Archive for February, 2013

Dear readers, This is the latest article from frequent contributor, Patty Saffran, the Contributing Editor for Horse Directory Magazine, about the last surviving harness racing track on LI. One aspect is about the English Thoroughbred stallion Messenger, bred by Richard Grosvenor, First Earl of Grosvenor in the 18th C. The magnificent horse came to the US in 1788 and was the foundation stud of just about every important US Thoroughbred and Standardbred you’ve ever heard of including Seabiscuit, Man o’ War, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, etc. Messenger is buried on LI with a memorial plaque.


Messenger by Currier and Ives, courtesy of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Goshen, NY,-public domain image.

Port Jefferson Station, LI residents were once so wild about harness racing that they originally named their village Echo after their local hero, the famous bay gelding harness horse named Echo. Echo won many races at nearby harness tracks located in villages like Setauket, Huntington, and Smithtown and on his local track, the Gentlemen’s Driving Park, which was founded around 1880. There were twenty five harness tracks on LI in the 1880’s. While Echo and his contemporary harness horses may have been pushed aside for the auto and cement roads, the track where he raced, the Gentlemen’s Driving Park has miraculously survived. The Park is the only harness racing track left on Long Island and Jack Smith, President of the Cumsewogue Historical Society of Port Jefferson Station, and many other civic- minded residents are determined to preserve it.


Harpers Weekly trot, 1881, wood engraving, public-domain image.

Mr. Smith recently gave us a tour of the race track, now in a wooded area and hidden from the main road. While the half mile oval is overgrown in the center and on the perimeter, the track is still visible. As we walked around the track, he explained, “The Driving Park was once part of the Grand Circuit of Harness Racing Tracks of the North East and a member of the National Trotting Association. It was the site of many exciting races in its day. Adjacent to the track was the site of legendary owner and trainer Robert L. Davis’s Cumsewogue Training Stables – he also oversaw the race track. Today that land is occupied by the Davis Professional Park. The track itself is located in the woods east of Morgan Avenue and northeast of Canal Road. The oval track is clearly evident in aerial photos of the area.”


Currier and Ives, A race from the word go

Mr. Smith continued, “The Driving Park was in use for harness racing until about 1946, but most of the racing was up until about the time of WWI. The reason this track has survived is that until the mid 1950’s teenagers used to race jalopies there. Now, our township is in the process of acquiring the property and, to date, has purchased about half of the acreage. Our Councilman, Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, has been very diligent in pursuing the acquisition of this historic property. It is being preserved and the land purchased through open space funding.”

On our tour, Mr. Smith said that he has found an actual ticket stub from a race day from July 4, 1892. Also, while looking for horseshoes with a metal detector, he found a pair of period field glasses. These and other items about the Gentlemen’s Driving Park were on recently on display during October-November 2012 at the town library.


In 1892,The Port Jefferson Echo (named after the town hero, Echo) reported: “The trotting and running events on the Gentlemen’s Driving Park [later called the Herman Floyd Race Track] on Thursday afternoon, attracted a large attendance, and the number no doubt would have been greatly augmented had the condition of weather been more favorable. Many ladies were present. The fact that no liquor is sold at the park and the absence of its attendant demoralizing scenes have made it possible for ladies to enjoy the races quite as well as their husbands or sweethearts”. Further back, it was reported that Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day, were special race days at the Park in the late 1880’s with ladies admitted free.

The revered local trotter, Echo, a bay gelding was originally bred and owned by Captain Nathaniel Dickerson. Dickerson’s breeding book has yet to be discovered but from the number of races Echo won and the price that Dickerson sold him to D.B. Goff for in 1881, $1,500. (over $34,000. today), he was considered a quality horse. At some point, Echo was sold to Frank Edsall of New York City, a known owner of harness horses who was such a racing devotee that when he died in 1898, he was buried in the famous harness racing town of Goshen, NY. Edsall owned Echo when he was finally defeated on August 9, 1884 in Smithtown by his arch rival Fredonia Boy owned by Colonel Beecher and George Ticehurst of Smithtown.


Robert L. Davis, owner of Cumsewogue training stables, who also oversaw the adjacent gentlemens driving park

The Port Jefferson Times from August 2, 1884, describes Echo, with affection, something that is rarely seen anymore with reporting on horse racing, “Echo is the pet of the local turf, and the pride of Capt. Dickerson’s heart. A horse that defeats him, will be a good’un. It is doubtful that Solon can do it – ’tis possible that Fredonia Boy may.” The actual race on August 9, 1884 had the crowd in a stir, with lots of money bet on Echo. It was run at the distance of a mile in five heats. There was a judge’s dispute concerning two of the heats, resulting in one judge so disgusted he left the stand and had to be replaced. When it was all over, Fredonia Boy edged out his rival Echo in three out of five heats with Solon third. The analysis was, “The pride of Capt. Dickinson’s heart was broken” and the loss was pinned to Echo being “out of form”, and Fredonia Boy’s driver, Ticehust, being “the best in the county”. Times were between 2:40 and 2:33, with slower high wheelers. (After 1900, many races were run in faster smaller sulkies with tires and more aerodynamic lower driver positions, and the times started dropping.)

Edsall later entered Echo in another race he did not win at Narraganset in September 1884. A few months later, Edsall sold Echo. In The American Gentlemen’s Newspaper, NYC in November 1884, “By Frank Edsall of this city, has sold, through D. B. Goff. [Echo’s previous owner] to Mr. Wm. C. France, the bay gelding Echo, 2:28)4, by Regulus. He was bred by Captain Dickerson, of Port Jefferson. L. Echo was tried to the pole with F. D., 2244, last Saturday, and they speeded a quarter in 31 seconds.” This period sale notice is actually an exciting find today because it mentions Echo’s sire – Regulus. While the records seem to have been lost for Echo, Regulus has turned up in a stud book, Wallace’s American Trotting Register, Vol. 4. It turns out that Captain Dickerson bred possibly his unnamed mare to “Regulus (Suffolk Chief) foaled in 1864, got by Hambletonian 10, dam by American Star, bred by George Lorillard, N. Y. and owned by Joseph Rowland of Miller’s Place, LI [right next to Port Jefferson Station]”. With Echo’s pedigree going back to Hambletonian10, his sire, Abdullah, and thus also to Messenger, Echo is officially descended from the famous foundation sires of the Standardbred, horse royalty. The get from these sires had a natural ability to trot and pace fast. Even the sire of Messinger, Mambrino in England, was noted as preferring to trot around the pasture. Researchers today have discovered that a horse’s ability to trot or pace and to maintain that gait is genetically determined.


William C. France in the December 25 1894 edition of American Horse Breeder Magazine, public domain image

It turns out that Long Island turns is rich in horse history and figures in the saga of Messenger. The great Messenger was brought over from England by Irish sportsman Thomas Benger to stand at stud in Philadelphia in 1788 for $15. (Top Thoroughbred stud fees today are from $10,000. to over $100,000.) The gray Messenger was in demand as a sire for pacers, trotters and Thoroughbreds. Messenger was sold, resold and eventually retired to the Townsend Cock farm, Locust Valley, LI after a life at stud in nearby states and locally at the Philip Platt farm in Flushing LI. Messenger colicked and died at the Cock farm in 1808. At what is now called Messenger Hill Farm, a beautiful memorial bronze plaque to this stallion may be found sitting on a large rock along Duck Pond Road, just east of the Piping Rock Road intersection, opposite the Friends Meeting House. The text says:

“Approximately twenty paces to the south of this spot lies MESSENGER, Foaled in England in 1780, brought to America in 1788, Buried with military honors on January 28, 1808, Descended from England’s greatest Thoroughbreds, Son of Mambrino and of a daughter of turf, Bred by the First Earl of Grosvenor, No stallion ever imported into this country, Did more to improve our horse stock, None enriched more the stock of the whole world, Today his blood is carried by most American Thoroughbreds, As the great founder, Of the breed of Standard Bred light harness horses, His blood is now dominant, In America throughout Europe and in Australia, Among his direct descendants is every two minute trotter, ‘None but himself can be his parallel’, [Homer describing Hercules] In tribute to, His enduring greatness, This memorial has been erected by American horse lovers. A.D. 1935”.


