Mailbag: All Your Downton Abbey Questions Answered

The Dowager Countess knows allDownton Abbey fever has the world held tight in its elegantly gloved hands, it seems. It’s kind of insane.

Folks who normally wouldn’t be caught dead setting their DVRs to PBS on a Sunday night are suddenly ravenous for the dirty details of Lady Mary’s sex life (hint: she has one), Lady Edith’s love life (not so much), and Lady Sybil’s unaccountable need to wander into the garage approximately seventy skillion times a week (funny how that happens).

And don’t even get me started on the Dowager Countess. I’d be willing to accelerate the aging process and wear grapes on my hat if it meant that I could be even a little bit like her.

And so would you. Be honest.

So based on the search traffic that has lead people to my blog over the last few months, I can see that Downton Abbey has still left at least a few burning questions unanswered. And because I have absolutely no claims to special knowledge here at all, I thought I’d take a moment to answer them.

Because the internet, that’s why.

Here are the top four or five questions Google tells me are still keeping you up at night. Feel free to send me more! I live to serve! Okay not really!

Where are the Downton Abbey deleted scenes?

Okay, so this is one I actually know. The sad truth is that most Americans have been woefully deprived of at least 10 to 15 minutes worth of Edwardian angst every episode. This is apparently because Americans are dumb, and we need to have smart, entertaining television whittled down to suit our pathetic, underfed minds.

No, seriously. PBS shortens most BBC and iTV programs that they get from the UK, and I’m not entirely sure why. Sometimes we lose entire subplots, although this doesn’t seem to have happened (so far) in Downton Abbey. But you will miss the occasional scene, like Branson adorably twiddling with the white chicken feather he was given in series two. It was a nice little moment, added some context to the whole situation, and gave some extra depth to the guy’s somewhat underexplored characterization.

But hey, that’s okay. We understand. Our fragile little American minds can’t handle entire episodes of British TV. Why, we might start demanding excellence everywhere in our broadcast TV! And then where would we be? Honestly now.

Bottom line: If you want to see the complete, unadulterated episodes, buy the DVDs. Or better still, move to the UK. The tea’s much better there, anyway.

How many seasons of Downton Abbey will there be?

As many as Julian Fellowes can crank out, for as long as we remain interested. Or until he gets bored.

I’ll admit, I was surprised to see the entire Great War get wrapped up within the tidy confines of just one season. They could’ve mined that vein for years! But no, here we are at the beginning of Season Three, hurtling our way into the roaring twenties, wondering what fresh hell history will have to plunge us into next.

Bottom line: There will be more Downton Abbey to come. We’ve already been promised a season 3, due to release in the UK in September 2012. Fellowes has already said there will be a storyline involving Catholicism, which leads one to hope that we will follow more closely the adventures of Lady Sybil and Branson in Dublin. For a little preview of what they might be in for, you might want to brush up on your history of what’s generally known as The Troubles.

Spoiler alert: Things go badly for Ireland. Again.

Of course every series needs an endgame, some sort of compelling narrative arc that doesn’t get resolved until the Amazing And Shocking Final Episode. And since Matthew and Mary have been left happily embracing in the gently falling snow, it doesn’t look like we’ll be spending quite as much time watching them angstily repressing their feelings for each other as we have in the first two seasons.

Which leaves Bates and Anna, I think, as the main storyline for season three. And I have my own theories about that little nugget, let me tell you.

Predictions for Season 3

Okay, okay, okay. You want my theories? Really? After what I said after Season One? Hope springs eternal, I guess. As does, in my case at least, the never ending desire to be able to say I called it.

You want theories? Here’s mine:

