Thursday, January 31, 2013

shakespeare uncovered

PBS has a new show that fans of acting and actors, and most especially, William Shakespeare, are bound to enjoy. Each episode of Shakespeare Uncovered features a well-known actor tracing the steps of the Bard's famous plays.

The first episode, which featured actor Ethan Hawke examining Macbeth was a real treat. Hawke, known for his own interpretation of Hamlet, examined the possibilities of exploring the character of Macbeth, a part he yearns to play. He visited Scotland and spoke to other actors who had assayed the role. The episode also featured scenes from interpretations by actors Patrick Stewart and Antony Sher. Noted Shakespeare scholars also weigh in to give the play and its characters context. One of the more interesting observations that came up during the episode was that the Macbeths, for all of their murderous impulses, are one of Shakespeare's happier married couples. It is this sort of fresh look at an old play that most viewers may not have glanced at or thought about since high school English class that makes Shakespeare Uncovered so interesting to watch.

Ethan Hawke consults fellow actor Richard Easton on how to play the dagger scene in Macbeth
The next episode will feature actress Joely Richardson discussing Shakespeare's comedies Twelfth Night and As You Like It (it hasn't aired yet here, but has already aired on some PBS stations). That will be followed by Derek Jacobi on Richard II, Jeremy Irons on Henry IV and Henry V, and David Tennant examining Hamlet and The Tempest. I have to admit that I'm very eager to see Jacobi, one of my favorite actors, and his take. I remember seeing him do both Richard II and Hamlet as part of The BBC Television Shakespeare, an ambitious project to film all of the Bard's plays for television, when I was still in middle school. I have since come to learn that he is one of those who doubt that William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays. I disagree with this point of view, but still love him. It will be interesting to see if he butts heads with scholars on his episode.

Derek Jacobi as Richard II, John Gielgud as John of Gaunt
David Tennant as Hamlet, Patrick Stewart as Claudius

PBS also includes links to three filmed Shakespeare plays:

Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood
Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart
King Lear, starring Ian McKellen

This is a real treat for fans of Shakespeare and is making me want to hunt down some of those older late '70s - early '80s versions of the plays, too.
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

a club i don't want to join

For all of those folks who love Mickey and all his friends, this post, which is a bit of an anti-Disney rant, is not for you. I don't deny that Disney and its products have brought many people, my kid included, a great deal of joy over the years. But I also can't deny how the influence of the company, especially from a marketing standpoint, is becoming more and more of an overwhelming presence in my child's life. And frankly, I'm sick of it.

We seem to have escaped the Disney Princess syndrome, at least. Of course we have a few dolls —  Pocahontas and Merida, to be exact — but they have to fight with Barbie and a Bratzilla for Harry Potter's attention. My daughter doesn't seem to have been sucked into the "everything princess-y" faze, and for that I'm grateful. It's not that I don't like princesses per se. In fact, I'm a huge fan of myths and fairy tales. It's just that I want the kid to see and read many interpretations. Disney is not canon. To know that the original story from the 1001 Arabian Nights wasn't mostly about Princess Jasmine and who she's going to marry, but about a clever and tricky little rascal named Aladdin. And that there's a whole 'nother version of The Little Mermaid out there that will really rattle her one of these days.

But there must have been something Disney did to stir me up enough to write this post, right? Yes, there was. The chief culprit and the bane of my recent existence is a website called Club Penguin. It's a bit like The Sims for kids, with penguins instead of people. The kid is obsessed with it. The powers-that-be at Disney have married their obsessive marketing towards children with the power of the internet in one nice little insidious package. The kid can join Club Penguin for free, so no harm done, right? Except for the relentless dangling of all the perks — more clothes for your penguin, more puffles (a penguin pet), more, more, more, more stuff that you just have to have — if you can just convince your parents to sign you up for the paid monthly membership.
"Prior to being purchased by Disney, Club Penguin was almost entirely dependent on membership fees to produce a revenue stream. Nevertheless, the vast majority of users (90% according to The Washington Post) chose not to pay, instead taking advantage of the free play on offer. Those who choose to pay do so because full (paid) membership is required to access all of the services, such as the ability to purchase virtual clothes for the penguins and buy decorations for igloos; and because peer pressure has created a "caste system" separating paid from unpaid members." — Wikipedia, quoting Robertson, Heather-Jane (2007). "Postman Does Penguins," Phi Delta Kappan
Although the game is designed for kids, any age can sign up and play. This is of course a concern, as being able to chat and interact with other players is open to all, whether you pay or not. It's supposed to be safe, but ...

