In this the second in the Great Women of Netflix series we continue our look at the ladies of Downton Abbey. We began the series examining the finer qualities of the one and only Lady Mary Crawley. I would encourage you to begin with the top dog, so to speak, but feel free to first read these reflections on the Earl of Grantham’s youngest and most rebellious child, Lady Sybil.
We all know Sybil is lovely and to quote Billy Joel (which likely will never happen again) ‘only the good die young‘ and that’s what happened to dear Sybil.
Here are the 5 things we can learn from Sybil: Four good, one a cautionary note.
- There is no point in being a snob. Egalitarian, hardworking, independently-minded, Sybil just cut through the crap. She could have married one of those boring, rich neighbourhood boys but in the end, would have nothing to do with them. Friendly, yes, attracted, no. I’m sure if they’d been decent, egalitarian, hardworking chaps she might have given them a second look. She had convictions and she stuck to them till the bitter end.
- Put your actions where your mouth is: It’s one thing to talk like a progressive and quite another to behave like one. Like her eldest sister, Sybil was also very good to the household staff, single-handedly orchestrating a parlour maid’s rise in stature out of domestic service and into business. Go out of your way to give someone a hand up – it will not diminish you in the least.
- Be a professional regardless of your qualifications. It didn’t take much in the way of education in those days to become a nurse, among the most challenging professions to enter now. Regardless, Sybil took her work as a nurse seriously, adopted the right demeanor (serious and kind), actively learned, dressed the part. You and I may not have all the designations and qualifications we might want or need, but we can always behave like professionals, and that commands respect.
- Look for the good in others. This is a tough one especially when you’re dealing with a person completely opposite to your own character. Sybil even managed to see the good in Mary when there was very little to be had. I gotta say though, she did pretty much ignore Edith, but then when Sybil was alive Edith was not at her best. Edith improved with experience, but more on that in the next post.
And now, the cautionary note:
5. The problem with Sybil was her choice in husband. I think we’re supposed to like Tom. He is the ‘every man’, representing the real people like you and me, or at least me. But he’s an idiot. While Sybil threw herself into productive and difficult work during the war, Tom drove the family car. He was a conscientious objector – fine – but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t help with the traumatized and wounded. Even Barrow put his small heart into that. But not Tom. And then he whined at Sybil about her really loving him – basically insisting that he knew her better than she knew herself when, honestly, she showed absolutely no signs of caring about him. He was a handy conduit to get out of the Abbey but that was about it. Why she decided to run away with that sorry excuse for a man is beyond me.
And then to make matters worse, the bugger leaves her pregnant in Ireland to save his own skin. Seriously, why she didn’t kick him out after that is beyond me. And what happened to his career as a journalist? He returns to Downton and mooches off the family business. Where is his integrity? Edith becomes a journalist and then a publisher and Tom walks around the estate in tweeds and has lunch at the Grantham Arms. Nice life. All that to say, I think Sybil really got that one wrong. Or maybe the blame should fall on Julian Fellowes who wrote the series. Either way, it does take the shine off rewatching the series for the 10th time because I have to endure Tom saying, “Well, I hope I am a part of this family.” You’re not and so bugger off.
And so that’s Sybil. Eminently loveable. Doomed from the start.
Let’s move on to Edith who just gets better with time.
Be sure to agree or disagree with me. I welcome the debate!