Watching Downton Abbey, set before and after the First World War, we get a glimpse of the aristocratic lifestyle of Duke and Duchess of Grantham, living in their huge castle, spread over acres of rolling fields and woodland as far as the eyes can see.
Living a life of luxuries and served by valets, butlers, footmen, housekeepers, maids, and drivers, it was most ironic that none of the three daughters of Lord and Lady Grantham was eligible to inherit the title of their father as well as his properties. The ladies of leisure, brought up to behave ladylike with impeccable manners and speech, were desperately looking for wealthy husbands who could afford to provide at least the same level of luxuries which they were accustomed to.
The eldest, Lady Mary, was bitter because she could not inherit her father's estate. With the original heir lost in The Titanic, her cousin Matthew Crawley became heir.
One fine day, a Turkish diplomat, Kemal Pamuk, visited the family and seduced virgin Mary, but unfortunately died in her bed under mysterious circumstances. Because of the affair even her mother described her as 'damaged goods'. The scandal was about to break out if not for the timely intervention of newspaper proprietor Sir Richard Carlisle, who paid off the woman. His intention was to marry Lady Mary but his use of blackmail and bullying nature got onto her nerves as they got to know each other. Even her father noticed it and when he knew about the Turkish incident, he was supportive of her. He advised her not to marry Sir Richard under such circumstances and to go to America for a few months until news of the scandal blew over. “I want you to marry a good man, a brave man... someone who can make you happy.” He admitted that before, he would have gone along with Mary's idea to marry someone to prevent a scandal, but after having been through a war and a murder trial (involving his valet, Bates), he was a changed man. He advised Mary to “... go to America and bring back a cowboy and shake us up a bit!” Mary was very much touched by her father's understanding and truly relieved that she need not marry the increasingly obnoxious man.
Later when pressed for an explanation, Mary warned Matthew that he would despise her when he knew about the real reason for wanting to marry Sir Richard. Having heard her story on Pamuk, he asked if she loved him. “I hardly knew him... it was lust.” was her reply. Matthew pondered and said he could never despise her and that there was nothing for him to forgive her since they each lived their separate lives for a period. Matthew was to marry Lavinia, who selflessly promised to look after him (when paralyzed) for life. Matthew had a miraculous recovery from paralysis and impotence, the latter fact would have affected the lineage.
Lavinia was heartbroken when she saw them dancing and kissing intimately. Soon after, she contracted Spanish Flu and before her last breath, gave her blessing to Matthew to be happy for her sake. Matthew told Mary that they should start to live their lives together from then on. Having been through trials and tribulations in her relationships, Mary told Matthew to be certain of what he said about marrying her and that she would prefer a proper proposal. Matthew obliged with bended knees, “Lady Mary Crawley, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?” There was no doubt that Mary would accept and full-heartedly as they hugged.
From a practical point, Matthew as heir to Lord Grantham's title, had earlier promised Mary that she could continue to live in Downton Abbey as long as he is alive. So it was such a wonderful coincidence that she would get to marry the man she truly loved and to be with her family and served by friendly household staff.
Earlier, Mary's youngest sister, Sybil fell in love with their driver, Branson. They tried to elope but was discovered by Mary and Edith who found them in a hotel, on their way to Gretna Green, a place known for elopers to get married. Mary admired her for being brave enough to make such a big decision which went against parents' wishes and crossing the class divide. Initially, Lord Grantham blew his top and tried to pay off Branson, thinking he was after his money. But Sybil was obstinate and even said she would follow him to Ireland regardless of whether she gets his blessings or anything from him. He relented and even gave his blessings and promised to give her some money for her wedding. Sybil was overjoyed with relief and hugged him warmly. Only her mother, Mary and Edith attended the wedding in Ireland. When Lady Cora received news that Sybil was pregnant, his lordship was not pleased initially and said, “So this is it... she had crossed the Rubicon.” Lady Cora tried to influence her husband to accept them, by suggesting that she hope they would as a family go over to visit them, and have them here. “...even the driver?” asked Robert and she replied, “Yes, even the driver.”
During the war, Edith got to know a man of substance. She was overjoyed when she knew he was invited for their Christmas party. Sensing her interest in him, he tried to distance himself and pointed out to her that his right hand is now disabled. Later, Edith visited him at his home and suggested going for a drive. He refused and had to remind her that he is too old and especially now that he is crippled, it would not be fair to her. She tried to be friendly with men going after her eldest sister when she was not around. That she tried so hard to woo an older man of substance, showed her desperation to get someone of stature.
Lord Grantham's sister, Rosamund, was a rich widow. She came for the Christmas party with Lord Hepworth as partner. Dowager Lady Violet knew his father, who had wooed her before. She knew this man as a fortune hunter and that he was after Rosamund's wealth, inherited from her late husband. She asked Lord Hepworth about their Hepworth House and two other properties which he confirmed to have been sold. Having confirmed her suspicions, she advised him to be frank with her while she informed Rosamund and that the final decision rests on her. It was by chance that maid Anna saw Rosamund's maid and Lord Hepworth behaving like lovers. She led Mary and Rosamund to catch them red handed in a compromising position in a room. Lord Hepworth could only offer a lame explanation of “It's not what it seems.” Rosamund retorted with a what else could it be? She was not only upset with her wrong choice of a suitor, but more because her mother was proven right!
This story shows the irony of rich daughters having to look for rich suitors so that they could continue living a life of luxuries which they are accustomed to. For Sybil, who fell for their driver, she had to forgo her lifestyle for the love of her man. For Rosamund, though she was prepared to share her wealth with a known fortune-hunter, his unfaithful behaviour was unacceptable.
This reminds me of how Prof. Higgins made a lady out of flower girl, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Having achieved ladylike speech and mannerism and passed rigorous tests when she fooled friends of Higgins for a lady with a genuine aristocratic family history, she found herself lost as a lady of leisure, unable to be her former self and work like before!