From the Desk of Matilda Darling

An Open Letter to the Creators of Downton Abbey

Dear Sir or Madam:

Although my open letters are usually, in keeping with the genre, quite critical of their subject, I must say that on this cold grey winter Monday morn, you, Downton Abbey, have filled the little garret of my heart to the brim with warmth and happiness. (Also: today is a Snow Day. You might say it is the winter of my content.)

First let me explain the fervor with which I look forward to the Sunday evening timeslot in which your program airs here in Albany, New York. Over the last year and a half, Masterpiece Theatre has in general been a beacon of light guiding me through the weekends, which have markedly decreased in quality ever since I descended, in the fall of 2010, into the chaotic intellectual cesspool that is Van Buren Middle School. After we have passed through the large wooden front doors of Van Buren, which I sometimes like to stand back and imagine as superimposed with Rodin’s Gates of Hell, evidently nobody wants to spend sleepovers braiding hair or making origami cranes or watching Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman anymore. Now we must exact a toll of a frozen bra on the first girl to fall asleep. We must play the Pass Out Game, and Bloody Mary, and Truth or Dare. Who, I ask you, wants to play Truth or Dare when you don’t have any truths to divulge? One’s hand is forced; one chooses Dare, and ends up doing something utterly beneath one’s station in life: stealing peppermint schnapps from the host parents’ liquor cabinet, for example, or flashing the pizza delivery boy. Suffice it to say that after my first foray into such sleepovers—Jacky Liebowitz’s twelfth birthday party, to be exact—I have politely declined all subsequent invitations to such bacchanals of moral turpitude. Thus, my weekends have become slightly more solitary, notwithstanding my student orchestra rehearsals. This is where you step in, Downton.

When I watch Downton Abbey, I am transported back to a time and place where women have their hair brushed and plaited by other women (albeit women on their family estate’s payroll) well into adulthood. A time and place where for dinner, women wear gloves and gowns and men wear tuxedos. A time and place without denim or spandex, without miniskirts or megamalls, without that most base and obscene of personal affects: body glitter. A time and place where people write letters, on actual paper, at desks of richest mahogany, letters full of multi-syllabic British colloquialisms—“solicitor,” “convalescent,” “Dowager Countess.” A world without the idiotic idiom of text messaging, acronyms and abbreviations that amount to nothing more than a complete abortion of the English language. Can you imagine Lord Grantham unfolding a letter and reading: “We r at war yo!” Even mocking this lingua franca gives me the chills.

It is bittersweet, in point of fact, when each episode comes to an end: I feel like I am waking from some marvelous dream and opening my eyes to the decidedly less-glorious reality of my everyday life. Of course, when I imagine myself as part of Downton Abbey, I imagine myself as the long-lost fourth Grantham daughter, but then again, who is to say I wouldn’t have been a maid? After all, who is Matilda Darling? Not an heiress but rather the (almost) teenage daughter of a lawyer. We Darlings live in quiet middle class comfort, and are thus, as my bleeding-heart mother always reminds us, among the richest people on earth, but we would certainly not be among the landed gentry—the one percent, as modern parlance will have it—of Edwardian England, when income is adjusted for inflation. And with what scorn Matthew Crawley is treated by the Granthams, upon first entering their family circle, for being a solicitor! My father works for the Legal Aid Society! One can almost hear the Dowager Countess croak, after Carson introduces me as the prodigal Lady Matilda, switched at birth but returned at last: “Are the shades of Downton to be thus polluted?”

Well, who is to say what our lot in life will be? One cannot choose one’s parentage (God knows I know something about that); but one can certainly choose how to behave. I would like to think I am more an Anna than an O’Brien, more a Lady Mary than a Lady Edith. Although one does begin to feel sorry for Edith, always pushed aside, and one certainly does judge Lady Mary for, among other short-sighted indiscretions, the lack of resistance she put up against Pamuk’s temerarious advances. Though I myself have never been assaulted by a dark-haired, plush-lipped Turk in a candlelit room, I cannot imagine I would be so weak as to fall prey to the clearly empty promises of a sexually rapacious bachelor. Although, now that I think of it, once, after orchestra practice, Steven Odell did attempt to fondle me behind the timpani. The rigors of full disclosure dictate I must admit his touch did at first give me a slight thrill, but then I turned around and remembered that one: he is a tuba player, and two: he wears a shark tooth necklace. The horrors. Returning to my original point: it seems that even in a world without body glitter, people still put too much stock in lust.

Lest I end on a negative note, in conclusion let me thank you, creators of Downton Abbey, for providing me with such warm companionship these many Sunday nights. I feel sometimes as if I am actually friends with Daisy, or Sybil, or Bates; as if these my old companions will suddenly appear in my living room, wearing long skirts or smart jackets, and asking me to teach them an “American dance.”

Yours in hoping for the invention of time travel,

Matilda Darling

Liz lives and writes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.