Gone With the…Downton Abbey?

When I watched a particular poignant scene from the second season of Downton Abbey this week, it felt familiar. Do you remember…?

Matthew, about to board his train back to war, is surprised to see Mary in the distance. She is up and about early, before the family usually arises, anxious to give him her good luck toy from childhood before he goes. Mary hopes it will protect him. Her only request is that Matthew bring it back home, back to her.

He says that even if he doesn’t come back, Mary has made him a happy man, restoring their friendship. He looks as if he wants to tell her more and she seems expectant. Perhaps she is hoping for a declaration of love?

Instead, Matthew asks if she’ll take care of his mother, should anything happen to him in the war. And his fiancé. Will she look after Lavina, too?

Mary replies, “Of course” and leans forward, giving Matthew a tender, goodbye kiss on the cheek as befits a lady.

Touching. I felt as if I’d seen it before. But where? The question nagged at me. Today I realized that the Matthew/Mary parting was very similar to another famous goodbye scene between Ashley Wilkes and Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Consider:

Scarlet waits alone at the bottom of the staircase for Ashley to descend. She hopes to have a few private minutes with him before he goes back to war. When he finally comes down, Scarlet tells him she has a parting gift.

She unwraps the package containing a yellow, fringed sash and gives it to him. It is made with Scarlet’s own hands. She ties it about him in a love knot. As she drinks in the last moments with Ashley, he asks her to promise him something.

If anything should happen to him, will she take care of Melanie, his fragile wife and Scarlet’s perceived enemy?

Scarlet reluctantly promises and asks Ashley to kiss her goodbye. She pulls him into an unseemly embrace. She is no lady.

Hmmm. There is a definite similarity here. Wondering if anyone else had seen the same, I checked the Internet for articles or blogs about connections between Downton Abbey and Gone With the Wind. There were many. And they were published during the first season.

So much for my literary insight.

Though I didn’t see anything that noted the scenes I mentioned above, there were several thoughtful comparisons between the two works:

• Both had a cast of three sisters – the eldest the most beautiful and callous (Mary & Scarlett), the middle girls (Edith & Suellen) the least attractive and overshadowed by their older siblings , while the youngest daughters were both idealistic and wanted to make the world a better place (Sybil & Carreen).

• Both eldest daughters were unable to marry the man of their choice – though the jury is still out for Mary & Matthew.

• Both had American mothers and fathers from a foreign country – Irish Gerald O’Hara and English Robert Crowley.

• Both sagas dwelt on the importance of family property and both fathers poured their souls into the land.

• Both stories were set against a backdrop of impending war.

There are other parallels noted online by various astute critiquers, but you get the idea. Still, knowing all this does not lesson my ardor for Downton Abbey in the least. I’ve already scheduled time for Masterpiece viewing this the coming Sunday evening. The answering machine will be poised and ready to take messages. My eye-glasses will be cleaned and tea will be at-the-ready.

Perhaps the lesson here is this: if you are going to engage in fictional-thievery, then for goodness sakes, steal from the best!


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10 responses to “Gone With the…Downton Abbey?

  1. Karen Cranfill

    I love what you saw in comparisons with the 2 films and the way you wrote it, Ms. Elliott. There is so much to comment on in this series. I hadn’t compared it as you did. Comically speaking, I did notice that they were all pale 🙂 . I loved that many of them chose manners above all. I noted this even when the upper class were addressing the servants. I felt that the series gave honor to older women. There was a prestige about them and I do mean even with the lady who was head of the servants. I liked that. It was refreshing. It felt like wisdom and kindness shone like beauty. There was character and dignity with these older women. Matthew’s mother was outspoken and strong. I liked that too. I must add that I was tickled the most by ‘Granny’ (Maggie Smith). She had a lot of great lines. Finally, I would say that the writer of the series certainly knows how to turn our hearts this way and that way with barely a warning. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. Each scene left us asking the question, ‘How will that turn out?’ After what you wrote I couldn’t help but start comparing the sisters to the sisters in Little Women…Different class, but Jo was like Sybill, she wanted to go and fight alongside he father in the Civil War and…..

    • Cathy Elliott

      Oh, yes, Karen. I know what you mean about the dignity among the servants. It is portrayed as almost a Godly quality, that one’s work is worth doing with excellence, no matter one’s lot in life. That work is a gift from God.

      I wonder if that is truly how it was in those days, or is this a glorified view of servitude in the Victorian era? As Gone With the Wind is a glorified vision of relations between slave and owner? Interesting stuff!

  2. Well done my perceptive friend!

  3. Ed Reinagel

    There are only so many stories, they get replayed often. For example: Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story Ed

    • Cathy Elliott

      Good point, Ed. Those modern adaptations are a great way for a new audience to enjoy an old story. West Side Story is a great example. I also think of Jane Austen’s Emma redone in the ’90’s as Clueless. That was a huge hit! Thanks for getting me thinking!

  4. Very interesting…
    Good catch.

  5. Layla

    Season two, Livonia asks Mary for a handkerchief, says, I never seen to have one when I need it. Direct quote of what Rhett says to Scarlett.

    Also, like Scarlett, Mary isn’t very nice to her peers but is very nice and loved by the servants. Carson = Mammy

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