Family Is Never As It Seems: Lessons from Downton Abbey


Family Is Never As It Seems: Lessons from Downton Abbey
If we could all believe Violet's observation, we'd be a lot less stressed and a lot happier

Once again, I will spend my week encouraging many of my therapy clients to tune into Downton Abbey.  Not for the fabulous fashion or the historical intrigue, but for the remarkable extent to which the challenges faced by the show's characters in the hypothetical 1921 British countryside reflect the challenges I hear about every day.  This week, the most timeless and powerful observation comes from the ever irreverent and brutally insightful Violet Crawley (also known as "Granny") played perfectly by Maggie Smith. 



As the mother of the Earl of Grantham, Granny spends the episode watching her son struggle to come to terms with significant challenges with all three of his daughters.  His eldest, Lady Mary, saved Downton from financial ruin through her husband Matthew's infusion of a tremendous inheritance.  As a co-owner, Matthew complains to Lady Mary, 

Looking through the books, there appears to have been a great deal of waste...half the assets are underused or ignored entirely.

Mary encourages Matthew to speak to her father.  But Earl Grantham is defensive about his own role in Downton's financial demise, and brushes Matthew's concerns aside for another day.  Earl Grantham's middle daughter, Lady Edith, has just suffered the humiliation of being jilted at the alter.  In a noble attempt to deal with her pain and lost direction, Edith decides to write a letter to The Times voicing her opinion that women deserve the right to vote.  Earl Grantham is less than pleased with his daughter's newfound journalistic pursuits.  Worst of all, his youngest, Lady Sybil, has married the Irish chauffeur, Branson, who is embroiled in scandal.  Branson was present during the violent burning of a stately Irish Manor and flees Ireland without Sybil to ask Earl Grantham to intervene on his behalf.  Lord Grantham is outraged and is not afraid to speak his mind:

Good God Almighty!  You abandon a pregnant woman in a land that's not her own, you leave her to [fend] for herself while you run for it!...I find your actions despicable, whatever your beliefs!

Earl Grantham desperately vents to his mother,

Other men have NORMAL families with sons-in-law who farm or preach or serve their country in the army!

Granny is completely un-phased and gives a succinct and wise reply,

Maybe they do, but no family is ever what it seems from the outside.


Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Elisabeth LaMotte


Social worker, psychotherapist, blogger and author of "Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce"

Location: Washington, DC
Credentials: LICSW, MFT, MSW
Specialties: Communication Problems, Dating/Being Single Support, Divorce/Divorce Prevention
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