Messenger rock photos by Amanda Fisk, courtesy of Friends Academy, Locust Valley

Messenger’s line is through two of the Thoroughbred foundation sires on both sides (the Darley Arabian on the sire line and the Godolphin Arabian on the dam line). There is a bit of confusion concerning Messenger because Messinger’s sire is Mambrino and one son is also Mambrino. The son was bred in the US to Amazonia, possibly a daughter of a Messenger son, Saratoga. The mare was not beautiful but she was a speedy natural trotter. Amazonia contributed much to the eventual Standardbred’s impulse to trot or pace. Amazonia and Mambrino (US) produced Abdullah, also a homely horse but an incredibly fast trotter. The sires’ line of descent is as follows: Mambrino b. England 1768 – Messenger b. England 1780 – Mambrino b. US 1807 – Abdullah b. US 1823 – Hambletonian 10 b. US 1849, the most important North American sire of harness horses who was born in Orange Country, NY and sired 1,335 offspring for a stud fee of approximately $500. (Top Standardbred stud fees today are around $15,000.) Messenger’s descendants include the Thoroughbreds American Eclipse, Man o’ War, Kelso, Seattle Slew and Secretariat and the Standardbreds Niatross, Dan Patch, Greyhound and Bret Hanover.


Messenger’s grandson Abdullah (sire of Hambletonian 10) was foaled in 1823 at the Tredwell farm, Salisbury Place, LI. Later in November 1854, Abdullah died later on LI of a not so fortunate fate. The horse’s brilliance and strength in a way condemned him. S.W. Parlin writes in The American Trotter 1905, “The man who took care of him [Abdullah] at one time stated to the writer that the cause of his lack of patronage late in life was the fact that many of his get, though good-gaited trotters, were inclined to pull too strongly on the bit when speeding on the road for the comfort of their drivers. [This made him a fantastic sire for racing harness horses.] It is said that the owner of Abdallah finally gave the horse to a farmer on Long Island, with the understanding that the farmer should care for the horse properly as long as the animal lived. The farmer became tired of his bargain, so the story goes, and sold the old horse to a fish peddler for thirty-five dollars. The fish broker hitched Abdallah to his cart, but the horse did not take kindly to that occupation and kicked himself free. The peddler then turned Abdallah loose, and he finally died on Long Island from neglect and starvation”.

Messenger Rock, photos by Amanda Fisk, courtesy of Friends Academy, Locust Valley, LI  2

Echo, the hero of Port Jefferson Station, who through Regulus was descended from the illustrious Messenger, Abdullah and Hambletonian 10, won races at the Gentleman’s Driving Park and on many other race tracks. As mentioned in the sale notice of 1884, Echo was sold by to William C. France. France at the time was a well known breeder of Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds. A few years before he died in New Rochelle in 1901 at his son’s home, France had financial difficulties. It was reported in his NY Times Obituary that he had been forced to sell his 387 Thoroughbreds [!] from his Highland Stock Farm in KY. France was known for having bred the famous trotters Fred Wilkes and Allie Wilkes at this same farm. After the sale notice for Echo, the trail runs cold for now as to where William C. France ran or retired Echo. Hopefully, more articles will turn up on Echo as well as period photographs of him and the Gentlemen’s Driving Park. Port Jefferson Station should be proud of its efforts to save this historic harness racing track from intrusive development.

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Fabulous Dr. Lucy Worsley discusses the Regency Era in these videos. Wonderful.

The Rush Journals

Below are links to a BBC documentary called “ELEGANCE AND DECADENCE – The Age of the Regency”. The documentary is hosted by historian Dr. Lucy Worsley, author of the 2011 book, “If Walls Could Talk, An Intimate History of the Home”.

“ELEGANCE AND DECADENCE – The Age of the Regency”

Here are the links to the documentary hosted by Dr. Worsley:

Part 1 – “Warts and All – Portrait of a Prince”

Part 2 – “Developing the Regency Brand”

Part 3 – “The Many and the Few – A Divided Decade”

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Sewell, The Bennet sisters

Sewell, The Bennet sisters. The photos do not capture the detail of each image.

This year we celebrate all things Pride and Prejudice in honor of the novel’s 200 year anniversary. Just recently, Ruby Lane sold a rare, out of print, limited 1940 edition of Pride and Prejudice, illustrated by Helen Sewell, an illustrator of mainly children’s books. People today still recognize the original drawings she created for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books.

Helen Sewell

Helen Sewell

About Helen Sewell

Sewell was born June 27, 1896 at Mare Island Navy Yard, California. Her family moved to Guam shortly afterward, where her father, William Elbridge Sewell, served as Governor.


Sewell wanted to be an artist since the age of eight. At 12 years old, she began attending Pratt Institute’s Saturday classes and by 16 years of age was enrolled there full time. This was in place of completing high school. At Pratt, she studied classes with Alexander Archipenko, who was the underlying influence for her broken-cylinder figures.

"Not handsome enough"

“Not handsome enough”

mrs bennet

Mrs. Bennet

Sewell began her long career working on Christmas and greeting cards; her first illustrated publication was in 1923. She primarily illustrated children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Elizabeth Coatsworth, Eleanor Farjeon, and Frances Clarke Sayer. As with Pride and Prejudice and a 1957 edition of Sense and Sensibility, Sewell also created drawings for a small number of adult publications

Unguarded moments shows the full page illustration

Unguarded moments shows the full page illustration

Sewell’s style included a simple use of color, which at times eliminated black all together, and her use of the white paper.  Her line drawings were in imitation of 19th century steel engravings. She died in 1957 at the age of 61.

Illustration of the Gardiners on page 324

Illustration of the Gardiners on page 324

About the Limited 1940 edition of Pride and Prejudice

coverThe image at right is of a hardcover, green marbled slipcase. Quarter binding, green marbled board cover, with  brown faux leather spine. Heritage edition illustrations are signed by the illustrator. (The commercial issue would have fewer illustrations for the ordinary book buyer.) It is said that photographic images do the drawings no justice, for they are quite detailed when seen in person.


darcy and elizabeth

Darcy and Elizabeth dancing

sewell illustration

This limited edition book sold for $74 at Ruby Lane. I would gladly have paid more. Other limited edition books are selling for as much as $900 per copy. (Click on images for a larger view.)

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WARNING! SPOILER ALERT in the body of this review and comments of the Downton Abbey Finale of Season Three. If you have not seen the last installment, please view the 7th episode online at this link. I deliberately kept the incriminating images at the back of this post. Readers who comment can leave their honest assessments, for the 4th season will not be aired in the U.K. until next fall.