  1. Bates is saved by a mysterious reprieve that nobody can trace with any real accuracy, but seems to come from somewhere high up in government circles. Why? Because he didn’t kill Vera, silly old bear, the freaking Turkish embassy did. Honestly. Do I have to do all the heavy lifting around here? What was the last thing Vera did before she died? Threatened to sell Mary’s story to the odious Sir Richard Carlisle. Who, still fooling himself that he was about to marry into the family, paid her off and threatened her with ruin if she tried to sell it elsewhere. Well, as we all know, threats are like oxygen to Vera Bates. If she’s not being threatened, she figures she’s doing something wrong. So I imagine she went off next to the Turks to see if they happened to have any money burning a hole in their pockets. And the Turkish embassy turns out to be, if anything, even more averse to scandal than the House of Crawley. So they off her. Hey presto, no more problems for the friends of Mr. Pamuk. Big problems for Mr. Bates, but who really cares about him. I figure this comes out, in part or in whole, and is related to the family by none other than the altogether delightful and sorely missed
  2. Evelyn Napier. God, I love that guy. He’s really just too good a character to give up, so I’m holding out hope that we’ll see him again. There’s a sizable contingent of the DA fandom online that wants to see an Edith/Napier pairing, but I’m as yet unconvinced of the desirability of that one. Convince me, Fellowes. I dare you. Meanwhile, I predict that
  3. Branson becomes a hero in the Troubles, which launches his brilliant political career. Either that, or he dies a tragic martyr’s death, sending Lady Sybil and her baby back to Downton Abbey, where she launches her brilliant political career. Either way, I only see exciting things ahead for this dashing young couple. And by exciting I mean utterly tragic and heartbreaking.

What novel is Downton Abbey based on?

This one is closely related to a similar query, which goes something like:

Is there a Downton Abbey book?

The short answer is no — Downton Abbey is an original drama that is being written as we go along. Julian Fellowes is no fool, and I imagine he has had his endgame in mind all along, but the temptation to spool this out as long as humanly possible has got to be a powerful one. Nevertheless, I don’t think he is any kind of writerly whore, so he will probably tidy up this series long before we tire of it, which means that yes, there will be an endless succession of Downton-Abbey-esque books to fill the gaping maw of need. They just won’t be by him.

Bottom line: No, there isn’t an actual Downton Abbey novel that you can buy. But there will be lots of spin-offs and variations on the theme in the months to come. And I for one welcome our new Edwardian overlords. How could I not? With any luck at all, cravats will come back into fashion. And then I will become a public menace. True story.

Those are the big ones. Let’s round this post up with a few of the less frequently asked questions, which are no less hilarious for their infrequency:

Who thinks John Bates is sexy?

Me. I happen to be among the legions of women who find decency and honor attractive in the extreme, which is, I suppose, one reason why I’ve also got the hots for Napier.

Do Mary and Matthew end up together?

Yep. Absolutely. Hopefully we’ll get a tearjerker of a wedding one of these days. Presumably, this is why Cora’s mother (to be played by the excellently cast Shirley MacLaine) is coming over from America in Season 3. Also to give Cousin Violet a run for her money in the Chilling Bon Mot department, no doubt. This might — might — result in an unholy alliance of Cousin Isobel and Cousin Violet, but I wouldn’t count your chickens.

When will Edith get some?

Honest to god, this is an actual, verbatim question that people are asking Google. It gives me such delight to know that folks care so much about Lady Edith’s love life, and that this combination of words somehow leads them to my site. I must be doing something right. Well, I certainly hope she gets some soon. As I’ve said before, I’m not fully signed on with the whole Edith/Napier thing, but I suppose I could be convinced. On the other hand, plenty of women went unmarried in the years after the Great War, as it managed to kill off practically an entire generation of young men. It wouldn’t be unrealistic at all for her to remain a single lady. Perhaps she’ll take up writing. She seems the type.


So what other Downton Abbey questions are still burning a hole in your soul with their desperate state of unansweredness? I am always happy to dispense with the answers, as long as you understand that I don’t actually know a damn thing about a damn thing.


33 Thoughts.

  1. I’m still puzzled – why did Mr. Bates give the prosecution the incriminating info about his conversation with Lord Grantham, that Grantham was forced to repeat on the witness stand? I’ll have to watch the episode again, but I was very puzzled by this and a general lack of defense for him. I would have expected Lord Grantham to find a decent attorney for him.

  2. I actually don’t there’s much of a mystery in this case — Lord Grantham gave Bates his own lawyer, who he would have thought would be — by definition — the best man for the job. And Grantham can be pretty naive (and a little lazy in his thinking), so it’s not surprising that it wouldn’t occur to him to find him an attorney who was better suited to the job. He just thought his guy was great, so he put him on the job.

    And Bates just has a very strong tendency toward self-immolation. He would have approached this situation with his usual –and frequently misguided — stoicism, answering every question as truthfully as he can, and expecting the truth would (literally) set him free. Bates wouldn’t have seen his conversation with Lord Grantham as incriminating, he would have told it as part of his defense. “I was angry, but I spoke with Lord Grantham before I went, and he urged me to be calm, and I took his advice.” Again, naive of him not to see how the prosecution would have pounced on this, but it’s hardly surprising that he would have been so forthcoming with something that did, in fact, happen. All about honesty, our Batesy. Doesn’t always serve him well, but there you are.

