As a middle child, I can relate to Lady Edith’s postion in the family on Downton Abbey. For those of you unfamiliar with “middle child sydrome”, think of The Brady Bunch. Just like Lady Mary, the eldest daughter of Downton Abbey, eldest daughter “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” (second born Jan’s war cry) was always the most respected of the female offspring in the family, the most sought with boys even with when her nose swelled up after being hit with a football (similiarly Lady Mary was considered quite the catch- though a little less- despite shades of her deadly sexual escapade were circulated by Edith).
Jan Brady was born second, expectations were low for her, she had to whine to compete for any attention in the family, she even made up a faux boyfriend George Glass to prove to Marcia she could get a man, and had dorky coke-bottle thick glasses she’d rather leave at home and go headlong into traffic than wear in public as she was unable to keep her vanity in check. But back to Edith!
The third season of Downton Abbey, started with Lady Edith seeing one of her dreams come true. She was going to marry the (old and wounded) man of her dreams whom Mary poisoned against her in season one. Of course, poor Edith was jilted at the alter, which I think is the best thing that ever happened to her. Unlike in “Pride & Prejudice” when the eldest sister Jane Bennett initially lost the interest of Mr. Bingly (though they were not officially engaged when it happened), her father said it would actually work to distinguish her from others, Edith’s father, Lord Robert Crawley seems to use her as a target for disapproval.
While Mary and Edith have gone through many difficulties and crossed each other as siblings do, even at the most joyous or tragic moments in their lives, Mary will slap down Edith and put in her place- always, always second place. As they said in Talledega Nights “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
It’s easy to understand why it’s taken Edith so long to think of enjoying life when you watch the scene on Mary’s wedding day when her awkwardly expressed well wishes were easily dismissed by their mother like a fly being swatted away with the words “never mind Edith” not even waiting for Edith to be out of the room. Such a delicious comment!
Mary returned the favor on Edith’s wedding day telling her they would never be close, but she wished her the best. The cycle of brutal truth continued when their beloved younger sister, Sibyl, “the only person who thought we were both good people” died in child birth. Mary refused Edith’s plea to be close, but allowed for the moment they could love each other as sisters do. These are the moments on the show I snort laugh (probably not a very ladylike trait of mine but at least I own my snorts!).
It’s no coincidence that Lady Edith is portrayed by a “ginger”, whom the Brits consider to be inferior, most famously brought to light by South Park:
Recent post-jilt episodes have found Lady Edith finding strength and hope in her new role as a ‘spinster’ which she resigned herself to the day after the jilting, in typical middle child fashion, but has proven to be to her advantage, only now understanding this could free her to enjoy life a lot more. She has now joins the men for breakfast, since spinsters get up for breakfast, while the married ladies get served in bed. Edith’s confidence has grown with encouragement from Lady Mary’s husband, Matthew and her grandmother’s jab that she needed to ‘stop whining and find something useful to occupy’ her time.
New studies show middle children are no longer the least likely to be successful, but thrive because of it and make the most of the patience that’s part of their make-up. I’m not the only one who has been won over and hoping Lady Edith will get her time in the sun, as proved by Jimmy Fallon’s “Downton Sixby“. Go Gingy!