts to make his views known.

Anna has a glimmer of hope when she believes she sees Bates in the village.  Mary offers to help her find out about him using the services of Sir Richard.  As she explains to Anna, “he works in newspapers, a world of spies, tip offs, and private investigators.  I promise you he can find out whatever he likes.”  I’d say this offers some fairly significant foreshadowing as to what’s going to happen to Mary.  No doubt Sir Richard is going to find out about the Mr. Pamuk scandal and use it against her so that he does not lose her.  We see his power over Lavinia Swire; no doubt he could do the same to Mary.

Sir Richard does indeed find Mr. Bates’s whereabouts, and Anna goes to visit him.  Bates left his wife so the divorce proceedings can take place soon, and is confident he will be able to pay his wife more than any newspaper would for the story she has on Mary.  Why do I get the feeling it isn’t going to be as easy as it sounds?

Granny and Lady Mary have a chat about Matthew.

In the meantime Mary learns another interesting tidbit, this time about Lavinia Swire.  Her aunt learns that Lavinia gave information to Sir Richard which led to the Marconi scandal of 1912, and that the two were lovers.  Lavinia soon confesses the former to Mary, but insists that the two were never romantically attached and she only did it to save her father from financial ruin.  Mary tells her she believes her, and Lavinia informs her that Sir Richard “threatened to tell you all about it, but now I’ve done it anyway.”  I have two theories on this one: either Lavinia hasn’t told Mary the whole story and wanted to beat Richard to the punch so Mary would believe her over him, or this is an example of how Sir Richard uses the vast amount of gossip he can dredge up to control people.  But regardless, Mary does not say anything to Matthew about Lavinia’s secret, though she certainly could have used the story that her aunt had procured.  Again, we see that Mary’s former pettiness has been replaced with actual compassion, even towards a woman she could consider her rival.

Lavinia reveals her secret to Lady Mary.

Downstairs, Daisy’s in over her head, no thanks to Mrs. Patmore, who insists that she must accept William’s proposal before he goes overseas.  She tells Daisy she can go back on it when he returns home, and Daisy accepts against her better judgment.  Mrs. Patmore isn’t the only one who is trying to look out for William.  Lord Grantham asks Matthew if he will take William on as his servant, to which he agrees, but says he cannot guarantee his safety.

This episode also saw Lang’s mental state deteriorate further due to shell-shock.  He wakens the entire servants’ quarters with his screams during a vivid nightmare, and begins to break down when the general and the other officers leave Downton, afraid that they might send him back to the front.  Carson and Mrs. Hughes agree that he is not ready to come back to work, and Lang agrees.

The episode closes with Lord and Lady Grantham, who are still adjusting to the new role their house is playing.  Lord Grantham states one of my favorite lines so far: “The world was in a dream before the war.  But now it’s woken up and said goodbye to it, and so must we.”  He realizes that change is inevitable, and to continue fighting against it will do them nothing but harm.

It looks like the action heats up next week with a scandal involving Ethel, Branson asking Sybil to run away with him, and the news that Matthew is reported as missing after he returns to the front.

Missed the first episode?  Read my recap here.

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“I wanted to do my bit”: VADs during World War I

In the second season of Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil Crawley grieves as she receives news of yet another male acquaintance dying for his country.  Tired of waiting idly for the war to end, she decides to volunteer as a VAD.

"Sometimes it feels as if all the men I ever danced with are dead." ~Lady Sybil

The Voluntary Aid Detachment (or VAD) was founded in 1909 through the efforts of the Red Cross and the Order of St. John.  Its function was to provide free help to hospitals throughout England and later, on the Western Front.  VADs (as they were called) mostly came from Britain’s middle and upper classes, women who could afford to volunteer their time.  At the beginning of the war the British Red Cross, as well as military authorities, refused to allow VADs in field hospitals, due to their lack of experience.  Many of these women were unaccustomed to manual labor, having had servants their entire lives.  We see this in Downton Abbey when Lady Sybil goes downstairs to the kitchen, asking Mrs. Patmore for cooking lessons.

Sybil's cake is a success

Naomi Mitchison was pursuing a degree in science from the University of Oxford when she decided to volunteer as a VAD.  She wrote of her inexperience:

Of course I made awful mistakes. I had never done real manual household work; I had never used mops and polishes and disinfectants. I was very willing but clumsy. I was told to make tea but hadn’t realised that tea must be made with boiling water. All that had been left to the servants.

As the war progressed, a shortage of trained nurses caused the Red Cross and military authorities to reevaluate their priorities.  Restrictions were lifted, and women over the age of 23 who had at least 3 months’ experience in a British hospital (many VAD hospitals were set up in larger British towns to nurse those who returned from the front) could now continue their work overseas.

Katharine Furse, who was appointed “Commander-in-Chief” of the VAD, wrote a letter that each VAD was to keep in their pocket book.

You are being sent to work for the Red Cross. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience, your humility, your determination to overcome all difficulties.

38,000 women volunteered for the VAD during World War I, working as nurse assistants, cooks, ambulance drivers, letter writers, and any other work that proved necessary both at home and overseas.  Vera Brittain described her experience in a field hospital near Etaples:

I am a Sister VAD, and orderly all in one. Quite apart from the nursing, I have stoked the fire all night, done two or three rounds of bed pans, and kept the kettles going…I feel as if I had been dragged through the gutter. Possibly acute surgical is the heaviest type of work there is, I think, more wearing than anything else on earth. You are kept on the go the whole time but in the end there seems to be nothing definite to show for it – except that one or two are still alive that might otherwise have been dead.

Vera Brittain in VAD uniform

Catherine Cathcart-Smith served as an ambulance driver:

I wanted to do my bit for the war so I volunteered to drive an ambulance. We had to meet the troop trains at the big London railway stations – Waterloo and Victoria. The trains had hundreds of wounded soldiers packed on them. Their wounds were frightful. Young men with no arms or legs. Many had been gassed. Others blinded. One day I saw this young man on a stretcher. It was my brother, so I said to the soldiers who were carrying him: “Put him in my ambulance, I am his sister.” When he died the next day I was with him, holding his hand.

May Bradford composed letters home for men who were either illiterate or were injured in a way that prevented them from doing so.  She later recalled that she had to educate some of the men on the proper ways of writing to women:

 To one man I said, “Shall I begin the letter with my dear wife?”  He quietly answered: “That sounds fine, but she’ll be wondering I never said that before.”

May Bradford

Many women quickly adapted to their new roles, becoming invaluable assets to the war effort.  Some VADs were even decorated for distinguished service.  This organization proved so effective it would be used again in World War II.

To read more about life as a VAD, I highly recommend Vera Brittain’s memoir A Testament to Youth.

Source: Spartacus Educational

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