I recently had an interesting conversation while away for the weekend with my two best friends from high school. For reasons that will become clear in a moment, I won’t use their real names. Instead I’ll call them Lady Mary and Lady Sybil. During our interesting conversation, we decided two important things:
1.) Downton Abbey is the best show ever. Obviously.
2.) Their proper names have become irrelevant, and should never be used again because they each embody the persona of Sybil and Mary so perfectly – their given names might as well be abandoned.
My friend Lady Sybil is a kind, hard working, free spirit, who follows her passions where they lead. She has loved the album Free to Be You and Me since before and after it was cool. She goes on long rants about Monsanto’s world domination. And she has her graduate degree in ESL. Had she lived in early 20th century England, she would totally have championed women’s voting rights and run away with the chauffeur. When we told her she was Sybil, she preened (in the demure, non-smug way that Lady Sybil would preen, of course).
Now, my friend Lady Mary… well, let’s just say she was a little less thrilled with her comparison. Which is funny because she is Lady Mary. Not the mean, haughty version – but the smart, fiercely loyal, beautiful, and snobbish-in-the-best-possible-way version. She has always been confident and unafraid to blaze new trails. Example: Once, when my husband told her felt like a fraud every time he sat in first class, she said it’s where she felt she always belonged. Then on a dare, she ate a hair from his head on a cracker. Total Lady Mary.
After we had sorted my two friends, I cried, “Do me! Do me!” They stared at me with blank faces. “What? Do you think I’m O’Brien or something?” I asked. They said they couldn’t really match me up to any of the characters. These two people who have known me for over three decades had no idea if I was a Crawley or a ladies’ maid! I was very disconcerted by this. What is wrong with me that I don’t resemble anyone in this vast and varied cast of characters? Am I that boring? Or am I that much of an oddity? Naturally, I had to give this a little thought (read: neurotically obsess over it). Here is what I came up with.
I think it is clear that I am not Lady Edith. As cozy as that would have made our little trio, I’m just not her. For one thing, she is prone to insecure negativity. For another, she loves to drive. I avoid both of those whenever possible. We may both be writers, but she writes about women’s issues; I write about spray tans. Plus, she can’t even have breakfast in bed. Nope. Not Edith.
Who does that leave? Anna? I’d love to be Anna, of course. Who wouldn’t want to be the lovely Mrs. Bates, with her impossible work ethic and the quiet dignity with which she accepts her station in life. But that doesn’t line-up either. I’m a horrible slob, completely lazy, and I’ve never been one to accept my station. Plus, I would have straight up killed the first Mrs. Bates myself. Nope. Not Anna.
I ticked through the other Downton residents? Could I be Mrs. Hughes? Mrs. Patmore? Daisy? No, no, no. I’m not a benevolent taskmaster, a great cook, or a timid but cheerful scullery maid. (I’m a rather resentful scullery maid, actually.)
Then I remembered a character I’d forgotten. I’d probably forgotten her on purpose because she is my least favorite character on the show. Countess Cora. I find nearly everything about Cora annoying: that treacly tone, her clueless equanimity, and what’s up with those weird facial expressions? Plus, why the hell can’t she see O’Brien for who she is? (She was the only one who had access to the soap! Think about it, woman!)
Anyway. As I was going through the mental checklist of why I could not possibly be Cora, an uneasy feeling took up residence in my gut. Doth I protest too much? Am I Cora? OMG, am I Cora?
I asked myself what we have in common…
- American? Check.
- Polite? Check.
- Love to eat luncheon and boss people around? Check and check.
The proof is irrefutable. I am Cora. Oh, the humanity!
I spent a few distraught moments in which I cursed my newly discovered banality and wondered if this meant I needed to get my haircut and/or a lobotomy. I was heading fast and furiously down the rabbit hole of self-loathing, when I remembered something from my weekend away with my high school friends. At lunch one day, my Lady Sybil friend had a very Lady Mary moment when someone mistakenly put onions on her sandwich. And my friend Lady Mary often has Sybil-esque moments of extreme selflessness and great compassion. I decided to see this as a thread of salvation. Maybe we don’t have to funnel ourselves into one character. Maybe we can be hybrids – like one part Cora; two parts Anna, with a dash of Mrs. Crawley for good measure. I like that idea much better.
Besides, as I was panicking with the thought of being doomed to be an emotionally void woman who sighs heavily makes and creepy faces all the time, the wise words from possibly the best Downton character of them all, Lady Violet – the Dowager Countess – rang in my ears, “Don’t be defeatist, dear, it’s very middle class.” And even being Cora couldn’t be worse than that! 😉