Tug of War. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Tug of War. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

What did you think? Did Julian Fellowes leave us with a cliffhanger or a major downer? How will this latest catastrophic development change Season 4 and the actions of major characters? I must admit to some RELIEF that the 3rd season of Downton Abbey has finally ended. I’ve not been on such a roller coaster ride since I last visited our local amusement park, one minute loving the story lines and the next minute loathing certain plot developments. One thing is for certain, the popularity of DA is here to stay as long as Julian Fellowes continues to provide us with such lively and unpredictable entertainment. And, now, my rather cryptic thoughts on Downton Abbey Season Three, Episode Seven:

Off to Duneagle in Scotland. redit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Off to Duneagle in Scotland. redit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

An interlude in Scotland

An excuse for a change of scenery means a road trip to Scotland. This episode was divided between  Downton Abbey with the servants and Duneagle Castle in Scotland with the Crawley family. Lord Grantham described the annual visit to the Highlands as the highlight of his year.  (The war and Sybil’s death had prevented the Crawleys from visiting in previous seasons.) Viewers now understand why Lady Rose made her appearance in the last episode, for her family are close to the Crawleys. This segueway to the Highlands is a means to get Rose to Downton Abbey – as a replacement for Sybil? One shudders.

Mrs. Patmore’s pasties entice a Lothario

No sooner had Mr. Tufton the new shopkeeper, smelled the enticing aroma of Mrs. Patmore’s cooking and sampled a few of her dishes than his mind was made up – he would woo her until she was installed as his wife/personal cook in his kitchen.

Mrs. Patmore , flattered by his not so subtle attentions, simpers like a 16-year-old girl at all the testosterone aimed her way. She purchases a pretty new blouse for her date with the first man to pay court to her in decades and cheers him on in the rope pulling contest (which the men of Downton win.)

Upon seeing Mrs. Patmore all gussied up for the day, Mr. Tufton comes on as strong as a jack hammer: “I hope you don’t mind if I say so Mrs Patmore, but in that blouse you look like you stepped off the pages of Vogue”. This doesn’t fool Mrs. Hughes one bit. “You are free with your compliments,” she observes. And he replies tellingly: “I love to be in love Mrs Hughes. I’ll not deny it. Any time, any place, I love to be in love!”

But Mrs. Hughes wasn’t born yesterday. Tufton’s not so subtle moves on other women at the fair doesn’t escape her knowing gaze.

Like a true friend Mrs Hughes summons the cook to her quarters and reveals the unpleasant truth. Instead of stomping out of the housekeeper’s quarters, Mrs. Patmore giggles, saying: “It was the cookin’ he was after and not me. I never felt such relief in my life. The more he said about how he liked his beef roasted, his eggs fried, and his pancakes flipped, then the more I wanted out and get away.”

It is side stories like this one, filled with colorful characters, comedy, and a glimpse of the life of ordinary mortals, that elevate Downton Abbey from the mundane to the fabulous.

Love is All Around You

Romance is in the air for a number of Downton’s inhabitants. Bates and his Anna kiss by a babbling brook and she learns the reel for him.

Dr. Clarkson reaches the inevitable conclusion – that Isobel Crawley would make a perfect wife. Isobel likes their platonic friendship and discourages the doc from declaring himself. But after this episode’s awful ending, one can conclude that Isobel will need the doctor’s substantial shoulders and his considerable support to get over Matthew’s sudden demise.

Thomas sacrifices his pretty face to save Jimmy’s after the Downton men win a tug of war. If that isn’t love, what is?

Michael Gregson and Edith: “He’s brought his pencils and his rods what’s wrong with that?

This is the most improbable subplot in the season finale. Michael Gregson, fishing rod in hand, rushes to Scotland and finagles an invitation to Duneagle. His motive? To convince the Crawleys that he’s a decent chap despite his batty wife in the belfry.

It’s a good thing that Edie has low self-esteem or else she would have been spooked off him from the beginning. The family is not very receptive. Michael wants them to get to know him – the real him – so that the Crawleys can see that he’s the perfect man for Edie, with just one teensy little flaw.

This subplot had more in common with One Life to Live than Downton Abbey. Our Edie deserves better.

Michael: I thought if they knew me, if they came to like me, they might find it easier to be on my side. My basic fact is that I am in love with you. Really and truly. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Edith: And I want to be in yours. But this visit of yours is so creepy,  I can’t see a happy ending.

Nothing stops  Michael. Having made a tepid impression on Robert and Mary, who refuses to open her eyes, he makes a move on Matthew.

redit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

But his appeal to Matthew’s sense of romance doesn’t get very far (the dialogue is priceless; how can one make fun of it?):

Michael: Does the law expect me to have no life at all until I die? Would Lord Grantham?

Matthew: You can’t expect that he would want you to involve his own daughter, what when all you have to offer her is a job as your own mistress.

Michael: No, I love her.  I’m offering my love.

Matthew: You’ve been misled by our surroundings. We’re not in a novel by Walter Scott.

Edith will not be put off when Michael tries to say his goodbyes, saying, “It’s odd. If you’d asked me before tonight how I felt about you I’m not sure what I would have answered, but now I’m absolutely sure, and this is NOT our last evening.” Ah, our rebellious Edith. Will she live in sin with this man? Set fire to the asylum in which his wife is housed? Carry on as usual and be dangled on a string for life? This improbable plot twist is not what we had hoped for Edith. These scenes seemed so contrived.  I do hope that Julian Fellowes gets this relationship back on track in Season 4, for it had such an interesting start.

Edna and Tom

The title should actually read “A Brazen Maid Sets Her Sights on Tom.”

Tom, the new estate manager, lives in limbo. His position is much like that of a governess – he belongs nowhere, not with the servants and not with the family. Case in point, when the Crawleys dash off to Scotland, Tom remains behind, eating alone and thinking of his dead wife, Sybil, who is missed by one and all. Leaving Tom alone to supervise the estate worries Violet:

Violet: Do you think it is wise to leave him here unsupervised?

Cora: What do you mean?

Violet: Well I know he’s housebroken, more or less, but I don’t want freedom to go to his head.

Isobel: I’ll keep an eye on him.

But the one keeping her eye on him is Edna, the new maid.

After the Crawleys leave for Scotland, Branson is seen walking, eating, and sleeping alone in the house in scenes reminiscent of Jack Nicholson several months into winter in The Shining. Edna pops up wherever he goes – at the pub, in a room, in the hallway – smart, fresh, and pretty. Each time she hones in on Branson like a heat-seeking missile.

For a supervised maid, Edna seems to have a lot of free time to stalk Branson without a reprimand. While Branson’s intrigued, he is a male after all, Edna cannot make him forget his misery over Sybil’s death. When Mrs Hughes cautions him about getting involved with the help, he blurts out his misery.

Like a mother hen, Mrs. Hughes, who gets better with each season, comforts Branson and fires Edna, who is obviously not cut out of maid-of-all work cloth.


Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

A Tale of Two Marriages: Shrimpie and Susan vs Robert and Cora

We don’t really care about Shrimpie and Susan, the Marquess and Marchioness of Flintshire, who have an awful marriage, but we do care about Cora and Robert. If the earl and his countess needed proof that their marriage was on solid footing, then Shrimpie and Susan, who have tired of each other over the years, provide it.

The marquess and his marchioness are stuck with each other, despite the absence of passion and lack of mutual respect. Worse, Shrimpie has squandered his inheritance by following the traditional route of estate management, which bankrupted him. He praises Robert for his modern thinking and for making smart choices. Robert is more grateful than ever for Matthew’s good sense.

Shrimpie’s solution out of his financial predicament is to take a post in Bombay, where he and Susan will live in couples hell, and leave Rose with the Crawleys for her coming out.

