06 January 2012

jane austen did prepare me for: downton abbey and entails

As you may recall, I went through a little "obsessed with Downton Abbey" phase in the early fall. {This little "I heart fanfic" confession may help you remember that.}

And by "went through," I mean: I'm still in the phase; I'm simply hiding it better.

Okay, I can't lie to you.

By "simply hiding it better," I mean: if you've talked to me at all in the last month, you'll know that I'm obsessed with the show Downton Abbey.

I'm just not good at putting up a facade, which, if I were a real member of the Crawley family, posh aristocrats that they are, would be a very unfortunate trait.

Oh, to be Lady Mary Crawley with her icy, monied, landed gentry composure—that hides vulnerability and deep emotions and fears. She's got a lot going on under the surface, but that girl knows how to pull it together to get through a boring dinner with other icy, monied people.

If Lady Mary is staying up too late reading Elizabeth Gaskell novels and spending her every waking minute wondering if Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale will finally clear up their misunderstandings, get together, and be happy in that wicked little town of Milton—well, you'd never know it from how she gets through those society functions.

I am not like Lady Mary in that regard.

As we've gotten closer to the Series 2 premier of Downton Abbey on PBS {OMG, IT'S ON SUNDAY! SUNDAY IS ONLY 2 SLEEPS AWAY!}, my obsession for this fictional family and their servants has come out more strongly than ever before.

Like just a couple of paragraphs ago: I was talking about these people as if they were real.

They're not real, Kamiah. I have to keep saying that to myself.

Also: don't talk about them as if they were your friends {or enemies} to real people. You are not a Crawley. You are not Lady Mary Crawley. Don't assume other people know who you're talking about, or that, when they find out you're talking about fictional characters, will have the ability to not laugh at you.

Or here's an actual email I sent to a friend after she admitted that she hasn't yet seen Downton, as I've told her repeatedly she should do:
WHY HAVE YOU NOT WATCHED IT YET?!?!! {Note: Downton, for some reason, brings out the shouter in me.}

I refuse to talk to you until you do.

And there's also this for a sign: I was in a wedding last week, and when I went to the salon to get my hair done, I brought in pictures of publicity shots from Downton Abbey to help guide the hairdresser.

The last time I was in a wedding—in August, just as the Downton obsession {obsession is such a middle-class, depressing sort of word; I think I'll start referring to this as my Downton fondness} was beginning—I told the hair stylist to channel Jane Austen and/or Audrey Hepburn.

I casually threw out a reference to Downton, mentioning it lightly, as if I'd seen it once and was sort of intrigued by it. But then I totally blew my cover by talking a lot about having a lady's maid to the hair stylist. I still don't know if she enjoyed being called a servant, but I think the hair still turned out all right. You can see it here.

For this wedding last week, though, I was in full Downton fondness mode.

Of course I found pictures of Lady Mary Crawley; she's a brunette with long hair, too, so I figured that if I could get her hair right, then maybe I could transform into her. Not that she's real. Or I've ever thought about what it'd be like to be her.

Here's how it turned out:

The only thing holding me back from being Lady Mary in this picture is the incredible amount of skin showing. Well, and the color of the dress. And that it's above the knee, a length certainly not acceptable in World War I England. I guess the other thing holding me back is that I don't have a lady's maid. Maybe we can just assume she's taking the picture.

Oh, yes, I have Downton fondness.

I fully accept this and have become somewhat of a Downton evangelist/translator to my friends. When PBS started to re-broadcast Series 1 in preparation for Series 2 {OMG, SUNDAY}, I watched it with a couple of friends.

And it was at that point that I realized that Jane Austen did, in fact, prepare me for something: for explaining entails.

Until I had this conversation, I didn't entirely realize that a working knowledge of entails wasn't something that everyone had, just like we all have a general knowledge of the Revolutionary War or how we all agree that Saved By the Bell: The College Years was a mistake.

The conversation went something like this:
Friend Who's Never Seen the Wonder that Is Downton: Wait, why can't the snooty older one—
Me, aka, Lady Downton Explainer: Lady Mary. And she's not snooty. Okay, she is, but...No, I won't explain more on that right now. But wouldn't you be snooty if you'd been raised in a house that looked like this?
Friend: How did you get a picture to appear in our conversation?
Me: Because of Jesus and Dame Maggie Smith, who is, as you know, in Downton playing the feisty Dowager Countess. Let's try to focus. What was your question?
Friend: Why can't Lady Mary, who apparently isn't snooty, inherit?
Me: Because the estate is entailed to the next male heir. Now, hush, Dame Maggie Smith is about to say something witty and caustic and I want to see the look on your face when you hear it.
Friend: [after slightly smiling at Dame Maggie] But what do you mean, entailed?
Me: Like in Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice. Ooh, here comes Thomas the Evil Footman. Dang, I shouldn't have called him evil and let you make your own decisions. But seriously, look at him; he's brooding and dark the minute he walks on-screen. You would've picked up on your own that he's evil.
Friend: Just listing other period dramas isn't exactly helping right now. Why can't she get the money and the pretty house?
Me: Just think of Mr. Collins getting Lizzy's father's house in Pride and Prejudice or that weak half-brother of Emma Thompson's—I mean, Elinor Dashwood's—getting Norland while the mother and girls are sent to live in a drafty cottage on the edge of the ocean. Women getting kicked out of their houses was a very big plot point back in the day.
Friend: How is that possible in a country that had Queen Elizabeth I {not to mention II} and Queen Victoria?
Me: Um, those eras aren't covered in Downton, and I may have a degree in British literature and I may have lived in England for a little bit and I may watch A LOT of period dramas, but I can't know everything. What do you think I am, a historian magician?

Just suffice it to say: the entail for Downton Abbey—the estate, the title, the money—was written so that it can only pass to men, and sadly, the current Earl and his wife have the three girls. As you can see. In their pretty dresses throwing haughty looks at each other and dinner guests.
Friend: Wait, an entail is written?

It was at that point that I wished PBS had a pause button so that I could get into the details of inheritance law.

Sadly, it didn't, but I think my friend got the point, especially from the number of times various characters repeat lines along the lines of: "Oh, I wish we could break the entail, but alas, we can't!"

Oh, Downton, how I am obsessed with you.

I mean, am slightly fond of you and look forward with an appropriate level of excitement to Sunday evening when we shall be reunited.


  1. How did you get a picture to appear in our conversation - LOL!

  2. Elizabeth R. turned me on t Downton Abbey!! I have spent ALL of Christmas break watching and re-watching season 1 and reading every fan blog and season two clip on YouTube. Can I get in on Season 2 viewing parties on Sundays!! Where and when?

  3. Daniel and I just read this outloud to each other and couldn't srop laughing. You are hilarious and awesome. :-) We will be watching on Sunday and cheering on the not snooty Lady Mary and booing Thomas the Evil Footman.



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