Like many New Yorkers looking to escape the cold, I settled down the other night with my hottest cuppa tea and delved into the world of Downton Abbey.
A world full of good old English values, a world where the introduction of a modern electric mixing bowl is greeted with alarm—and a world that would likely go into an apoplectic shock at the very thought of peyot and phylacteries.
While Downton has covered many important issues, including the strife between classes, the “Irish problem,” the criminalization of homosexuality, and the crumbling of an empire, it has yet to encounter England’s history of anti-Semitism.
There was some hope in Season 2, for a dash of yiddishkeit when it was revealed that the American-born Lady Grantham’s maiden name was “Levinson.” But as the seasons progressed, it became clear that Mrs. Patmore wouldn’t be serving challah any time soon.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when only 40 minutes into the first episode of Season 4, Lady Violet—that venerable bastion of quips and quotes, played to perfection by Dame Maggie Smith—suddenly quoted the biblical Moses.
Speaking to her granddaughter, Lady Mary, still suffering from the loss of her husband, Lady Violet said:
“Mary, you've gone through hideous time. But now you must remember your son. He needs you very much. The fact is, you have a straightforward choice before you: you must choose either death or life."
“And you think I should choose life,” Mary concluded.
This theme continued through the remaining episode—and seems, in fact, to be the theme of the whole series. “I put before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life so that your descendants might live.”
Every piece of art is a reflection of the artist. Therefore, while questions of the British attitude towards class, female inheritance and Catholicism will be doubtless remain of interest to series creator Julian Fellowes, explicit questions of Jewish-English relations may remain as distant from Downton as Lady Violet and the servant’s hall.
But for a moment — there was almost davening at Downton.
Downton Abbey, Season 4 plays on Masterpiece, Sundays at 9 PM, now through February 23rd on PBS.
Emily C. A. Snyder is an internationally published and produced playwright, whose work has been seen from Christchurch, New Zealand to Dublin, Ireland. Her five-act iambic pentameter play, Cupid and Psyche ~ A New Play in Blank Verse will be produced off-Broadway for Valentine's 2014. She is a member of the staff of The Jewish Week.
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