As the fourth season of Downton Abbey came to a close, fans were entranced in the British family’s drama, this time, shining on the unlikely face of Lady Edith. One of three daughters to the Lord Grantham, Edith has been a forgotten fragment, if not a wet blanket, throughout the series. However, season four portrayed the middle sibling in a new light.
Edith emerges in the spotlight when she becomes romantically involved with married man and newspaper editor, Michael Gregson. This was not Edith’s first love on the show. The unpopular middle child has had many romances which ultimately failed her, due almost entirely to vengeful sisters and bad luck. The constant mourning over not having yet found a husband has put Edith in the shadows of more interesting problems.
In season one, Edith is spiteful of elder sister Mary, the family’s cool handed beauty and jealous of Sybil, the crudely independent youngest sister. Edith is hardly mentioned aside from the romance with an older man, shut down by Mary in revenge for a letter Edith wrote exposing a sexual scandal. Season Two leaves Edith lonely again with the refusal from a married farmer she had eyes on, leaving her running to Sybil for advice.
In season 3, Edith picked up traction as a character becoming engaged to Sir Anthony, the same man who broke their romance because of Mary’s counsel. The family had reservations about Edith marrying an elderly man, which were justified when he jilted Edith at the alter. Edith’s heartbreak took center stage, until Sybil shockingly dies after giving birth.
Season four treads lightly with Mary’s loss and Anna’s rape while shifting significant attention to the only positive event, Edith’s romance with Gregson. Trouble arises as fans learn Gregson has a wife in an asylum who he cannot divorce. In a grand romantic gesture, Gregson pledges to move to Germany, become a citizen and legally divorce his wife, in order to marry Edith.
Just before leaving, Gregson signs over the rights of his newspaper to Edith, signifying a truly happy moment for the character. Caught up in sympathy and love, Edith sleeps with Gregson the night before his departure. She finds herself pregnant weeks later, not having heard a word from her lover in over a month. When his resurfacing looks bleak due to an altercation with “brown-sleeved men,” Edith decides to get an abortion which she ultimately is persuaded against by Aunt Rosamund.
With only Rosamund and Violet (Edith’s paternal grandmother) knowing of the pregnancy, Edith is persuaded to take holiday in Switzerland, where upon delivering a baby girl, gave her up for adoption. Edith returns to Downton Abbey immersed in heartbreak of the still missing Gregson, and regret for disallowing their daughter his expected inheritance.
Edith became the shining focus of Downton Abbey’s fourth season when she took the fate of her daughter in her own hands void of any familial advice. She commissioned a tenant farmer at Downton Abbey to raise the daughter of “Edith’s friend.” He promises to keep Edith’s secret from his own wife, justifying her choice.
Edith emerges in season four from the pressures of familial pressure and jealousy. Becoming a mother has saved her from the drab status of the weeping sister. The last shining character in Downton Abbey to throw off the chains of the previous century, expect Edith to brazenly put focus on the future that awaits.
By Erin P. Friar