There is also a series of Club Penguin books that contain keys to various gifts in the game, which encourage the kid to want to get more stuff while playing. More, more more. The cult of more. She is always checking those out at the library, although I doubt whether she reads them, but instead scans them for clues. She can also collect coins in the game to help "pay" for more stuff.

I never said the puffles weren't cute - they are
Apparently just being a penguin with a puffle in a virtual winter environment is not enough. Some of her friends play Club Penguin, which is fun for her. But she has also made many other virtual "friends" who she may sometimes have fun with, but who also occasionally hurt her feelings by what they say or how they act. All normal kid stuff, right? Except instead of having virtual arguments or wishing that her penguin is as tricked out as some of her friends, she might be outside playing in the sunshine or reading a book, or so many other things. I'd rather she had a real argument with a kid on the playground than be ticked off because someone was rude to her outside her virtual igloo.

I monitor the time she spends playing the game, and I want her to have shared experiences with her friends, but I am concerned and frustrated that like so many other Disney-associated products, there always seems to be the inevitable dollar sign attached. I'm just hoping that like other things, she will soon grow out of, or bored with Club Penguin and move on to something else. Hopefully something that doesn't have a never-ending price tag. I currently am disappointing her by having to constantly reiterate why I won't be signing up my credit card to deduct a monthly fee to Disney. It's one way for her to learn the value of money, by my not spending it unnecessarily, on something I don't entirely approve of.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

here's the story ...

... of a lovely lady ...

The kid, thanks to the retroactive power of television, has recently discovered two kid shows from the past, The Brady Bunch and Full House. The Brady Bunch is right out of my childhood. Watching it with her is pretty wild, as I can remember the tiny kitchen table (it was a house with nine people, for crying out loud), the staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms, Mr. Brady's den/office, the patio, etc. Kids love watching kids. so the '70s fashions don't seem to intrigue her as much as the interactions between the siblings.

Full House was not a regular on my viewing schedule, but I have to admit that I remember more about it than I thought I would. A thinly-veiled  version of the film Three Men and A Baby, Full House has the right amount of kids and silly situations to keep the kid amused. I never got why so many of the '80s and '90s sitcoms added the "Awwww" track every time a shot of a cute kid like Baby Michelle (the now famous Olsen twins) filled the screen, but that's part of the experience too, I guess. But what must have sold the show originally (and still does, actually) was John Stamos as Uncle Jesse. Similar to The Brady Bunch, the three girls present the eternal sibling triangle — big sister, middle sister, and baby sister. But mostly the kid likes to watch the silly sitcom antics and how the kids get into and out of trouble.

Did Mr. Brady really design that stairwell?
The two (or three) reasons people tuned into Full House - John Stamos and the Olsen twins
There are plenty of shows on television these days that feature families and kids, but not a lot that interest me or strike the kid's fancy. Probably the closest thing to both the innocence of The Brady Bunch and the sassiness (without being too bratty) of the kids on Full House would be the Disney Channel's Good Luck Charlie. I find most of the kids on Disney Channel shows uber-obnoxious and way too mouthy — not a template I want the kid to follow, but Good Luck Charlie is saved by the over-the-top cartoonish behavior of Leigh-Allyn Baker as the mom, Amy, and Bridgit Mendler as her equally goofy teenage daughter Teddy.

The funny ladies of Good Luck Charlie - Leigh-Allyn Baker and Bridgit Medler
Teddy and her brothers are helping their parents raise the new baby Charlie (another baby comes along later in the series). The other actors are fun, too, but these two ladies make the show. I'm not sure if the kid sees the similarities between all of these shows, but I guess there's  family sitcom for every generation. And the way we watch television these days, each generation can watch their shows pretty much all in the same day, some time even back-to-back.
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Monday, January 28, 2013

we've come a long way, baby — from downton abbey

For everyone who tunes in to Downton Abbey for the fabulous period costumes and Upstairs, Downstairs-ish soap opera, those features were again in abundance, but this past Sunday's episode also turned up a twist — please don't read on if you haven't seen it yet and don't want a major spoiler.

