|Marigold and her mum, Lady Edith, on Downton Abbey|
Because more than eight million viewers tuned in for the first episode this season, a lot of people will be influenced by how the Crawley family handles the baby born of an unwed mum--and the mum herself, Lady Edith. The stakes are high, the scandal is huge, the shame would be great.
So. I am glued to this story line, just as I was when the Maid Ethel in a previous season turned over her baby to his wealthy, upper class grandparents, agreeing to stay on as a servant--but not tell her son until much later who true identity. That broke the floodgates on my tears--he would be shocked and horrified that he came from such lowly stock if he found out later--but here we are again with an illegitimate child.
PLUS ÇA CHANGE...
Only this time the baby is a direct descendant of Lord and Lady Grantham. In brief, the unmarried but smart Lady Edith, the middle daughter who brings no estate or great fortune with her, falls in love with the owner of the newspaper she writes a column for.
Alas, he is married. His wife is institutionalized, never to get well. He goes to Germany as Hitler's Brownshirts are on the rise in order to get a divorce (not possible in England then), but he gets in the way of a pack of hooligans and is killed. Back home in England, Edith learns she is pregnant, goes off to Switzerland with her aunt to have the baby in secret. Soon enough, the Dowager Countess, Edith's canny grandmother, figures out the truth, but Edith is determined to keep the secret from the rest of her family. She will thus avoid shame and scandal, which could bring down not only her good name, but that of the whole lot of the Crawleys.
Although a lot had changed by the time Jane my fellow blogger and I had our babies in 1966, I couldn't help thinking...not so much in this regard. I was mortified to the point that I kept my baby, like Lady Edith, secret from my family until I became a crusader before the decade was out. In other cases, fathers and mothers, especially fathers, were adamant: the baby must be given up. Girls left high school and college in shame; some entered dreadful maternity homes and were told not even to share their real names with the other girls there; others hid out with relatives or journey to cities where they knew no one and left quickly after their babies were given up (that would be fellow blogger Jane); women left jobs (that would be me); movie stars went away and "adopted" their own children, ala Loretta Young and others. Ever wonder why Dickens, the master of wickedly appropriate names for his fictional characters, chose "Lady Dedlock" for the deeply closeted first mother in Bleak House? I never did.
Plucky Edith refuses to leave her baby in Switzerland, brings her back to England, arranges for a tenant farmer and his wife to raise the "orphan," which Edith will take on as a special charge, visiting often, bringing gifts, taking care of her. However, the farmer's wife doesn't know Edith is the real mother, gets fed up with Edith's hanging around, insists she stop visiting, until, finally, Edith, says enough! I am taking my baby. When her lover is finally declared dead, Edith inherits his publishing enterprise. The farmer's wife (think foster or adoptive mother) mother learns the truth, creates a scene (she does have other children, by they way) but Edith is resolute and stone-faced. She flees with her daughter. Off to a rented room in London.
THE TRUTH COMES OUT
Well. The Grantham household is in turmoil. The farmer's wife spills the truth to Edith's mother, Lady Grantham. After finding Edith in London, a plan is concocted whereby the daughter Marigold will be raised in the house with the other two grandchildren already there. The groundwork had been laid by Edith previously taking such an interest in the child, and the family had said, since poor Edith is never going to be married, she might as well be a godmother of sorts to this poor orphan.
The scene in which this plan is presented to the family is brilliantly written and played. Haughty Lady Mary, the older widowed sister with son (who will one day inherit the estate) and suitors galore, questions that Edith will stay the course with the child, and not get bored; Lord Grantham is at first dubious....I'm sitting there not knowing what happens...waiting waiting...but as his wife and Edith present a solid front, he agrees, thank god! Upcoming scenes show him observing the child with a quizzical look--there's something there. Does he recognize himself in his granddaughter?
Dear Reader, I had tears in my eyes as this played out. It didn't happen to me like that, but I felt like I was inside Lady Edith's body and soul as she made her case to bring her child into the family, and raise her there. Life was so different then; but the feelings of Lady Edith towards her child surely are being noted by millions--yes, millions--of grandparents and aunts and uncles who were privy to a child being "adopted out," and they are watching the turmoil of Edith. Certainly adoptees and first mothers around the world following this story had their hearts in their throats just like me. From the other perspective, an adoptive father already wrote a worried column for Huff Po about this story line a couple of weeks ago. He was of course, worried about the farmer and his wife losing the child. I understand. But does he understand our point of view?
A parallel story line also affected me, born into a blue-collar family but not becoming the secretary or nurse or teacher my parents thought I should--and that is the story line that is the focus of the New York Times Downton Abbey blog: will middle-class Mrs. Crawley actually marry a lord? Or will his dreadful sons squash it? The plight of Edith and Marigold is barely mentioned. But it is being noted by those who walk in our shoes, and those of Marigold.--lorraine
TO WATCH, OR READ