Great excitement: Season Two of “Downton Abbey” premieres tonight on PBS at 9 p.m. Season One of this Masterpiece Classic, which set my Athens friends and The Book Club atwitter, began in pre-World War I England. The story centers around the Crawley family and its staff at the estate Downton Abbey.
If you missed Season One, I suppose you could start fresh with Season Two tonight or do a quick review online before you tune in. Either way, you are bound to fall in love with Maggie Smith’s character, Violet Crawley, who is firmly rooted in the Old Order. The daughters of Cora and Robert Crawley are stepping into the modern age, some making tentative steps — just testing the waters — and others plunging in feet first, to heck with the consequences. And oh, the consequences were very steep in that age.
Watching Season One, I was struck by the narrow lives of the upper-crust women, the same feeling I got from reading Edith Wharton’s “House of Mirth.” In that age, wealthy women of a certain social status had to marry and they had to marry well in order to maintain or improve upon the status quo. In this case, Crawley’s eldest daughter must marry exactly the right person in order for the family to retain the estate. Crawley, Earl of Grantham, had no sons, causing all manner of chaos, despite his marriage to a wealthy American whose money continues to make Downton Abbey possible.
If you Google “Downton Abbey” and go to the PBS website, you will find a quiz asking “Which character are you?” I took the quiz twice because I didn’t like the results the first time, then found I didn’t like the results the second time either. The first time I was closest to Thomas, the first footman, who thinks he is better than the other servants. In fact, he thinks he is better than the Crawleys.
My second set of answers revealed my affinity to Lady Mary, the most self-destructive member of the bunch. Lady Mary reminded me very much of Wharton’s Lily Bart, whose attempts to defy convention led to disaster.
I’m not fond of quizzes, except the “Which dog are you?” quiz in which I turned out to be a Bernese Mountain dog. I was quite pleased with myself there. (It is not likely I will ever be a golden retriever, as much as I would like to be.)
The last episode of Season One of “Downton Abbey” caused a great intake of breath that I’ve been figuratively holding since the series ended months ago. World War I has begun in the time before we knew to number our wars.
Life as the Crawleys, as the world, knew it is about to end. A generation of young men will die in the war.
In the next four Sundays, we will find out which of the men associated with Downton Abbey will sacrifice all for king and country.
Likely, we will miss the lost as if they’d been our own.