The contrast between the two aristocratic couples couldn’t be greater. While Susan and her husband quarrel over every minor detail, the earl begins to appreciate what he has. He gives his Cora a passionate kiss and recognizes Matthew’s part in his success. “Downton will survive because of Matthew’s vision and now I give thanks for him.”  Even if many of us didn’t know ahead of time that Matthew was about to meet his Maker, these sentences act like sign posts: Matthew’s gonna die. Matthew’s gonna die.

Matthew and Mary

The dialogue between Mary and Matthew hinted of a less than happy ending because they have never been so happy before. She’s soft and amorous. He simply can’t resist patting her on her bump and giving her compliments left and right. They coo and ooh and ah all over each other…

… so that their love talk is beyond sugary.  Mary to Matthew: “You think me nice, but nobody else does. What makes you sure I am? Matthew: “Because I’ve seen you naked.” The dialogue makes even the most clueless viewer wonder – What’s going on? Why the chemistry all of a sudden?

At eight months pregnant, Mary feels safe traveling to Scotland, but makes a mistake in joining the picnic. “I was stupid to go”, she says later, “we were shaken about like dice in a cup.” Which, as everyone knows, is code for early labor.

After Mary’s twinges start, she rushes back to Yorkshire to have her baby, telling Matthew he can join her later with the rest of the Crawley gang.

Alone and about to give birth prematurely, Mary confesses: “I feel I’m only half myself without him.”

The doomsday clock is ticking more loudly.

Matthew arrives to view his son and heir. “My darling, how are you really?” he asks. “Tired and pretty relieved. Just think, we’ve done our duty. Downton is safe. We have an heir, and as soon as I get out of bed we can work on the spare.”

Tick tock tick tock.

Matthew is giddy with delight holding his little chap and waxing eloquently about teaching his son cricket and estate maintenance.

And now we hear the dialogue that seals the doom deal:

Mary: “I hope I’m allowed to be your Mary Crawley for all eternity.

Matthew: “You’ll be my Mary always because mine is the true Mary.

Mary: “Ever wonder how happy you have made me?”

Matthew: “Right now I want to tell you that I fall more in love with you every day that passes.”

It’s a wonder that lightning doesn’t come out of the blue and strike him then and there.

Mary asks for a decent kiss before sending her beloved away to collect her family. Life couldn’t be more perfect for our happy couple. But this is Downton Abbey and no one is allowed to remain blissfully happy for long.

Matthew’s Death

Sybil’s death scene lasted 10-15 minutes, giving viewers time to prepare for her unhappy end. But with Matthew’s the viewers were robbed.

Matthew's last moments. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Matthew’s last moments. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

One moment he is rejoicing in the birth of his heir, the next moment he is dead in some roadside ditch. End of episode. End of the season. PBS immediately switches to a fund appeal to capitalize on their stupified viewers. I felt cheated.

The camera lingers on the shocking scene for a few micro seconds before cutting to the Crawley’s drawing-room, where the family placidly awaits Matthew’s arrival.


Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

As he lies dying in the road, Violet says appropriately: “We don’t always get our just desserts.” Which is exactly how the viewers are starting to feel.

Mary, who is happily expecting the arrival of  her family, says of her husband: “Tell Mr Matthew he must wait his turn, he’s seen the baby and they haven’t.”

I wonder if that statement will come back to haunt her! Two major characters killed off this season. Life in Downton Abbey land is unfair!

Please vote in the poll or leave your considered thoughts about this episode and the third season. Will you return to view Season 4?

All images via PBS Pressroom.

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Gentle readers, If you live near the Baltimore area, this exhibit might interest you.

Pride and Prejudice Goucher

Since it was first published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen has charmed generation after generation. The exhibition Pride and Prejudice: a 200 Year Affair celebrates one of the most popular and beloved novels of our time. A colorful visual history reflects how Pride and Prejudice has been published, adapted, translated, and loved over the last 200 years. It features the first edition published on January 28, 1813 as well as, rare and illustrated editions, and collectibles. Goucher College has the largest collection on Jane Austen and her times in North America.

The Goucher College Special Collections and Archives is home to our Jane Austen collection, but also collections spanning the early printing age to the Modern era. Our closed stacks house rows of first edition books, rare publications, and historical ephemera. We are open to the public Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. While we generally accommodate the needs of our student body and faculty in their research, we also have visitors from around the world for academic research as well as recreational visits.

For more interesting information about the exhibit, click on this Goucher College link: http://gouchercollegejaneausten.wordpress.com/

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Mr Darcy, Colin Firth, astride a white horse

Mr Darcy, Colin Firth, astride a white horse

Is chivalry alive and well? Good question. I venture to guess that a large number of Jane Austen’s readers subscribe to the traditional hero as embodied in Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Colonel Brandon, and Captain Wentworth, all admirable men, who despite some flaws, are wont to treat a lady with respect and come to her rescue out of a sense of duty, or from good breeding or a besotted heart.

Just in time for Valentine’s day comes Queendom.com’s tudy on gender roles in courtship behavior, which reveals that while most courtship conventions have changed, some age-old romance rituals are still going strong. Pulling up on a white horse isn’t necessary for the modern woman, but some chivalry is still a heart-melting must. (Inquiring readers, I have ventured to put my own spin (in blue) on this contribution from lona Jerabek, Ph.D.)

Some men hurtled, on horseback, with a giant stick in their hands. Emperor Shah Jahan built The Taj Mahal as a final resting place for his most beloved wife. Both Cleopatra and Juliet refused to live in a world where they couldn’t be with the one they loved. Thankfully, courtship conventions and romantic gestures need not be this extreme. According to Queendom’s data, most men and women take a modern approach to dating, but a little chivalry can still go a long way.

Jane Austen’s rules of courtship vs modern times

Collecting data from 950 men and 1621 women, Queendom’s research on gender roles and courtship reveals that:

  • 77% of men and 70% of women feel that a date can be initiated by either gender. In fact, 65% of the women have either asked a man out on a date, or would be willing to do so. (This would be a big faux pas in Jane Austen’s book, for a gently bred lady would NEVER make the first move, lest she be thought forward. There were those who had powers of persuasion through beauty and words, like May Crawford, or who took advantage of a man during a moment of weakness and, like that rat terrier, Lucy Steele, never let go. Others, like Marianne Dashwood, ignored society’s strictures, but all in all, a young lady of good breeding would hesitate to step out of the bounds of propriety and bring shame upon her family by acting upon her impulses and brazenly ask a man to pay court. Her actions would be much more subtle than that.)
Mr. Darcy listens to Elizabeth about Lydia's predicament, then quietly goes about rectifying the situation and helping Lydia out of a scrape. A true romantic hero.

Mr. Darcy listens to Elizabeth about Lydia’s predicament, then quietly goes about rectifying the situation and helping Lydia out of a scrape. A true romantic hero.

  • 67% of men and 60% of women believe that chivalry is important (e.g. opening doors, pulling out chair, etc.). (This number would have been 100% in Jane’s day. A man who failed to follow the rules of propriety, like John Thorpe, would instantly be regarded as deplorable and wouldn’t stand a chance.)
  • 60% of women still like to be wined and dined, at least in the initial stages of dating. (Courtship was much more constrained, with the virginal girl guarded like hawks by her chaperons and family. After her coming out, a woman would NEVER be seen alone in her swain’s company. The only time they could touch or talk at length was during the set of a dance. They could never dine alone in an inn, for instance, without damaging her reputation. As for drinking wine, a gently bred girl might be given a glass of watered down elderberry or orange wine, but nothing that would make her tipsy and lose control.)
At first blush it is Willoughby who seems heroic, but it is the quieter Colonel Brandon who rescues Marianne from her untidy tendencies.

