It’s 1925 at Downton Abbey and much has changed. Rather than focus on all the magnificent changes happening to the Crawley family, their servants, and others, let’s focus on the one thing that seems to stay eternally the same throughout history: sexual indiscretions. In 2016, England is much more accepting of sexual indiscretions, as is America, but the shame is still there. Tabloid journalism certainly doesn’t help matters. Here is a compare and contrast of the changing perceptions of the sexual indiscretions portrayed on the show. How would the public respond to such scandals in modern times?
Mary and Tony
In the season 6 premiere, Lady Mary is blackmailed by a chambermaid who knows about Mary and Tony’s tryst from season 5. She threatens to report the affair to the papers if Mary doesn’t pay her a thousand pounds. Mary is skeptical that a newspaper would even publish a story like that. She and Tony were both unmarried at the time, so they were not being unfaithful to anyone. Still, out of wedlock sex is taboo in 1925, and newspaper reporters might be interested in the story. The public backlash would be humiliating.
So, would Mary and Tony’s tryst be scandalous in today’s world? It wouldn’t be scandalous at all, but two famous, unmarried people having a supposedly secret tryst could make it into a tabloid and all over the internet. It’s doubtful that anyone would think she could blackmail a celebrity in today’s world based only on obtaining evidence that a tryst had occurred. While not really a scandal, revealing that kind of information about celebrities could fuel unwanted public attention. Potentially, it could be humiliating for anyone to have information about her sex life put on public display.
Granny Crawley and Prince Kuragin
Granny Crawley (Violet) nearly eloped with Prince Kuragin of Russia when she was a young woman in 1874. She and the prince were both already married, but that didn’t stop them from hopping into a carriage and attempting to run off together. Luckily, before young Lady Violet could ruin her marriage, Kuragin’s wife caught up with them, dragged Lady Violet from the carriage, and prevented what could have been disastrous for both of their marriages. Upon hearing this story in the 1920s, Isobel commented to Violet “…And you never strayed again?” Violet responded, “I never risked everything again.”
What Granny claims to have done in the 1800s would have been perceived as awful back then or in 2016. She was the Countess of Grantham, and this would have been all over the papers had it been discovered. Today, no doubt, it would still be embarrassing for all parties involved. Besides tabloid coverage, there would have also been a lot of social stigma. Her public image might have never recovered, especially if it were discovered that she had been a possible serial cheater. Social media shaming would have been insurmountable.