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The cast of Downton Abbey. Notice the servants in the background. Photo by: BBC

Maureen Dowd slams Downton Abbey's false portrayal of Irish servants

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The cast of Downton Abbey. Notice the servants in the background. Photo by: BBC

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The cast of "Downton Abbey," including the hardworking servants. 


New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has accused Americans of a colonial cringe and blinkered mentality when it comes to hit British series “Downton Abbey” and its portrayal of amiable servants and masters.

Dowd, the daughter of an Irish immigrant father and first generation Irish mother, says Americans obsessing about "Downton Abbey" perform “a gushing embrace of class snobbery that hasn’t been seen since friends clustered across the country in 1981 – wearing black tie and clutching Teddy Bears and champagne glasses – to watch “Brideshead Revisited.”

She quoted Jim Cramer of CNBC’s “Mad Money” who said that British indifference to the Irish Famine should have ended the embrace of that upper class philosophy and lifestyle.

She says life for the servants is nothing like what it was being portrayed as in the massive hit series. "My grandmother and her nine sisters were tall, strapping women who immigrated to America from Ireland in the second decade of the 20th century and found jobs as maids, cooks and nannies for wealthy families with names like Gore and Mellon.

“As my great-aunts worked tirelessly to grasp shards of the American dream, they were not gliding about mansions playing confidantes to malleable employers, much less co-conspirators in moving the bodies of dead lovers. It was a much tougher life than the democratized fantasy shown in “Downton Abbey.’’

Comparing their work to indentured slavery Dowd says, “The difference between 'Gone With the Wind' and the harrowing “12 Years a Slave’’ is analogous to the yawning gulf between the Panglossian P.B.S. soap opera of manners and the dehumanizing life that most indentured servants led.”

She cites “Castle Rackrent,’’ an 1800 Irish work that was a  pioneer of the historical novel in which author Maria Edgeworth skewered her own Anglo landlord class for viciousness to the Irish peasantry.

Speaking of the grand lady of the house, Edgeworth wrote: “She was a strict observer, for self and servants, of Lent, and all fast-days, but not holidays. One of the maids having fainted three times the last day of Lent, to keep soul and body together, we put a morsel of roast beef in her mouth, which came from Sir Murtagh’s dinner, who never fasted, not he; but somehow or other it unfortunately reached my lady’s ears, and the priest of the parish had a complaint made of it the next day, and the poor girl was forced, as soon as she could walk, to do penance for it, before she could get any peace or absolution, in the house or out of it.’’

Dowd says Americans are suckers for fantasy British shows and royalty in general. “Americans cast off the British monarchy but they go nuts for Kate Middleton’s procreation story."

She again quotes Cramer. who asked MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, “Wasn’t this settled in 1848-1850 with the Irish potato famine? I’m not kidding. Lord John Russell believed what the Republicans did, which is, you know, let them eat potatoes even if they’re rotten.’’ The issue of laissez faire, Cramer said, “was decided many years ago by Queen Victoria’s insolence toward the Irish.’’

And now Dowd’s insolence towards the "Downton Abbey" fanatics seems sure to spark major controversy again!

 

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