‘Downton Abbey’: A model for male love?

Even in the Bible, love is never frictionless: Brothers betray brothers, sons betray fathers, fathers their sons, and so on. The message being that above all, faith in God is the only true fidelity. But that too, love between God and Israel, can be as turbulent and unpredictable as high seas in a storm.

Love is no less complicated in the modern world. Though, as Brendan Tapley writes in Slate, it is often the reputed domain of women. It was only after suffering his own heartbreak that Tapley realized this, having sought solace in a popular culture that to his chagrin, caters more to the romantic whims of women. Shattered and withdrawn, Tapley’s best available recourse was to re-read “Jane Eyre.”

After saturating himself in English literature, including several Dickensian offerings, Tapley happened upon a recent phenomenon of Anglo culture: the Emmy-winning BBC series “Downton Abbey.” Penned by “Gosford Park’s” Julian Fellowes, ‘Downtown’ serves as a dramatic study into the relationship between 20th century British aristocrats and their servants. It is a world of love, loyalty and war, where social values are the guiding raison d’etre, and social etiquette, the only true religion. It was in this mix of privilege and penury, duty and honor, that Tapley found the secret to his heartbreak. It was where he discovered, the true measure of masculinity:   

What many have derided as the era’s repression I saw as exacting a major upside: the lovers and beloveds of the time engaged in a scrupulous self-examination whose central quest was to be worthy of love. Furthermore, for the men, avoiding that quest—risking nothing in love out of fear, or apathy, or difficulty—was the true emasculation.

…The masculinity of Downton stood unapologetically opposed to this kind of posturing. What I was witnessing in Crawley, Bates, and Branson was a lived-out insistence that a soulful, ethical heart was the standard of a man’s love. It was curious to me how service to this standard did not render these men subordinate or submissive; on the contrary, it proved them real men. Even Lord Grantham, the patriarch, does not gain his nobility out of status but out of a refusal to shrink from the hard emotion as a factor in leadership, partnership, fatherhood—manhood.

Whether upstairs or downstairs, on this all men were equal. And so falling short of that standard, whether because one had loved wrongly or was wronged in love, was nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it indicated a lesson our time has perhaps forgotten: that in order to be a man, following one’s heart—no matter perception or love’s undeniable terrors—must become non-negotiable.