  3. Splendid review! I think a campaign for ‘equal UKtv viewing rights’ is afoot.

    The ‘Turkish embassy’ theory is terrific! Would love to see that play out – and bring a bit more City to the Country. Far more interesting plot than the ‘poison-mistaken-for-sugar’ cliche. And I would like to know more of Anna’s backstory; Mr Fellowes has to be holding-out on us there. Also, much as I do love noble, long-suffering Napier, I’d like to see either a handsome ‘cowboy from the Middle West’ or a foreign nobleman arrive for Edith. Either can stay and ‘shake things up a bit,’ perhaps provide some intrigue during the wedding planning. And what are your thoughts about Thomas and O’Brien? Does he become valet and she confess to Cora? As I think the Bates/Anna storyline will be ‘away from Downton’ for most of the next series, we will need some more in-house angst.

    Until September…

    (As regards Sybil and Branson, for a time, I thought that the both the storyline and Cousin Violet’s comments foreshadowed Sir Richard as a descendant, in a tongue-in-cheek, ‘fiction-meets-reality’ twist. Not going to happen, obvs.)

  4. I discovered this afternoon that my mother is less than thrilled with the whole series because Thomas has yet to get any real comeuppance for being a thief and a jerk. I said “But he’s a villain! Of course he doesn’t get any comeuppance. That would hardly be entertaining.” But whatever, I’m sure I’m on morally shaky ground in being perfectly happy for Thomas to go along his wicked way. Who’s with me?

    And I have to say I love the suicide-as-spiteful-revenge theory. It is so over-the-top whackadoodle! Perfect for As The Abbey Turns. But also Very Difficult To Prove!

  5. Are you sure Julian Fellowes is no fool? Season 2 was so absurd at times that I didn’t even watch the end.

    And there WAS one LOUSY wedding this season, so which hat did you eat? Ha!

  6. Do you know if you get the full UK version or the truncated USA one if you rent it on Netflix?

    Also, is it as popular in the UK? Being from there originally I have lots of people I follow on Twitter and none if them ever mention it. But on Sunday nights my Twit stream is full of DA from the Americans I follow.

  7. I have watched the series & I just love it. I cannot get enough of it. Cannot wait to see the next season. I was watching TV & they showed all of the tourists in England that went to see that beautiful castle.
    My husband & I will be going to England this November. Can you please tell me where in England is the Castle?? We would love to see it.

    Thank you

  8. Hi Terry –

    Sure, the castle in the show is Highclere castle, which you can find out all about here: While it’s still very much being lived in by the current Countess and Earl, the house and grounds are open to visitors during the summer. If you’re going in November, chances are good that it won’t be open, as most big houses stop tours in October, although a handful of them keep up special events and such through the holidays.

    Have fun!


  9. In reality how typical was Lady Sybil’s and Branson’s romance? I understand it wasn’t common for an Earl’s daughter to run off with the hired help, but are there instances when something like this did happen?

    Great blog!

  10. Well it certainly wasn’t typical, but sure, it happened. History is littered with inappropriate marriages. I think you more typically see the men marrying parlor maids than the ladies of the house running off with the footmen, but it definitely happened.

  11. Hey, what happened to the badly burned guy who said he was the ‘thought dead’ cousin in the Titanic. The last I saw, the lawyers were looking into his story – and then in the next episode he was gone.

  12. Here is my question: I had watched the DVD”The Queen’s Palaces” and noticed the painting in Buckingham Palace of Charles I on the white horse – it is the same painting behind Robert in the Dining Room scenes. How can the same the same painting by Anthony Van Dyke be in TWO PLACES?????

  13. Well, folks had copies of paintings like that all the time. I imagine having a well done copy of a painting that was known to be hanging in Buck House would have been a very nice thing indeed. There were (are) actually a lot more well done copies rattling around those old houses than their owners would readily like to admit…

  14. Rosie, I believe Alleged Cousin Patrick just scampered off when he realized it wasn’t going to be so easy to scam his way in to the family — and that the people he would be scamming were human beings capable of real feelings, too. I think the closer he got to Edith, the less comfortable he was with carrying out the whole charade. Yes, the writers left it ambiguous as to whether or not he was telling the truth. But would the real Patrick have left? I think not.

