Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 2: Downton Grows Dark

As the current season begins to unfold, grave subject matter strikes at the heart of Downton.

What could be more surprising than Matthew Crawley’s death? How about the rape of one of the show’s most beloved and dynamic characters?

In a move no one expected - at least not so soon - Fellowes has again thrown a flaming wrench through the middle of one of the Abbey’s most enchanting love stories.

Sunday night around 10:00 pm, while watching and live-tweeting the Golden Globes, I saw this tweet from

Anna cannot be dead, I thought. That would be the worst.

I was wrong.

It’s springtime at Downton and the family is revisiting the estate’s glory days by hosting a party. There are 16 guests staying at the house for several days of socializing and a much-anticipated performance by Australian singer Dame Nellie Melba (played by kiwi soprano Kiri Te Kanawa).

Upstairs, Robert and the other men of the party retreated often into a smoke-filled room to congratulate each other on being masters of the universe (ten points for that reference, go!) and play poker. One guest, Samson, won repeatedly, presumably by cheating.

Edith tried earnestly to facilitate a bond between her father and her soon-to-be fiance, Michael Gregson. Though Robert rebuffed these attempted conversations at first, he eventually came to accept Gregson when he recouped and redistributed the earnings lost by each the night before. I’m not sure if this shows that Gregson is an egalitarian, respectful arbiter of the people, but if it does, I hope he retains that characteristic when he moves to Germany. Alternately, maybe his generosity was merely self-serving, a strategic move to win Robert’s favor. How will that quality translate into German society during the rise of the Nazi party?

Anthony Foyle, Lord Gillingham, a childhood friend of Mary’s, was also in town. Though engaged to a prominent member of British aristocratic society, he was flirtatious but respectful of Mary’s recent loss, acknowledging that it takes time to rebound from such a tragedy.

“How lucky you are. You’ve known a great love. Doesn’t that enrich any life?”

Though Mary has had six months of mourning since Matthew’s death, we the viewers have only had a few episodes to get used to life at Downton without him. Are we ready for Mary to find a new love?

“Sometimes I don’t know who I’m most in mourning for: Matthew or the person I used to be when I was with him.”

Who is the person Mary feels that she has lost? Can Mary be the lively, bright gem that she was when Matthew was around - without him? It will be interesting to see if Fellowes asserts that Mary can only be vibrant - be herself - when she is romantically involved. I would much rather see Mary and Tom’s bond grow (platonically, of course) through their love of the estate.

As the Downton guests mingled above, the mood downstairs was frantic. Amid the chaos, Lord Gillingham’s valet, Mr. Green, introduced the house staff to a spirited card game and struck up a flirtatious friendship with Anna. Mr. Bates voiced concern, which Anna took as harmless jealousy. Minutes later they were back to their sweet, effortless romance, with no lasting resentment. Their relationship is impenetrable. Nothing can tear these soulmates apart, right?

During Dame Nellie’s performance, when Anna slipped downstairs to treat a headache, Mr. Green followed her. As the rest of the house sat captivated as Dame Nellie sang Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” - an aria about being torn from one’s true love - Green cornered Anna and brutally assaulted and raped her. When Mrs. Hughes found her, bruised and distraught, she frantically made Mrs. Hughes promise not to tell anyone - especially Mr. Bates. Bates, she feared, would kill the man and be hanged for it.

The aria that underscored this scene may be telling of where this storyline is going. In Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, the aria is sung by Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta, as she begs her father to find a way to provide a dowry, so that she may marry the wealthy Rinuccio. She laments that if she cannot be with her love, she would rather die. Are the writers of Downton Abbey foreshadowing Anna’s death? The death of Anna’s and Bates’ love? I hope not. The opera has a happy ending: Schicchi outwits Rinuccio’s patronizing family and secures the fortune of its dead patriarch for himself. Lauretta and Rinuccio live happily ever after. We can only hope that Mr. Green’s invidious treatment of Anna will be rightly punished, and Anna will recover with Bates at her side.

I’m interested to see how Fellowes deals with the issue of rape in the early 20th century. All of his female characters have a feminist streak in them, and should any one of the women (or men) of the house find out about Anna’s rape, they will surely pursue justice. But what obstacles will they face?

English common law has long provided harsh punishment for rapists. Initially, rape was an offense punishable by death. By the post-Edwardian era of Downton Abbey, that law had been replaced by section 48 of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, which punished rapists with no less than three years of penal servitude (manual labor) or no more than two years’ imprisonment. This hardly seems a suitable punishment for such a violent crime, but the maximum sentence was not extended to life in prison until 1948.

At this point, Anna clearly does not plan to report her rape. Indeed, to this day most rapes go unreported. The 2006-2007 British Crime Survey found that, while 1 in 200 women said that they were raped in the last year, less than 1 in 100 reported rapes led to conviction. It is only reasonable that, in an earlier era, when women were considered even more inferior than they are in most western societies today, even fewer rapes were reported, and almost none led to conviction. The prospect of justice for Anna’s rape looks sadly remote.

Whether or not legal justice is served, the question remains as to if, when and how Mr. Bates will find out, and what he will do. Anna seems certain he will kill her rapist, and I wouldn’t put it past him. But what does that mean for their happy ending? Is there ever such thing as a happy ending when rape is involved?

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