Last night on Downton Abbey , the Earl of Grantham’s aristocratic vices were shown not only to be threatening the way of life of the people for whom he’s responsible but were the cause of his daughter’s quite unnecessary death.

His middle-class son-in-law has been discovering how feckless the management of the estate is. It could have a future if it adopted a quite ordinary business model of efficiency. It won’t if it doesn’t. But the son-in-law doesn’t really know how to get the Earl to face the facts, wallowing, as he is, in lazy paternalistic delusions.

And one of his daughters dies in childbirth because he prefers the pretentious advice of a physician with an aristocratic title to the more scientific, caring, and empirically informed advice of the family doctor. The aristocratic physician exaggerates the dangers of going to the hospital and having a C-section, and the Earl takes his side, it appears, to avoid hurting his aristocratic feelings. The Earl’s wife, Lady Grantham (the most realistic character on the show), rightly accuses him of preferring male, aristocratic vanity to facing medical facts, gennuinely caring for his daughter, and taking advantage of the latest life-saving medical technology. As man of honor, he admits, against anyone who would console him, “there’s some truth” to her accusation.

As a genuinely Lockean critique, there was a very pronounced strain of nascent feminism in the show.

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Articles by Peter Lawler

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