At first blush it is Willoughby who seems heroic, but it is the quieter Colonel Brandon who rescues Marianne from her untidy tendencies.

  • 26% of men want to be the one who controls how the relationship plays out (i.e. how many dates they should have, how fast the relationship moves, when to meet each other’s family). 39% of men would prefer to let the woman control the direction of the relationship, 35% prefer it to be a mutual decision. For women, 27% want to be in full control, 31% prefer to let men decide; 43% prefer it to be mutual. (Back in the Regency era a wily woman could manipulate the situation behind the scenes, like Charlotte Lucas, in order to snare her man, but most, like Jane Bennet, were passive and took their cues from their suitor’s actions or family’s wishes. A Regency miss who takes control of her courtship or acts in a hasty and willful manner was regarded a hoyden, as with Lydia Bennet and Maria Rushworth,  two stupid girls who were the instruments of their own undoing.)
Anne yearned. Anne desired. But it wasn't until Captain Wentworth penned his letter that he opened up the way to their blissful romantic reunion.

Anne yearned. Anne desired. But she could do nothing. It wasn’t until Captain Wentworth took pen in hand and wrote his swoon-worthy letter that he opened up the way to their blissful romantic reunion.

  • When it comes to popping the question, 66% of men and 65% of women think it’s fine for the woman to do the asking. (Not in Jane Austen’s day, when men were obligated to do the asking. A women’s sole power, that of choice, was exercised before marriage. It was up to her instinct and good  judgment to refuse a cad or accept a good man for a husband. Heaven forbid if love clouded her good sense. Unless she was an aristocrat, the family would accede to her wishes, for once she married, she would have no rights and lose control of her money, land, and children. Thus a young woman (girls in many instances) had to be smart about her choice of mate or rely on wise council. Unfortunately for Miss Anne Elliot, her wise council, Mrs. Russel, turned out to be wrong and poor Anne had to wait eight long years before she could marry Captain Wentworth and find happiness in his arms.)
Wickham, a handsome fortune hunter

Wickham, a handsome fortune hunter

  • In terms of who pays for the first date (a long-standing debate), 47% of men feel that the man should pay; 24% feel that the bill should be split; 29% stated that whoever initiated the date should pay. On the women’s side, 31% feel the man should pay, another 31% feel that the bill should be split, and 38% indicated that whoever initiated the date should pay. (Now this is a tricky one, for in Regency times many a fortune hunter was able to inveigle an invitation to dinner or a party for which others paid, including his intended’s family. There were some bachelors who traveled from house to house and, aside from their personal expenses, never parted with a penny. The woman might not literally dig into her reticule to pay for the cad’s board and food, but in the instance of a fortune hunter, he most likely did not foot the bill either, except for a trinket or two with which to woo his heiress.)
Snooty Elizabeth Elliot lost her chance to snare a man

Snooty Elizabeth Elliot lost her chance to bag a man

  • And that old “play-hard-to-get” theory? Still just a theory. Only 19% of men and 28% of women believe that a woman should be mysterious and play hard to get for the first few dates. (Elizabeth Elliot played hard to get and where did that get her? At 29 she’s staring spinsterhood in the face. Good old Charlotte Lucas took the horse by the reigns and saddled her man, albeit a fairly defective one. Mr. Collins had a house and a job, which was all that Charlotte wanted or needed. She encouraged him to garden, while spending her days alone in her private parlor.)

“Women no longer need to play the more submissive, demure role – and it’s nice to see that both genders support this progress,” states Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “This doesn’t mean that men are off the hook and don’t need to put an effort into romance anymore. The modern woman still likes romance, but it’s now a shared endeavor, with both genders putting an effort into the relationship. What fascinated us most about this study was that younger men and women had somewhat more traditional courtship views than older age groups.” (It is obvious from the following statistics that attitudes towards chivalry and courtship have changed drastically in 200 years. Imagine a young and spirited woman like Elizabeth Bennet adopting any of the following modern attitudes!:)

Age differences in courtship perceptions: surprising results

Queendom’s age comparisons reveal several interesting differences:

  • 28% of men under 30 and 22% of men over 30 feel that the man should plan most of the dates.
  • 60% of men under 30 and 76% of men over 30 feel that a woman should be able to propose to a man.
  • 20% of men under 30 and 13% of men over 30 said that they would feel threatened by a woman who took control of what they did on the first date.
  • 26% of men under 30 and 14% of men over 30 believe that it should be the man who asks the woman out, not vice versa.
  • 51% of men under 30 and 39% of men over 30 believe stated that the man should pay for the first date.
  • 66% of women under 30 and 71% of women over 30 have either asked a man out or would consider doing it.
  • 64% of women under 30 and 72% of women over 30 think it’s ok to be the one to ask a man to marry them.

The modern way vs Jane Austen’s way of beguiling your beloved

  • Forget the dozen roses. Buy one, wrapped with a ribbon. (200 years ago: Give her a posy of fresh wild flowers that you picked in a field.)
Marianne draws Willoughby's silhouette

Marianne draws Willoughby’s silhouette in the drawing room

  • Show up at your partner’s workplace and whisk him or her away for lunch. (200 years ago: Sit in the drawing room with your intended and let her wind her wool skein over your hands or suggest that you draw his silhouette.)
  • Place a love note in your partner’s lunch bag or on the bathroom mirror. (200 years ago: sing a duet at the pianoforte and make sure that the bench is a tad small.)
Archery as sport

Archery as sport and a means of courtship

  • Grab a blanket, a bottle of wine, and drive out to a place where you can see the stars. (200 years ago: arrange a walking party with your sisters and cousins and ask him to tag along. Have the servants grab the blankets and wine, and drive you to your location.)
Darcy and Elizabeth

Darcy and Elizabeth

  • Slow dance in your living room. (200 years ago: Make sure to solicit her hand for the supper dance, wherein you shall spend another pleasurable hour in her company.)
Elizabeth Bennet, 1980

Elizabeth Bennet, 1980

  • Avoid embarrassing lingerie no-nos. Take him to a lingerie store and show him all the naughty things you like. (200 years ago: drop your handkerchief near your exposed ankle for him to retrieve, or make sure that your loveliest eye-catching locket nestles snugly between your well-exposed breasts. )
Darcy and Elizabeth make goo goo eyes at each other across the room

Darcy and Elizabeth make goo goo eyes at each other across the room

  • Meet at a local hang-out and pretend you’re two strangers flirting with each other. (200 years ago: make goo goo eyes at each other in the drawing room while others play a musical instrument, or pretend that you don’t like each other and trade bantering insults.)
  • Build a little bonfire in your backyard and make chocolate Smores. (200 years ago: engage in a game of archery and set out an al fresco tea.)
  • Get tango or salsa lessons together. (200 years ago: ask the music master to visit the village to teach the latest dances.)

As you can see, gentle readers, while the rules of romance have changed over the years, the game remains the same! What would Jane Austen have thought of today’s courtship rules, I wonder?

Queendom.com , a subsidiary of PsychTests AIM Inc. , is a site that creates an interactive venue for self-exploration with a healthy dose of fun.  PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996, providing psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world.  

