Downton Abbey is one of the finest examples of historical fiction on television. Well, sometimes. The show, which entered its sixth and final season yesterday, has not always held my interest.
I discovered the series one summer when all the episodes were being rerun while flipping through channels. I happened to catch it during the very first episode. I knew immediately from the costumes that it was the Edwardian era, and so I decided to continue watching. I was able to view seasons one and two back to back. When season three started the following January, I was eager to see what was next.
I have to admit, though, the series started to lose its hold on me when it entered the 1920s. The advent of modern inventions and jazz simply isn’t as important or earth shattering as the sinking of the Titanic or the Great War.
But then again, what should I expect? Downton Abbey is, after all, a soap opera, although it is a classy one. There are no evil twins, amnesiacs or children whose paternity is in question. No, this soap opera has plenty of family drama and romance with financial troubles and a changing society thrown into the mix.
Lessons Learned from Downton Abbey
Despite its flaws, the show has taught viewers four lessons.
Class differences used to be much stricter. For us in the 21st century, it is often easy to forget that just 100 years ago social classes were quite strict and mobility was difficult. People tend to think of this as an Old World problem, but class structure was very strict in North America as well. Everyone had a place in society and everyone knew their place.
The rich once had rules they needed to abide by. Long before the Kardashians and the Real Housewives, the affluent were a symbol both of excess and high class. And they had rules they had to live by or risk being shunned by “civilized” society.
Women have come a long way. Yes, women still have a way to go, but at least we enjoy more freedom than our Edwardian ancestors. Women no longer have to marry for money or worry their inheritance will go to a distant male relative. And it’s no longer a scandal if a woman wants a career.
The older generation fears change. Change comes whether we want it or not. One thing, however, is certain. The older generations always fear change while the younger generations embrace it.
Downton Abbey airs Sundays on PBS.
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