How are we going to survive the endless five month wait until the new Downton Abbey movie is released in September!? I’m coping by rewatching all six seasons of the TV show. It’s amazing how much I’ve forgotten since I first watched Downton Abbey two years ago so it all seems fresh and new again.
What struck me as forcefully as it did the first time we watched Downton Abbey is what a narcissist Lady Mary is! Yet she can also be incredibly kind, even vulnerable.
Actress Michele Dockery has brilliantly breathed narcissism into Lady Mary while avoiding making her character the clichéd, one-dimensional, storybook villain we often identify with narcissists. There are no horns nor forked tail. Lady Mary is a brilliant reminder of how multi-faceted narcissists can be, kind and generous one moment, cold and vicious the next.
We see Lady Mary’s caring and compassion in her unstinting kindness to Anna Bates. She didn’t do it merely because Anna was her lady’s maid and good at her job. No, she did it because her heart was in it. She believed in Mr. and Mrs. Bates’ innocence and that justice will out. She was more than willing to have suspected murderers in her employ (What will society say!?!?) and fight their corner, billing their legal expenses to the Downton estate.
The next moment she can be cold, selfish and heartless as she was to Miss Lane Fox.
Remember how, in Season 1, Lady Mary shtupped Kemal Pamuk to death? That tale really kicked Downton Abbey off with a bang yet has been criticized as being rather far-fetched. In actuality, Julian Fellowes based it off a true-life tale discovered in a friend-of-the-family’s Great-Aunt’s diary.
Anyways, ever since that night, Lady Mary went on and on about being “damaged goods.” Yet she has no compunction about, basically, doing the same thing to Tony Gillingham. Why should we have a double-standard for men vs women.
While unsure of her true feelings for Tony, yet she doesn’t discourage him from breaking his engagement to Miss Lane Fox. After all, Lady Mary might want to marry him, but only if he pleases her in bed first. Strong-arming a very bashful Anna into purchasing a diaphragm for her, Lady Mary and Gillingham embark on a week of torid lovemaking in Liverpool. But their romance cooled, as it so often does, after the thrill of conquest and Lady Mary casually throws her leftovers back to Miss Lane Fox.
With her chilly demeanor, haughty airs and graces and the condescending downturn of her lips after almost every sentence, Lady Mary is the very essence of to-the-manor-born. Too to-the-manor-born. Even her aunt and grandmother call her out for being a snob and a prig.
Yet, despite obviously (and inexplicably!) being the Golden Child of the whole Crawley clan and the doting butler Carson, her confidence is so fragile that any success by the Scapegoated sister, Edith, sends Mary into a pique of jealousy.
When it’s revealed that Edith’s soon-to-be fiance has just inherited the title of “Marquess of Hexham” with a castle to boot (and when I say castle, imagine a fairytale castle and then double it), you can fairly see Mary turn green with jealousy. Here she is, about to marry a car-obsessessed nobody from nowhere, while the ugly duckling, scapegoat snags a Marquess.
So she does what she always does: destroys Edith’s chances for happiness and romance with a few well-chosen words with cut-glass vowels. In this case, she casually brings up Edith’s “ward” who is really her secret daughter.
The family is quick to chastise Mary who we see keeping her chilly and blazè demeanor intact, but in secret she weeps for what she’s done claiming, “I don’t know why I do it!”
It took her chaffeur-turned-brother-in-law, Tom Branson, with his down-to-Earth Irish wit, to give her the dressing down she’d long deserved. Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t sack him on the spot.
Tom: Well, you got what you wanted! Bertie has left for the train and Edith won’t be the next Marchioness of Hexham!
Mary: Well, that’s not what I wanted.
Tom: Isn’t it?
Mary: I still can’t believe she’d never told him. How was I to know that?
Tom: Don’t play the innocent with me.
Mary: I didn’t mean it.
Tom: Don’t lie! Not to me! You can’t stop ruining things! For Edith, for yourself! You’d pull in the sky if you could! ANYTHING to make you feel less frightened and alone! … You’re not a princess in The Prisoner of Zenda!
Mary: You don’t want to understand me.
Tom: You ruined Edith’s life today! How many lives are you going to wreck just to smother your misery?
Mary: I REFUSE to listen!
Tom: You’re a coward, Mary. Like all bullies, you’re a coward.
He put his finger on the crux of narcissism without ever using the word.
Quite simply, they’re scared shitless.
I fully admit that life is scary. No, make that terrifying. But most of us suck it up and trudge through life, trying to “do unto others” and be happy for their success. Not so narcissists! We can’t have anything they don’t have first. Our success is their failure or so it seems. They’re the Little Sisters who seduce their Big Sister’s boyfriends, the mothers who ruin their daughter’s romances, the fathers who tell their sons “You won’t amount to shit.”
But they aren’t all bad. Just like Lady Mary, narcissists are both kind and cruel, generous and jealous, insecure and snobbish. They change their façades faster than Lady Mary changes her dresses.
I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again. Scratch any good drama and you’ll find a narcissist providing said drama. Lady Mary is the narcissist of Downton Abbey. The lesson is that narcissists have many good sides too. Their good tends to conceal their bad, even from Carson the Butler who sees and hears all.
I wonder what shenanigans Lady Mary will get up to in the upcoming movie. Only five more months to go! I can’t wait!