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The Downton Abbey of seasons past is back, warts and all. Last night viewers were treated to a 120-minute episode of pure Downton Abbey-isms, with Violet spewing her wisdom left and right, character development galore, only an occasional plot twist that stretched the story line into unbelievable territory, Tom Branson as super hero, and even a glimmer of passion ‘tween the sheets twixt Mary and Matthew. So let’s dive in, shall we?

All bow down and hail Bates’s release from prison!

Thank you Julian Fellowes for putting an end to our misery. I had reached a point where I didn’t care if Bates rotted in prison for the rest of his life. This week we were treated to Bates and his Anna sitting side by side, walking side by side, and painting side by side. Their tepid kisses told me that they should stop taking lessons from Mary and Matthew and embark on another steamy honeymoon night.

Ethel and her miasmic scarlet letter washed clean

It’s becoming clear to Violet that: “Ethel is notorious in the village.”
“I don’t think so”, replies Isobel, who will counter her nemesis any time, any where, even at the price of being wrong. Violet always has the upper hand: “I know so. You have touched this house by a miasma of scandal … “

In this episode the two battle axes are at it in full force. Violet shows no quarter, even to the hapless Ethel, who ventures to brag after receiving a compliment about her cooking from Isobel: “These days a working woman must have a skill.”

To which Violet replies:  “But you seem to have so many.”

Our dowager does have a heart and even keener powers of observation. Noticing Ethel’s extreme unhappiness at her treatment in the village, she joins forces with Mrs. Hughes and Isobel to remove the fallen woman from her scene of social crime to another position in another village. Violet places an advertisement in Ethel’s name “to wash her clean.” But the only appealing offer comes from a Mrs. Watson near Cheadle, a village tantalizingly near her son, Charlie, and the Bryans. who are raising him. This is when Violet comes to the rescue!

She invites Mrs. Bryan, who, in defiance of her meany of a husband, encourages Ethel to accept the position, for she feels “uncomfortable keeping a mother separated from her son.” With Ethel working nearby, she can see how Charlie is getting on, and later, much later, reveal that she is his mother.

Lady Rose’s nubility vs the Downton nobility

Let’s see. Lady Rose’s mama is Violet’s niece and godchild. Lady Rose is 18. She is pretty. She is a flapper and a trendsetter, for her wardrobe is years ahead of its time. She is also a liar and a sneak and (blush) the girlfriend of a slimy married man with a house in Warwick Square. This minx’s sole reason for appearing on DA is to spice things up, and I must admit she is more interesting than that dishrag, Lavinia Swire. (Will she hook up with Branson, super man, in future episodes? Curious minds want to know.)

Before the nubile Rose is packed off to her family’s estate in Scotland in July, she will stay with Violet at the Dower House. When questioned if she was capable of keeping such a young girl gainfully occupied and interested, our stalwart dowager replied: “The thing is to keep smiling and never to look as if you disapprove.”

Somehow Rose finagles her great aunt into letting her go to London with Edith so that she can arrange a surprise for darling mummy. Matthew also needs to go there on some mysterious business, and so, like the lion, tin man and Dorothy, the three of them start off for Aunt Rosamund’s place.

Once there, Rose makes her escape in a taxi and disappears ’round the bend. The taxi driver, kind man that he is (and hoping for a fat tip), returns Rose’s scarf and relates the sordid tale of her escapade.

Gullible Rose is rescued at the Blue Dragon from the clutches of lying cad who has (if inferences can be read correctly) fornicated with the girl.

This story arc is so contrived that I felt myself getting mad, except for the fact that we see Matthew in heroic action and Aunt Rosamund look down her aristocratic nose at that dreadful two-timing Terrence.

Once Rose is safely deposited at her great aunt’s home, Violet, with a smile that could neutralize poison, announces that Rose will be trundled off to Scotland after the cricket match to stay alone with her Aunt Agatha.

The camera pans to Rose’s horrified face.

Do we really care? Except that this gives Julian Fellowes a perfect excuse for sending the whole troupe to Scotland for Episode Seven of this season. Stay tuned to find out what happens.

Edith, the not so invisible woman

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Praise Saint Julian, for he has given Edith direction, a job, a nice wardrobe, and a splendid man. Although, let’s be realistic, life will never be perfect for our scrappy gal, who has learned to make do with her eldest sister’s cast offs. We first meet up with our heroine at her granny’s house for tea. Violet is aghast when she discovers that Edith actually means to accept the position of columnist for The Sketch. When Edith reminds granny that it was her idea that she find something useful to do, Violet retorts, “I meant running a local charity or paint watercolours or something!”

At dinner Edith announces that she accepted the job as journalist and her plans to “get the 10 o’clock” and meet her editor for tea. Violet seems quite supportive, saying “I don’t think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there”, but then she turns her thoughts directly on Edith. “”Edith isn’t getting any younger, perhaps she isn’t cut out for domestic life.”

And so Edith goes off to London. Her first glimpse of Michael Gregson, the editor of The Sketch, is that of a smiling, strapping man who is looking for “a mature female voice” (and perhaps something else on the side).

They make a date for lunch next time she’s in town, and our Edie takes care to look especially pretty. As she talks of journalism and being jilted at the altar, she mentally rearranges Mr. Gregson’s clothes off his body.

Charmed as she is, our Edie wasn’t born yesterday! Back at the Abbey, this smart cookie checks her man out. And hies back to London blazing mad.
Donning a serious working hat, her best pearls, and killer lipstick, Edie rushes to Gregson’s office to QUIT her one opportunity to make something of herself.

I had the impression, SIR! that you were flirting with me and found me attractive! Only to find you are MARRIED!”

“Yes, uhm, well, let me explain.”

“I find the idea repugnant! No, I find YOU repugnant. I quit!!

“No don’t go yet. You haven’t had your clotted cream and fresh raspberries! You see, my wife is in an asylum. Lizzie was wonderful when she could cook and clean and sew, but she is gone. And I can’t divorce a lunatic. I’m tied, I tell you, TIED to a madwoman, but I’m MAD about you! Just seeing your feisty words in print lifts my spirits. Having lunch with you …”

“Do I look stupid? My cousin, who is MUCH younger and more nubile and prettier, bought that line off some toff on Warwick Square, but I’m not having any of your deceitful and hateful and untruthful lies.”

What if I said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?”

“Oh, well, then. If that’s the case, see you next week.”

The Passion of Mary and Matthew

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

One more open-mouthed smooch and the passionate scenes between Mary and Matthew will receive an x-rating. We catch Mary saying such seductive things as, “You’ll make me untidy,” “We’re trying for a baby,” and “While we make our little prince.” I shudder at her passion.

Even the doctor is predicting an increasing amount of sexual activity, saying that Lady Mary will be pregnant by 6 months. Gasp. This is too much for me to bear. I am positively getting red in the face thinking about the lustful way in which these two are cavorting all over creation in order to follow their DUTY to God, country, house, and earldom.

Oh, what the heck. I’m a 21st-century girl. Go team Matthew and Mary. Bring that next heir on!

The sacking of Thomas, or how O’Brien tightens the noose

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The long arm of forewarning and prophecy made it’s first appearance with this statement: “I expect you’ll find something to do, Mr. Barrow, now that Mr. Bates is back.” Viewers have wondered since the first episode when O’Brien would crank up her evil conspiracy against Thomas and it seems the time is at hand. Thomas is in a precarious situation and knows he’ll be given his notice as the earl’s temporary valet. If anyone was rooting for Bates to rot in prison, it was our erstwhile valet cum footman cum bad guy. But the earl promises Thomas that he won’t be left in the lurch. “We’ll sort things out.”

