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Downton Abbey, My Marriage, and Me

What the popular television series is teaching me about the values of marriage and community.

I'll admit it. I'm one of the millions of Downton Abbey fans. The characters are interesting, their clothes are beautiful, and the setting is enchanting. So when I can learn a little more about the way the show is created or about the history of Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed, I do.

To prepare myself for the third season, I read a book about Lady Almina Carnarvon, who was the countess of Highclere at the turn of the century and through World War I. Reading about her life was informative and charming—the best kind of reading!

I found this quote regarding Lady Carnarvon's marriage especially fascinating: "When they were at Highclere or at their house in London, the Carnarvons were always entertaining. It was a curiously public existence compared to domestic life for most married couples today. They were hardly ever alone, and their house was always full of staff and guests."

This "public existence" is displayed in Downton Abbey by the marriage of Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley. The newly married couple lives with her family in a house full of staff. Most dinners include at least two guests: Matthew's mother and Lady Grantham (the inimitable Maggie Smith, who steals the show with her one-liners and facial expressions).

Sometimes I can't help but compare Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley's situation with my own. You see, I too recently got married. Though if I'm honest, that's basically where the similarities end.

Both the Carnarvons of the early 20th century and the fictitious Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Crawley are surrounded by family and servants in a castle, while my husband and I live by ourselves in a modest home. The Carnarvons and the Crawleys are surrounded by family, while we have to be intentional to spend time with our relatives, even though we live in the same town.

While the Carnarvons and the Crawleys spend most of their time with the same 50 people, my husband and I have to consistently pursue deeper relationships with some of the many people God has placed in our lives. Where they have to seek time alone as a couple, my husband and I have to seek time in community.

It's a striking comparison. Though the large amount of staff is a function of the Carnarvons's (and Crawleys's) wealth and status, middle class and poor families also used to live lives in community. Middle class families often lived in the same house or village as their extended families. Sometimes they even worked together in the same trade. Underprivileged families had to squeeze into small homes where privacy wasn't an option. Community wasn't a choice.

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From Issue:
Today's Christian Woman, 2013, January
Posted January 23, 2013

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