“I refuse to be defeated by an overweight tyrant.“–Lady Edith Crawley
At last, the final season of Downton Abbey is getting it right. Since its debut season, Lady Edith has been my favorite sister–a classic middle child overshadowed by her spoiled, self-absorbed, overindulged, older sister, Mary, and free-spirited younger sister, Cybil. But in the final season, the writers are finally showing that Edith has the potential to out shine her sisters.
For five seasons, Edith’s been cast as a cautionary tale of what not to be–a middle-age, never-married woman, suffering heartbreak after heartbreak, while waiting for a man that appears will never come. But often overlooked, Edith’s a survivor—she continues to get up each day and face a world that doesn’t understand her. In season three, she’s left at the altar, but instead of hiding in her room, she gets up the next morning and claims “spinsters get up for breakfast.”
Edith is the underdog that no bookie will bet on. While Mary is portrayed as the strong one, she was born with it, it’s Edith who channels the British Army for the inner strength to keep her head held high and to fight off the naysayers who believe she has nothing to offer. It’s Edith who is her own champion and support group, and though sometimes shaky, believes in herself, because no one (aside from Aunt Rosamund) does.
Edith’s life has been less than what she desired, less than what she dreamed it to be. Remember, she loved Patrick (the dude who died on the Titanic in season 1), but had to push her feelings aside for the good of the estate and bow out to Mary, because Mary is the family savior and Mary gets what Mary wants. And while that dude died, Mary grieved for a nanosecond before Matthew showed up to rescue her. Life is easy for Mary, she has her own ladies maid and when she loses one man, another one comes calling faster than winks on Match.com.
Then baby sister, Cybil, has a 1920-something girls gone wild moment and falls in love and marries the chauffer, further pushing Edith into a life tittering on the edge of tragic.
Enter Michael Gregson. Ah, finally, it’s Edith’s turn, I exclaim! She’s waited so long. All she wants is the affection of another, to be desired. She loves Gregson, and I think, he loves her, but there are complications–he’s married to a crazy woman who lives in a psych ward in Germany. Edith has a choice: Follow protocol, the neat, prescribed order of life of which she has been raised to believe, or abandon her notions of what was supposed to be and follow her heart. Her heart wins and she sleeps with Gregson.
At this point in the story, I am completely devoted to Edith–she accepts that her life may not be what she had hoped and dreamed of as a girl, but no matter the consequences, she’s going to make the best of it. And oh were there consequences–an illegitimate daughter, a dead lover, a judgmental older sister, and no suitors calling. Edith is down, and she hates that at every turn, nothing goes her way, yet she keeps going.
Throughout the series, Edith doesn’t know it, but in all her struggles, her disappointments, heartbreaks, she’s blazing a trail of her own. She’s saying to the establishment, I can do it, and if I have to, I’ll do it alone. And in season six, she’s speaking up, even embracing her middle-age spinsterhood, telling Granny, “I’m middle-age, I think I can stay alone.” She does an all-nighter to meet the deadline for the magazine publisher and inspires a young secretary when she fires the “overweight tyrant” editor. Edith does what she has to do to survive, and for this, I can relate.
I do hope however, love will come to Edith before the series ends–it’s the one thing that has been so firmly out of her grasp, yet something she so desperately desires. But Edith is complex and it won’t be so easy. She needs someone who adores her, desires her, but most importantly strong enough for her–someone who can prop her up when she thinks she can’t go on another day–someone whose ego can withstand the fact that she doesn’t always need him—someone who can see that beneath the surface she just wants to be loved.
Edith is tired from years of doing it alone, the years of hoping that this one or the next one will be the one that sees how unique, how different she is from all the rest, and truly gets her, wants her, and can’t imagine his life without her in it. Edith knows she can do it alone, and sometimes prefers it, but doesn’t always want to. How do I know this? I know, because I am Edith.