The fiendish O’Brien, divining the right moment, strikes up a friendly conversation with Thomas and makes this observation about James: “You make a cozy couple I must say. Alfred says [James is] always going on about you. Silly sloppy stuff.”

Thomas stops smoking long enough to retort: Youre quite wrong Miss O’Brien He’s a proper little ladies man.”

“Oh, if that’s how you want to play it.”
“What are you going on about?”
“There’s no need to bark. I only know what Alfred tells me.”
“Well, if he says Jimmy’s interested in me he’s lying.”
“Oh dear, was it supposed to be a secret?”

Lovely stuff, this dialogue. O’Brien and Thomas dance around each other like two vipers. One hungers to kill the other, while the second is distracted by a desire that overwhelms his sense of caution.

And so the inevitable happens, with Thomas making a move on a sleeping Jimmy. (Does this make sense? Would he not wake him to see if the young man was receptive?)

Suddenly awakened, Jimmy is, like, totally spooked.

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

This happened during an age when homosexuality was criminalized and gays were literally living in the closet. Poor Oscar Wilde was sent to prison and hard labor, only to emerge as a physically and spiritually broken man. Thomas was putting everything on the line by showing his affection to James.

After the truth comes out, Thomas and Carson engage in a conversation that represents the attitude of most gay and straight people at the time:

Thomas: “I was very drawn and got the impression he felt the same way. When you are like me, Mr. Carson, you have to read the signs as best you can, because no one dares to speak out.”

Carson: “I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world. You have been twisted by nature into something foul.”

Here is where Thomas quietly defends himself, saying, “I am not foul, Mr. Carson.”

Bravo, Thomas.

Jimmy and Alfred are guided by the puppeteer O’Brien, who manipulates the situation in such a way that Thomas is let go without a reference after ten years of service, a disastrous consequence that will lead him straight to the poor house.

There are twists and turns, with the end of the story sorted out by Bates, who, while he feels revenge is sweet, is a decent man. For the first time since his return from prison, Bates has been given an important task by Julian Fellowes – as the instrument of redemption for Thomas. All he has to do is lure a self-satisfied O’Brien to his house for tea and whisper in her ear: “Her ladyship’s soap.”

O’Brien turns paler than Bates’s whitewashed walls and leaves, promising to set things right.

In the end, all turns out well, with Thomas retaining his position in the house as an underbutler. This job is usually held by a former first footman who steps in for the butler if he is unable to fulfill his duties due to an illness or absence. Thomas as underbutler bodes well for further plot developments, and I cannot wait to see him manipulate his new position to his advantage in future DA seasons!

Tom/Branson, superman

Tom Branson emerges as the super hero of this season, able to grieve with the best of them, dandle a baby, divine how to run a great estate simply from observing his granddaddy, order his boozy brother, Kieran, around, deftly sidestep tricky matters of protocol so that he even gains Carson’s grudging respect, and learn to play cricket in the blink of an eye.

These tricks disguise the fact that Tom/Branson plot line often makes no sense. Where is his revolutionary fervor? Buried in the grave with Sybil? While most of the family calls him Tom, Violet and the earl insist on calling him Branson, which is meant to put him in his place. This does set up a running comic dialogue, with Violet constantly being admonished by Cora and her granddaughters. Remarkably, Mary, whose nose is pointed so high in the air that it attracts snow clouds, fully embraces Tom’s entrance into the family, even though the only thing they have in common is baby Sybbie.

Good old Cora comes to Tom’s rescue repeatedly, saying that “He’s our responsibility, he and the baby.” Frankly, the Bryans’ attempts to take their grandson from Ethel makes more sense than this sentimental claptrap. The Crawleys have the wealth and means to get rid of the chauffeur while keeping their grandchild. But the viewers are invested in the Crawleys as decent people. We would balk and leave in droves if the earl and his extended family went off the deep end and used their social muscle to push Tom/Branson out of the picture in order to retain Sybil’s child.

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The Catholic christening is deftly glossed over, but provides some fun dialogue from the earl, who delights in poking fun at the clergy.

Recall that in episode 4 he suggested that Violet be placed next to a toffee-nosed prince of the church because she’d know how to handle him. The earl gets off another brilliant line at the dinner table, protesting that at a Catholic christening he…

And thus we come to the ridiculous situation in which forward thinking Matthew discovers that Tom’s granddaddy owned a teensy tiny Irish sheep farm, a fact that caused him to conclude that Branson must know how to handle the running of an enormous estate in Yorkshire.

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid's encyclopedia

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid’s encyclopedia

I was drinking wine during this scene and nearly choked with disbelief on that peculiar observation.

When Branson’s brother, Kieran, sensibly invites him to live in rooms above his garage in Liverpool, the upstairs gang just about keeled over from a collective heart attack.  Baby Sybbie in a garage? Over Violet’s dead body!

Kieran turns out to be a plot device upon which hangs our changing perception of Branson, whose super powers include diplomatic skills with which he convinces his brother to eat with the toffs, honors Cora, and impresses Carson. Branson lives in limbo, no longer able to socialize with the downstairs folks and unable to fit in comfortably upstairs. What’s a super hero to do?

Sweep out the old, bring in the new

My DA viewing party took the opportunity to take breaks any time Matthew, Tom, and Mary discussed farm improvements using a volume of Estate Farming and Stewardship for Dummies.

The earl and Jarvis are Downton Abbey’s benevolent overlords, using farming techniques that go back to the Norman Invasion. Murray, Matthew, and our super hero Branson, are forward thinking chaps who are unwilling to squander Swire’s fortune in the manner that Robert used to waste Cora’s inheritance.

It is telling that Robert now thinks of Downton as a dual monarchy, whereas Matthew looks upon his inheritance as an investment that must turn a profit.

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the young whippersnapper is starting to make sense a desperate Robert brings up a marvelous new American financial invention: the Ponzi Scheme. “I hear that you get a great return on your investment in 90 days.”

Jarvis, seeing his cushy, easy job vanish into thin air, asks for a good reference and sweeps out of the room, old broom that he is. This plot development stepped over the line of common sense too many times, but I understand Fellowes’ need to provide baby Sybie’s daddy with a raison d’etre for remaining in town.

Violet, as usual, gets in the last word, telling her son: “Think of the child. You cannot want your only granddaughter to grow up in a garage with that drunken gorilla. We owe it to Sybil.” Besides, as she sensibly remarks, we could call him Branson again.

Dang right and experience be damned. And so at the end of Episode 6 the new estate manager is … Ta, Da! Drum roll, please – Sybil’s darling Tom, the grandson of an Irish sheep farmer.

The depths of Branson’s super powers have not been plumbed. When the earl, in a moment of self pity, declares “It’s time for me to take a back seat”, our hero comes to the fore with this observation, that Robert knows the people on his estate backwards and forwards and that this knowledge is priceless.

Hearing this, Robert’s face shines with delight and he declares in a Sally Field moment – “You like me, you really like me!”

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

It’s cricket time!

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

I almost thought I was watching a replay of the Ravens and 49ers when the villagers took on the folks at the Abbey in their yearly cricket match. The scenes were so action-packed and unbelievably tense that I missed quite a few details.

The village folk (including Dr. Carson) were up for a thrashing, having won too numerous times to count, and the earl and Moseley were just the right men to bring VICTORY to Downton Abbey. Of course their team was missing two men, mere bumps in an otherwise smooth landscape.

