Downton Abbey

The most entertaining relationship in the PBS series, Downton Abbey, has to be the one between the two strong-willed matriarchs: Countess Lady Grantham and Mrs. Crawley. They seem to have differing views on every subject under the sun, and watching them go at each other provides most of the comic relief in the show.

The women speak for the two worlds that clashed after World War I – the old world of status fixed by birth and the new the new world of status based on merit. Lady Grantham is the spokesperson for the old world and Mrs. Crawley for the new. The friction starts the minute they meet, when Mrs. Crawley says in a friendly manner, “What should we call each other?” and Lady Grantham answers in a huffy tone, “What about Countess Lady Grantham and Mrs. Crawley?”
But to me, a type-watcher, the women represent two worlds that have been clashing long before the 1920’s. They represent worlds that have been clashing since people began, the worlds of sensing and intuition. To me, Lady Grantham is the voice of sensing. She focuses on the past and present because she prefers the reality that can be seen, heard and touched. Mrs. Crawley, on the other hand, is the voice of intuition. She focuses on the future because she prefers the reality that can be imagined.

Lady Grantham always takes the point of view that things should stay the way they are, or go back to the way they used to be. Mrs. Crawley always takes the point of view that things should change. Their drawing room debates could be overlaid onto a million conversations taking place every minute between Ss and Ns.

Lady Grantham is the champion of preserving the class system, which was successful for a long time in giving people clearly defined roles and ranks, so that all the work got done and everyone, to a degree, thrived in a stable society. But World War I threw everyone into roles and ranks they’d never been in before. When it was over, the old order started to feel constrictive and past its usefulness. Mrs. Crawley is the champion of replacing the class system with a more fluid meritocracy. 

You see it especially in the places where they push themselves forward to intervene. Most of the time, Lady Grantham’s role is to sit at family dinners and pass acid judgments on anything unconventional, but when she does actively intervene I’ve noticed that it is always to help the family. The family, of course, are the people you see, hear and touch every day, the people who fill your present and past, and they are the most stabilizing force in your life – a natural point of interest for this sensing woman.

In the first season, she boldly intervenes to try and help her oldest granddaughter, Mary, get back her inheritance. She shocks Mathew Crawley when she shows up at his law office and asks him if he can find a loophole in the law, even though he’s the one who will inherit if Mary doesn’t.

Years later, she shocks Mathew again with a visit to his bedroom, where she tells him that even though he’s engaged to another woman, Mary still loves him.

When her youngest granddaughter dies in childbirth, the mother blames her husband for not listening to the advice of their family doctor. Lady Grantham sees that her son and his wife cannot get over their grief if they are estranged from each other, and intervenes again. She gets the family doctor to admit to them that there was only an infinitesimal chance that their daughter would live, even if they had followed his advice.

Mrs. Crawley, on the other hand, is usually intervening in the lives of people who are suffering because of unfair circumstances and customs, even when it has nothing to do with her family. Her first clash with Lady Grantham is over the flower show. Mrs. Crawley admires the roses of one of the local farmers, who comments that there is no chance he will win. Mrs. Crawley finds out later that Lady Grantham wins every year because the judges are predisposed to favor her. She finds this unfair and shames Lady Grantham into giving up her prize to the farmer.

During the season that takes place during World War I, Lady Grantham tries to get two employees at Downton exempted from active duty, but Mrs. Crawley objects because it’s unfair to the many men who do not have lords and ladies to intervene on their behalf. When the youngest granddaughter expresses frustration that she isn’t doing enough to help the war effort, Mrs. Crawley encourages her to become a nurse, an unusual job for a member of the nobility.

When one of the former maids at Downton is forced to become a prostitute to support her illegitimate son, Mrs. Crawley intervenes to the point of employing her as a cook and facing the disapproval of the Grantham family and the whole community. After Lady Grantham realizes that Mrs. Crawley isn’t going to be talked out of this decision, she intervenes to find the maid a position in another household, where she will be closer to her son, not because it’s what’s best for the maid, but because it’s what’s best for the reputation of the Grantham family.

In this most current season, Lady Grantham is intervening again to help her family, this time her granddaughter, Edith, who gave birth to an illegitimate child, while Mrs. Crawley is intervening again to help someone outside the family, a village boy who is the sole support of his family.

From our point of view in the future, we tend to root for Mrs. Crawley as she tries to throw out the old and bring in the new. But whenever I see people clashing over the status quo vs. change, I remember something the late Gordon Lawrence (ENTP) told me for an issue of The Type Reporter

"It isn’t that people just want to hold onto the status quo. It’s bigger than that. For sensing types, the present has a solidity that intuitives can never understand. And as I grew older, I came to understand that that’s not a bad thing. My favorite philosopher, John Dewey, pointed out that things keep operating as they are until there’s an absolute necessity for change. Most of the time we are in equilibrium, playing out habitual patterns.

"It’s essential to listen seriously to the reasons things should
not be changed, and to listen to those reasons not just because they’re there, but because they may be sound. Then try to find a common ground, a place where whatever tinkering you do with the way things are is worth the disturbance.

"Just as nature intended intuitives to keep pushing for change, nature intended sensing types to keep holding onto stability. Sensing and intuition are not just neat ways of understanding different mindsets, they are two forces pulling in opposite directions yet bound together for the good of the whole."

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  1. David Pool

    #1 by David Pool - August 15, 2016 at 6:26 PM

    "Sensing and intuition are not just neat ways of understanding different mindsets, they are two forces pulling in opposite directions yet bound together for the good of the whole."

    So well said. It's a dynamic tension that never gets fully resolved, even when we reach a deep understanding of each polarity.
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