What Is It About Downton Abbey?


I am among the hooked, the devoted mob of Downton Abbey fans.  And this is quite a feat, because we haven’t had a tv in….oh…15 years, give or take, so it’s quite hard to develop such a liking at all.

So, what is it about Downton Abbey?  What has grabbed our attention and fascination so fully?  To be sure, there’s excellent casting and top-notch acting, there’s beautiful costumes and any armchair historian can delight in the period set with its attendant replicas.  Everyone likes to feel like they’ve hopped in a time machine and can peek into a room from another era (and listen to the servant’s gossip).  Is it more than that, though?



It reminds me of how popular Amish fiction is.  Really.  Amish romances where hand-holding is downright scandalous.  Ladies who hail from lives radically different than the Amish devour these, even as they themselves live in relative sexual abandon.  Is it voyeurism?  Or something more?

Could a culture that has wasted itself on ever more brash, ever more lurid, ever more edgy depictions of sex, actually begin to crave a more guarded, more protected, more hidden sexuality?  Something a bit more cherished and a lot less spent?

Not to say that the show of Downton Abbey is free from sexual immorality, not at all.  But the expectations expressed therein can mean something, to me, to all women and men.  When a mother is heartbroken to learn of her daughter’s premarital sex and the daughter herself is ashamed.

I sat in the circle of ballet moms, down there in Chile, and we were talking about our daughters as they danced.  Our girls were all around the age of seven.  One mother said that we all have the responsibility of teaching our girls how to have safe sex, because it’s not an if, but a when.  I was appalled.  So we are just to throw our daughters to the lions, then?  Assume they’ll be promiscuous, assume they won’t guard their hearts and bodies for one man worth opening both to?

What is it about Downton Abbey?  Or Jane Austin’s novels?  Or even Amish romantic fiction?  Maybe like we enjoy stepping through time and peering into rooms of another era, we also like to imagine what it would be to be so cherished, so protected, so much expected of one, so valued.  When honor meant something.

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