Downton Abbey continues to faithfully serve up a glimpse of life among the rich and not-so-rich in (now in its third season) 1920s England. But what the show also offers is a look at how far we, especially women, have come since just the last century. Last night's episode underlined how difficult, whether you are the server or the served, life could be for women.

Edith's prospects are ignored by her father over breakfast

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), after her well-received letter to the editor, had been offered a position to write a column for the local paper. Brother-in-law Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) was supportive, but her father, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and grandmother, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), were predictably against it. I suspect Edith with go ahead with it, but the fact that her father still thinks he can forbid her taking the position shows how difficult life was for Edith. It's absurd to us today that Edith's father thinks that her expressing her opinion in print will embarrass him, that the world will make fun of her, and that he can prevent all of that from happening.

Matthew's mother, Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), offers fallen woman and former Downton maid Ethel (Amy Nuttall) a job. Her cook and housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Christine Lohr) protests, and is let go. Not the outcome she expected, but Mrs. Crawley is not one to be trifled with. Mrs. Bird quickly fires off a letter to Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) at Downton, to  express her outrage, and he wastes no time running to Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), who agrees that Ethel will make it impossible for any "decent woman" to ever set foot in Mrs. Crawley's house again. He urges her immediate dismissal but Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) persuades him to let it be, at least for now. How hard it was then for a young woman, especially of a certain class, who had sex out of wedlock which resulted in a baby. She had few or no options. Ethel became, like many, a prostitute. And now, when she is trying to change her life, is still being treated like the scum of the earth, even when she would never prostitute herself again. It's hard for many contemporary women to understand, let alone relate to Ethel, or the attitudes she inspires. It's important that Downton Abbey reminds us how very different the rules for sexual behavior were for men and women not so long ago. It's also interesting that, apart from Mrs. Bird, two women, Mrs. Crawley and Mrs. Hughes, are far more sympathetic to Ethel's plight than men like Mr. Carson and Mr. Molesley.

Baby girl Branson

In the episode's most touching moments, Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) went into labor, but all was not well. Her father brought in the aristocratic doctor Sir Philip Tapsell (Tim Piggott-Smith) to attend the birth, implying it was beyond local Dr. Clarkson (David Robb), who so ably eased Mrs. Hughes through her cancer scare last week. His wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Lady Grantham, objected, as Dr. Clarkson "knows them" and insisted that he also be on hand. Her husband agreed, but it was soon clear that she, like many other women before and since, was merely being humored, as he and especially Tapsell, had no intention of letting Clarkson in on things. Everything came to a head when Clarkson diagnosed Sybil with eclampsia, and urged them to get her to a hospital to perform a Caesarian. Tapsell and Lord Grantham refused, and Sybil's screams ended the argument. She delivered a baby girl (the X chromosome is strong in the Crawley family) but a few hours later began having seizures and died, with her horrified, grief-stricken family and both doctors looking on helplessly. Women still die in childbirth today, but it is beyond tragic that Sybil's death may have been avoided, if only Cora and Clarkson, and Sybil herself, who had been complaining of headaches, swollen ankles, and hallucinating, had been taken seriously earlier. How far we have come in trying to offer safe and clean options for birth, and practically minute-by-minute monitoring of mother and baby-to-be in our modern world.

Lord Grantham, who we have learned has no nose for investments, and Matthew has discovered has not exactly been running Downton to a profit, was even more of a pompous ass than usual last night. Not only was he pig-headed and insensitive (as always) in his treatment of middle daughter Edith's opportunity, but he let his outmoded ideas of class and privilege affect a life and death decision about his youngest daughter. It is clear that his actions, or rather, inaction, has severely affected his marriage. Cora has kicked him out of their shared bedroom, and it doesn't look like he will regain entry anytime soon. The death of a child is difficult enough for a parent to take, but if Cora believes that it could have been prevented — and Lord Grantham has admitted to his mother that he agrees with her that it could have — the Crawleys will not be able to forgive themselves for Sybil's death for some time to come, if ever.

Will Cora and Robert be able to forgive themselves?

