Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Downton Dreaming

Three episodes into Downton Abbey this season, and I have come to the conclusion that I have greatly wronged Cora in my heart. I had always thought of her as dopey, simpering, and obviously not the brightest bulb in the ceiling. In my defense, there was no point where I didn't recognize her as the smarter of her couple -- Lord Grantham has always been dumb as a post -- but I just thought the two were made for each other. Now I see that I've misestimated Cora greatly. The trick to Cora is that, as an American, she doesn't play the game. It's not that, as I thought, she's oblivious to all the political machinations that surround her. It's that she just doesn't care. In contrast to Ms. Bunting or (sometimes) Tom, Cora isn't actively antagonistic to the trappings of Edwardian nobility. But neither is she defined by her role in it. Cora cares about what Cora cares about, and for the most part she seems happy and content because she happily and contentedly pursues her own interests (and is quite successful in doing so). You'll note that on the rare occasions where she seems to be stymied in her goals, she is quite good at marshaling her power to get what she wants. You'll also note that true power and influence does not lie in constantly overcoming adversity; true power exists where it just wouldn't occur to anyone to be adverse to you.

Cora's influence on the house is subtle but obviously salutary. She's liberal, pragmatic, and modern -- in fact, I think she's very quintessentially "America" her in manner. She generally intervenes on the side of "outsiders" like Tom and Ms. Bunting, and does not seem particularly invested in her daughters following a hidebound and traditional life path. This isn't to say she's opposed to that either; indeed, that remains the default option. It's only that when the girls seem to be taking a different path, Cora rarely seems perturbed by it.

This past episode Cora mentioned that she was half-Jewish (on her father's side). I had my suspicions -- her last name was "Levinson" and she was from Cincinnati, which had a significant Jewish population -- but now it's confirmed and I really want the show to explore this aspect of Cora's identity. I'm not asking that she start fasting on Yom Kippur or hang a Mezuzzah outsider her door (though A Downton Seder would immediately supplant Rugrats as the iconic television Passover of my generation). But there was (and is) a lot of anti-Semitism in England at the time, including a very particular and virulent ("genteel") variety in the upper-crust; it would astound me if Cora never encountered that. Jewishness was highly racialized in England at the time, so it is not as if this quantum of "Jewish blood" would have gone unremarked upon. There's another angle to this too -- when Gregson announced he was going to Germany there was a suspicion that Edith might eventually turn into a Nazi-sympathizer. I don't know if that would have made sense from a character arc perspective, and in any event Gregson has since fallen off the radar. Nonetheless, the coming events in Germany (and Edith's tenuous German connection) makes the family's Jewish background quite salient.

That being said, I honestly wonder if the girls are even aware of their (partial) Jewish heritage. When mentioning it to Bricker Cora didn't act as if it is was something hidden or secret. Still, it is notable that it has never come up before. Cora obviously doesn't seem to be particularly invested in it, though just based on her general character I can't imagine she isn't sympathetic to the Jewish people and their struggles at the time.

In any event, there is a lot to be done here, and I want the show to do it. Cater to my desires, damn it! Where's my hotline to the Jewish-controlled media when I need it?

1 comment:

EW said...

"I have come to the conclusion that I have greatly wronged Cora in my heart. I had always thought of her as dopey, simpering, and obviously not the brightest bulb in the ceiling…. Now I see that I've misestimated Cora greatly….

This past episode Cora mentioned that she was half-Jewish….

What an astonishing coincidence! 