Tell me, in all the commotion at the altar while Edith’s happiness was collapsing, when the Dowager Countess came striding forward to intervene, what did you expect her to say?
“Stop this nonsense, Sir Anthony, and get on with it?”
Or, “Give it up, Edith, you know it’s for the best.”
I have to say, I was expecting her to give Sir Anthony a good talking to, now that the moment had come and he was causing her granddaughter pain and humiliation there at the altar. I was shocked that she would tell Edith to walk away and give up.
Because after all, it left Edith, in her own words, “a useful spinster.”
And who wants that for their grandchild?
In those days, the only path to social acceptance and happiness for a woman of Lady Edith’s standing was marriage. And Sir Anthony, as mature as he was, was — as Earl Robert had observed earlier in the episode — the most “traditional” of all three men the Crawley girls had chosen.
Not only was Edith in love, but long before the dreaded “wheelchair” future everyone was harping on, she would have become a mother (in the days before birth control, that was a virtual certainty), and presided over a large house in the manner she had been raised to do. In other words, she would have had the full life she had expected and longed for. Does anyone really believe that Sir Anthony and Lady Edith could not have afforded the very best of care for Sir Anthony in his declining years, including strapping footmen to push his wheelchair and nurses to tend his needs? Lady Edith has shown neither the desire nor the knack for a glittering life as a society dame at the heart of London, which is what she would lose in having a husband who could not go out. And when, Sir Anthony eventually predeceased her, she would have had her children to comfort and occupy her. Moreover, as the canny Dowager Countess should have had firmly in view, the life of a wealthy widow was one of more freedom than any other a woman could possibly enjoy.
Thus, Edith’s marriage to Sir Anthony was by far the better alternative to remaining single in her father’s house, particularly when the earl’s financial position was so shaky. As she grew older and if his fortunes continued to decline, her chances of marrying would continue to diminish, and in a world where she COULD NOT find fulfillment through work (Isobel Crawley aside — remember, she is a respectable widow, not an unmarried lady of good family), Edith would have to live out her life caring for her aging parents and never realizing her own potential as a human being in any manner.
It is quite out of character for the Dowager Countess not to have made this analysis herself.
Do you agree?