Every now and then I let the Mrs. watch a show on the TV, and I’ll just sit there politely and feign interest: House Hunters, What Not to Wear, The Proposal, Maid in Manhattan. (Hmm, I wonder if she does the same. She seemed interested when we watched Casino for the 200th time.) But last Sunday was one of those nights—the two-hour season premier of Downton Abbey. Fine, I said, there were no playoff games scheduled, have at it. And I just rolled my eyes, tried to keep awake, and pretend that I cared. But I don’t care, if you’re wondering.
Yet in the midst of all the dourness following the untimely death of Matthew, wasn’t the best news of all that Edna Braithwaite, that minx, has been rehired? At least it’s good news for Tom Branson—something tells me the two will run into each other, and then some.
Mr. Barro was lucky he badmouthed the right person this time—the despicable nanny who would’ve gotten away with mistreating Tom’s daughter (a “half-breed”!) since nannycams did not yet exist. Nevertheless, Thomas seems to have found a replacement for the departed Ms. O’Brien in Edna—his new co-conspirator.
Does anything come easy for Lady Edith? Her younger sister is dead. Her older sister is a widow. And she still can’t find a decent man under the age of 50. Her latest, an editor no less!, loves her so much he is willing to become a German citizen. I’m sure the Earl of Grantham will be just thrilled his daughter is marrying a Hun.
It’s 1922, and the servant class is declining. Employers don’t seem to be replacing the ones who died, or it has gotten difficult for them to find suitable young workers, or a butler whose master is deceased just can’t find work (Mr. Molesley)—not to mention the role of technology (that mixer, which did wonders for the mousse). Carson is a dinosaur and a middle-class meteor is heading his way.
John P. Davidson has a fascinating essay in the current Harper’s entitled “You Rang? Mastering the art of serving the rich,” in which the author attends a “butler boot camp.” In the United States, he explains, “the postwar economic boom further diverted both jobs and workers from private service, and by 1950 only one in forty-two families had full-time servants, as compared with one in fifteen in 1900.” Still, Davidson cites a statistic that there are currently “450,000 houses in the United States [that] have some kind of regular personal staff.”
Not that I care about what’s happening on Downton Abbey, which airs Sundays at 9/8C on Masterpiece on PBS.
Photo of Jim Carter as Mr. Carson by Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television, Limited 2013 for Masterpiece