Matthew had to hurry up and get Branson up to speed and teach him cricket in like 30 seconds …

… and the earl had to find a way to keep Thomas, a talented cricketer, on. Fellowes, clever fellow that he is, solved all of Episode 6’s problems in a mere 10 minutes.

Branson will stay on with baby Sybbie at the mansion, which has Cora crowing with delight. Mary and Matthew continue their pornographic display of affection in plain view in the hope of conceiving a little replacement male Crawley. Edith basks in the thought of being loved by an honourable married man and having a paid position. Violet has been reassured time and again that she is perfect, which does not surprise her at all.

And then there’s Branson. He, who has NEVER played cricket before, catches the WINNING ball! Those of you who were not convinced of Branson’s super powers must now agree – the man is unstoppable!

And so, all is now well in Downton Abbey land. See you next week, gentle readers. Same time, same blog.

In leaving your thoughts, please NO PLOT SPOILERS about the last installment.

Images courtesy PBS Pressroom.

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chronicles of downtonInquiring Readers: Thank you for leaving your comments for Downton Abbey Season 3, Episode 5. The winner of a free copy of The Chronicles of Downton Abbey is tinuviel, chosen by random number generator. Tinuviel, please send me your mailing address.

Thank you ALL for leaving your detailed reviews of Episode 5. I enjoyed reading all of your responses. My review of Episode 6 will be posted on Monday, February 11th. My review of Episode 5 is at this link.

Order the book for $19.99 at PBS.org

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Inquiring readers: This event is a mere hour down the road from my humble abode. I am thinking of attending. Anyone else in the mid-Atlantic area thinking of going?

The next welcome and special program of the local Southeastern VA Regional Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America is on Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.  Williamsburg Regional Library, 515 Scotland St., Williamsburg, VA  23185.

The program (skits on familial relationships) will start at 3:30 p.m. to accommodate those members who are also attending the George Washington Ball rehearsal that afternoon.  Registration starts at 2:30 p.m., followed by a beginning dance and an information fashion parade.  Announcements will be made regarding membership and upcoming programs.  Raffle and door prizes will be awarded.

Admission is free for current members; $5 for non-members; $4 for costumed attendees.  CASH ONLY.


Call Virginia Lee for details (757) 221-6686.
Join JASNA, The Jane Austen Society of North America! You don’t
need to be an Austen expert ― just an Austen lover!
Please visit our web site at http://www.jasna.org for information.
Student dues available!

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Rabid Downton Abbey fan: Do not continue reading this post if you have not seen the latest Downton Abbey installment (#5). In this post-traumatic stress episode, in which the viewer is still reeling from events that unfolded in Episode 4, Julian Fellowes is finally starting to concentrate on the characters again.

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Daisy’s relationship with her papa-in-law is strengthening and promises to bode well for her financial future.

Isobel’s good heart is having a positive impact on Ethel.

Mrs Hughes and Mrs. Patmore are turning into the sort of servants one could easily imagine as friends.

And Maggie Smith simply shines as the grieving dowager who desperately wants to save her son’s marriage.

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

As for the prison story, it seems that Mr. Bates might finally frolic in some open meadow with his fair bride again.

Wonder of wonders, Matthew and Mary showed a spark of marital harmony in a very affecting bedroom scene.

There are a few problems, of course, for this season can still not compare to Season One. Those two Neanderthals – Robert and Carson – are becoming insufferable with their stubborn adherence to old customs.

And the whole Catholic issue is somewhat tedious, but not unrealistic. There was a great deal of animosity and hostility towards Catholics from British Anglicans and American Protestants in the early 20th century. All the ceremonial hoopla of this relic-loving, reliquary-prone religion gave Protestants in the US and Anglicans in the UK the heebie jeebies, and so the Robert’s distaste is not all that surprising. (My father’s side of the family were staunch, conservative, Pope-fearing Catholics, which my mother’s side definitely was NOT. My maternal uncle quipped that if all St. Servaas’s bones were put together, scientists would discover that the man had been at least 12 feet tall.)

Seal of St. Servaas

Seal of St. Servaas

What is unrealistic is Robert’s SURPRISE that Tom Branson would want his daughter to be baptised in his faith.

Fellowes has made our earl look stupid on too many occasions.

Where I once admired our lord of the manor, I now find him irritating. Having said that, the final scene in which he and Cora hold on to each other in mutual grief had me grabbing for my hanky.

Which brings me to one final thought: Has anyone else noticed this strange phenomenon? – Robert’s dog, Isis, doesn’t seem to age. The series began in 1912 and is now covering events in 1920-21.

Isis should have aged 8 or 9 years. She would have a gray muzzle at the very least and the slow gait of an older dog. But she is as sprightly as ever! Go figure. (Ah, a reader wrote to say that Pharaoh preceded Isis, so that would make our lovely bitch only 3-4 years old. Continuity preserved!!)

chronicles of downtonNow for my book giveaway. You all must be salivating. (Unfortunately, only U.S. Viewers are eligible.) St. Martin’s Press has kindly sent me a copy to give away of their gorgeous new Downton Abbey companion book, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era, written by Jessica Fellows and Matthew Sturgis. It is a lush volume, made of glossy paper and filled with color photographs. Included are details of all the main characters and glimpses of what went on behind the scenes from the perspective of the film’s director, executive director, and other members of the crew.

I particularly like the items that go with each character. For example, Thomas’s chapter showcases images of the accoutrements of his position, the brand of cigarettes he would have smoked, and the nature of his collars. The Earl and Countess’ possessions include images of their jewelry, picnic basket, newspapers, hat, and embroidery hoop. Mrs. Patmore’s and Daisy’s chapter includes images of various kitchen items. And so on, and so on. This book, in addition to the equally wonderful The World of Downton Abbey, given to me for Christmas by a dear friend, are the perfect coffee table adornments for those of us who are DA addicts.

Order the book from PBS for just $19.99

Contest Rules: For a chance to win a copy of this book, all you need to do is write about some aspect of Episode 5 that you liked or didn’t like – just as if you are the reviewer! The contest is open until February 10th, midnight. PLEASE NOTE: CONTEST is Closed. Tinuviel, you are the winner, chosen by random number generator!

Images courtesy PBS PRessroom.

I look forward to reading your comments! NO SPOILERS, PLEASE!!! 

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Inquiring readers: The Outreach Director of the Daily Glow kindly allowed me to share this fun post by Sharon Tanenbaum. I’ll share a few of her seven tips and then direct you the site. I might even put in a few of my own! Enjoy.

The Crawleys may have old-fashioned manners, but their skin and hair are modern marvels. Here are the best beauty tips from the third season of the Masterpiece broadcast on PBS.

1. Your complexion always looks better in candlelight.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

2. For an instant anti-aging trick, stand next to someone who’s at least 30 years your senior.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

3. Don’t underestimate the power of a red lip.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

4. If you’re going without makeup, make sure your skin is flawless.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

To view the final three tips, click here.

Here are some more beauty tricks:

A. Modest attire goes a long way towards rehabilitating your fallen reputation


Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

B. To look like the classiest woman in the room, stand beside one who is not.


Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

C. Simple lines hide figure flaws

Phylis Logan as Mrs. Hughes and Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

D. Protect your complexion out of doors with a hat or parasol, or preferably both.

picnic s3

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

E. You are assured to be treated with the utmost respect when wearing your best power clothes.

Matthew and Mary

Matthew and Mary*

Do feel free to leave a comment, but PLEASE! none that contain spoilers about the last three episodes of Season 3!

*Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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