The Crawleys are being dragged into the 20th century, step-by-step, whether they want to be or not. Cora, Matthew and his mother, and Edith seem poised and eager to embrace more modern ways, while Lord Grantham, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and the Dowager Countess are trying desperately to hold onto a past that can no longer exist. They will all have to mourn Sybil, as the usually distant Thomas (Rob James-Collier) did in a touching moment, and eventually move on. There is a young baby to take care of, and what of "the chauffeur," Sybil's widower, Branson (Allen Leech)? Downton Abbey continues to entertainingly layer on the suds, while keeping us thinking about life then, and now.
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Sunday, January 27, 2013

lazy day

Still battling the cold.

Down side — a nose that drips like a faucet and assorted aches and pains. Up side — being able to veg out in front of the television, punctuated by naps.

I dozed through most of the morning, but dragged my self out to the living room to watch most of Galaxy Quest, the perfect film for a sick day.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

i don't think it's flu, but ...

... this cold is kicking my butt. The kid had it last week and now it's my turn. Today the acupuncturist said if I steam wine vinegar in the house that will prevent anyone else (like my mom) from getting the cold, too. Vinegar has been used for centuries for a variety of medicinal uses, so what the heck, it's worth a try. And then back to the couch, and eventually bed, as rest is the only thing I know for sure to help cure the common cold.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

dorothy parker on marilyn monroe

In my research on Marilyn Monroe I recently came across this letter written in February 1962 by Dorothy Parker to her friend, playwright John Patrick. In it she complains to him how Hollywood botched up a piece, "The Good Soup," a "nice little innocent French farce" that she had written for Marilyn. Another item to add to the "if only" list, as the lovely star was gone only six months later.

Parker was not only witty, but observant and wise. She writes of Marilyn, " ... [she] can't help her behavior. She's always in terror. Not so different from you and me, only much prettier!"


From The Portable Dorothy Parker a deluxe 2006 edition, which added personal letters and other items.

Apparently Marilyn had her own copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker — the first edition was released in 1944.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

some more mom landscapes

Some really nice pastel/watercolors that she did, featuring nearby spots.





Wednesday, January 23, 2013

(almost) pink flamingoes

Actually, more salmon-colored.

Lion Country Safari - flamingoes

Lion Country Safari - flamingoes

Lion Country Safari - flamingoes

Lion Country Safari - flamingoes
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

the kid's favorite new show is ...

... Pit Bulls and Parolees?

I shouldn't be so surprised, as she loves watching any show that features dogs, cats — all animals, really.  She may actually end up a vegetarian/veterinarian someday.

The show is pretty compelling stuff. I'm still not sure how Tia Torres makes ends meet at her Villalobos Rescue Center, as she seems willing to take in any dog, no matter their breed. Obviously having the television show is helping, but it's only been airing since 2009, so how about before that? Maybe the adoptions help fund her efforts. The parolee part of the show is less prominent than the animal part. It may have been the gimmick to get the show on the air, and it is an interesting factor in Torres' work and efforts to help people who have had a few strikes against them in their life get a new start, and to help dogs that have gained a bad reputation in the world find forever homes. Not every dog or human story ends happily. Some of the dogs get ill and Torres must make a hard decision. Some of the parolees just can't get it together and Tia has to fire them. In the four shows that we have seen so far, two workers had to be let go because they were either lying and not showing up for work, or worse, mistreating one of her canine charges.

Pit Bulls and Parolees may not have been my first instinct to turn on, but I have to admit that I am interested in Torres and so respect what she is trying to accomplish. I'm more of a cat person, and have thought off and on in the past that if I hit the jackpot I might want to set up a similar place to rescue abandoned cats, or to finance a spay and release program for some of the local feral kitties.

When we adopted our dachshund Angel from the local animal shelter I was amazed at the large number of pit bulls in the pens. Torres started out in California and then relocated to New Orleans, where the show is now filmed. They also have a second location in New Mexico, where the older or "un-adoptable" dogs can live out their days. I wonder if Pit Bulls and Parolees will inspire some similar efforts here in Florida and elsewhere in the country.
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Monday, January 21, 2013

four years ago ...

... we were on the spot, celebrating President Obama's inauguration with a few thousand friends and family.

obama flag wave

obama speaks

Second term around, we may be physically farther away, but we are there in spirit and enjoying the festivities. Best wishes to the President for the next four years!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

happy (100th) birthday danny kaye

He could dance at times like Fred Astaire, trip and fall like the clumsiest clown, play a hero, a dope, or just be funny. His patter songs became a trademark. Danny Kaye was frequently silly, but also smart and always entertaining. The kid adores him in White Christmas with Bing Crosby. TCM is showing his movies all day today, so I am recording some more for her to see, and for myself, too.

