Downton and Downward
Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.

Like everyone else with a perverse curiosity about a castle-bound community fussing over whether to use a bouillon or a melon spoon, I’ve been consumed by the turns in “Downton Abbey,” the latest export from England to keep American public television afloat.

In a season of haute-soap plot twists, the story of the working-class Irishman, Tom Branson, whose marriage to Lady Sybil gives him a life leap in upward mobility, is worth examining for what it says about class, then and now. Branson is still “the chauffeur” to a family living on moldered wealth, and his brother the car mechanic is “a drunken gorilla” for asking if there’s any beer in the House of Lord Grantham.

But if someone with grease on his hands and an accent from a workaday neighborhood can rise to an estate management position in the rigid British class system, what, by comparison, are we to make of the American experience nearly a century removed?

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