  15. We know a main character dies in series 3. Who is it likely to be? No,not Maggie/Violet. So, my guess is Matthew/Dan. Dan has conveniently committed himself to be across the pond by the time we get to week 4 when the series is shown in the UK and again he’ll be in Africa when it is shown in the US. He doesn’t wasnt to be around when Matthew exits. How? After much love and brief happiness with Mary, he heroically saves someone,maybe Lord Grantham or Sybil, prehaps during the Irish Troubles?? Which would throw the estate back in search of an heir until Mary discovers that she is pregnant. Or, is it possible, he killed Vera? I like your suggestion of the Turkisk embassy but Matthew had the most peculiar look on his face when Mary revealed her ‘story’ like ‘oh no, I thought I was protecting Mary from a viscious scandal, but it was true!’

  16. What happened to the mother of the three girls? If she’s alive why wasn’t she summoned to thee bedside of Sybil.
    If she died how did she die?

  17. Is it ever mentioned in the series what the relationship is between Mrs O’Brien and Thomas? Initially I thought they were mother and son, but they don’t share the same name (his surname is Barrow, I think). Mrs O’Brien never mentions a husband, and I know that a lady’s maid would probably be called ‘Mrs’ even if she was never married. At one point Thomas mentions that his father was a clock maker. So, just what is their relationship? Why are they so close? Is it just a ‘birds of a feather’ thing, or something more? Mrs O’Brien seems to honestly care about Thomas.

  18. Mrs. O’Brien and Thomas aren’t related at all; they’re just meant to be seen as kindred spirits to a certain extent. Allies in undermining Mr. Bates, for sure. I believe that they experience a bit of a falling out with each other in series 3…

  19. Napier is far too handsome for homely Edith. He could come back as Mathew’s replacement, should we not get a happily ever-after ending to Mary’s romance.

  20. PBS, contra the ludicrous Daily Mail article that is so full of bs it would cover the planet, does not cut ten minutes per episode. In the first series, because it spliced together the generally 49 to 50 minute ITV episodes, it cut a few minutes from each episode including the second intro credits and the first end credits. Read Jace Lacob’s article on this, For the second series PBS showed the series largely as broadcast originally broadcast in the UK. For the third PBS has added and extended scenes that aren’t broadcast on commercial broadcaster ITV in the UK. Whatever cuts there are, and they are minimal, in the series are, in the second and third series, in the initial episode because PBS splices two ITV eps together.

  21. I am wondering what the general knowledge and understanding of homosexuality was in England at the time of Downton Abbey in the 3rd season. Some of the characters show more of a 21 c. attitude and are surprisingly tolerant. Is there more history on this subject?

  22. In the Series 3 Finalé: 1 hour, 6 minutes in; 1 hour, 10 minutes in.

    Can you tell me the name of the song that Anna dances The Reel to; a few minutes later the song is reprised, and a happily-drunk Mr Molesley joins in.

  23. A few comments – first, Peter Vincent’s comment (15 Oct 2012) suggests Cora is not the mother of Mary, Edith & Sybil – where does he get that idea? Second, I am confused by the comments of Marilyn Young (3 Sep 2012). Does she think Matthew may have killed Vera?? That doesn’t make any sense to me, but then she totally lost me with the comment “I like your suggestion of the Turkish embassy but Matthew had the most peculiar look on his face when Mary revealed her ‘story’ like ‘oh no, I thought I was protecting Mary from a vicious scandal, but it was true!” What does that mean?
    Like, Elle, I also wonder about the general consensus on homosexuality in that era. They don’t show much concern over that, while a prostitute was like second only to leper!

  24. Hi, my husband and I have had great debates on the way everyone in the show comes into rooms without knocking . The downstairs staff enter each other’s bedrooms anytime of the day or night ! Even up stairs in the Bedrooms ! Is this really the way it was done? Thank- you for answering Questions :)

  25. Hi, my husband and I have had great debates on the way everyone in the show comes into rooms without knocking . Everyone upstairs and downstairs enter rooms anytime they like! Is this really the way it was done? Thank- you for answering Questions :)

  26. Why doesn’t Edith have a ladies maid. Mary had Anna before she was married. No wonder Edith feels like the third leg and under appreciated. She has to make all the clothes changes by herself. Waiting to hear….Thanks

  27. Why is Mary so mean and nasty to Edith and why doesn’t anyone say something or stop her? Mary is the slutty one and she always comes up smelling like a rose!

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