Kaye with frequent costar Virginia Mayo, in stills for  A Song is Born
As familiar as I am with the brilliant Court Jester and his signature film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, there are many, like Merry Andrew, that sound fun but I have never heard of. Should be fun for us both to catch up with the wonderfully talented Danny Kaye.
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

all the animals in the zoo ...

... somehow made it into the kid's outfit yesterday. Florida is experiencing a cold snap, so it was hat and scarf time again. In her case that means a zebra hoodie, panda hat, and dalmatian scarf.


Brrrrr never looked so cute.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"poor edith"

Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), "Poor old Edith. We never seem to talk about her." 
Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), "I'm afraid Edith will be the one taking care of us in our old age." 
Lord Grantham, "Oh, what a ghastly prospect!"
Does anyone love Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael)? Anyone except Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst), who after much back-and-forthing finally proposed, only to cave at the absolute worst last minute and leave the poor girl at the altar with the parting words, "Goodbye, my dearest darling, and let God bless you." Hardly reassuring to know that someone cares enough about you enough to jilt you in front of all of your friends and family on what should have been your most special day.

Edith, with beautifully marcelled hair,  and Sir Anthony plan their wedding. I love that they re-use wardrobe on Downton Abbey. Edith has worn the hell out of this lovely green number, which is authentic, as even the rich didn't have the quantity of clothes cramming their closets that we do today.
Continuing my Downton Abbey ruminations from yesterday's post, I wanted to focus on who has become the series' most interesting character in the show's third season — and the one with the most potential to truly reflect the changing times of the 1920s — Edith. Elder sister Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) has long been the family favorite and youngest Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) the prettiest, leaving poor Edith, like many middle children, a little lost and unsure of their position.

It was heartbreaking watching how happy Edith was in this episode, and how everyone else in the family was either not-too-interested or outright opposed to her pending nuptials. More than one character said "Let's just get through this wedding ...," their minds on more important-to-them issues.
Edith, "Something happening in this house is actually about me."
By the end of the episode Edith ranged from pure despair to being resigned to becoming the unloved, luckless spinster. But I don't think that should be her fate. Edith is a spinster, yes, but she is also living at a time when women could start to lead more independent lives and even (gasp) get a job. Downton Abbey may be saved by the end of the episode, and the family and its staff can continue to follow their daily patterns, but Edith has no reason to stay there.

Edith needs to reflect on her mostly enclosed existence and how slight her chances have been to have marriage be her way out of Downton and come up with another plan. Her first love was the rightful heir to Downton, a cousin named Patrick Crawley. But Patrick went down with the Titanic, and Edith never had a chance with him anyway, as her parents intended for first-born Mary to marry him and secure the family manse forever.

Driving Miss Edith
She made a feeble play for the new heir apparent, Matthew Crawley, but again didn't stand a chance, as he and Mary were instantly drawn to one another. She had a brief, mostly innocent fling with a local farmer until his wife put an end to it. An injured veteran claiming to be the deceased Patrick Crawley briefly gave her hope that she might be reunited with her true love (and be able to stick it to her sister by becoming Countess of Downton), but that soon went up in smoke as a false claim. She had a genuine affection for Sir Anthony, but everyone else seemed bound and determined to stand in their way, especially her father, urged on by his mother the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith).

Edith has displayed more modern tendencies than either of her sisters throughout the series. She is more independent than she or anyone in her family suspects. She was the first to learn how to drive an automobile, taking lessons from the family chauffeur, and she really enjoyed the feeling of freedom and accomplishment that driving gave her. Her short bob and marcelled hair is more au courant than either sister's fashions, and even her wedding gown was more stylish than older, more traditional Mary's.

Although they are both simple in style, Edith's dress has a more attractive sweep, and the neckline seems more modern than Mary's which has an eye to the past
Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary are comfortably ensconced at Downton, and the Earl and his wife are already letting the power shift in their direction. Sybil is about to give birth to her first child, and if the previews for Sunday's episode are true, may have to go on the lam to Ireland with her politically-inclined husband, former Downton chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech). Edith has led a sheltered life — part of the reason her romantic prospects have been so scarce. Maybe it's time to leave Downton and find her own way. Her other grandmother, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), would certainly be supportive of her showing some independence. Why not a trip to America? It's time for Edith to branch out and turn a defeat into a triumph. I'm looking forward to seeing where this season takes her.
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

noble vs. nobility on downton abbey

Everyone loves Downton Abbey here in America, both the upstairs and downstairs intrigues. The third season currently in full swing, is already as fun and involving as the previous two. For me, one of the more interesting recurring themes of this and past seasons has been the characters' concept of "noble" acts or behavior. Can a modern person really fully connect with the idea of "doing the right thing," especially if that involves giving up something or someone you love or desire?
noble (according to Merriam-Webster)

of high birth or exalted rank : aristocratic

possessing, characterized by, or arising from superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals : lofty
Resident heartthrob and sometimes infuriatingly priggish Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), now married to the lovely and willful Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), has more than once let his noble intentions/ideas muck up the plot. It's amazing that Lady Mary hasn't hauled off and belted him on numerous occasions — just in the first few episodes of this season — but that's where nobility comes into the picture. Such behavior simply wasn't done by someone of her station, and she's pretty sassy when needs be.

Newlyweds Matthew and Mary love each other, but don't always see eye-to-eye
But is Matthew's nobler-than-thou stance something inherent to his personality, people of his age, or might it be a direct result of his lack of nobility? Both Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and Mary and just about everyone else in the vicinity see no problem with Matthew using an inheritance from his almost father-in-law to save and sustain their way of life (the Earl's bad investment skills had threatened the loss and sale of the family home). For all of his vociferous objections to taking money on false pretenses (he no longer loved the man's daughter and she conveniently died, paving the way for him to marry his true love Mary), Matthew doesn't seem to consider or care that his inaction would not just put a potentially serious rift between himself and his bride and his family, but he would also be putting a lot of the servants out of work. The family would not only have to seriously downsize their home, but their way of life, which would jeopardize the future of their staff.

Lady Mary and her family, especially her clever and vocal grannie, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) are trying desperately to hold onto their way of life, which is quickly disappearing in post-WWI 1920s England. The Countess is the essence of nobility, but her motivations many times stray from the noble in order to benefit herself and her family. She frequently coaches the younger generation on how to preserve the family manse — utilizing any means necessary. She was not above encouraging her son the Earl to force the break-up of middle daughter Lady Edith's (Laura Carmichael) engagement to an inappropriate man (of nobility, yes, but too old), even if it would most certainly result in the breaking of Edith's heart and possible eventual spinsterhood.

Edith made a lovely (almost) bride
The ideas about what constitutes proper behavior isn't exclusive to the upstairs residents of the Abbey. The servants are just as bound, if not more so, by convention and ideas of appropriateness, frequently trying to mirror their noble employers. Head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) is shocked and deeply touched when Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) assures her that if she is indeed ill (she had a lump in her breast which turns out to be benign) that she need not worry, the family will take care of her and Downton will always be her home. She is equally amazed that not only has her "secret" somehow worked its way upstairs, but at Lady Grantham's response. Mrs. Hughes and Head Butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) not only run a tight ship at Downton Abbey, but they are constantly schooling their charges on proper behavior and how to best focus on the family's needs.

The Dowager Countess has ways of getting what she wants and what she thinks is best for her family
Of course all of this scheming and characters' back-and-forthing about what's "right" and what they want is what makes Downton Abbey such a delicious soap opera, and at times morality play. It is hard to imagine, however, any modern man or woman hesitating for a moment to "take the money," whatever the source, as Matthew has struggled. Or for Lady Edith to feel that she had to listen to her Grannie or even her fiancee's pleas that they weren't well-suited due to his age. They must have had trophy wives in the 1920s, but the Crawley family certainly doesn't want their daughter to become, as the Dowager Countess views it, a "nursemaid" to her aged husband. A modern Mrs. Hughes might keep her diagnosis under wraps until she was sure, but she hopefully wouldn't be beholden to the kindness of her employer regarding her future healthcare and job retention. Maybe it's a good idea to have these "outdated" concepts of noble behavior to ponder. To see how far we've come in many ways, but also to be reminded that it can be useful and instructive to step back and ponder the moral implications of our behavior.
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