Character Studies with Downton Abbey

As with most trends, I’m several years late in joining the Downton Abbey fandom.  That said I’ve been watching an episode a night for the past month and playing a wonderful game of catch up, and enjoying every minute.  It might seem strange for a fantasy writer to enjoy something as different as a drama such as Downton Abbey, and I agree it is.  I don’t usually seek out this type of television.  However, when the raves keep coming in and everyone I know is talking about it, I figure it’s worth a shot.

The one thing that stands out to me as a writer is how each character is so different and well rounded.  They all have strengths and weaknesses, some expected and some surprising.  It’s a terrific way to learn about how to create great characters.

DowntonAbbey1Today we will take a look at the Crawley’s immediate family and examine their different character traits.

Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham – Strong and determined, Robert is a force to be reckoned with and will not tolerate foolishness.  He has the means and the connections to influence everything around him, ranging from politics to personal matters. In the public eye he is straight laced and almost always calm and deliberate, however in private he is easily provoked to a raging temper.  This temper usually rears it’s head when something or someone threatens the things he holds most dear; his family, his country, and his way of life. He has two responsibilities, caring for his vast estate and assets and maintaining the legacy of his title.

Cora Crawley (née Levinson), Countess of Grantham – Also strong, but in a different way, Cora wants nothing more than to see her three daughters happily and successfully wed to men of status.  Problem is, her daughters have different plans.  She is a woman accustomed to having the good things in life, she loves her estate, her private lady’s maid, and all the niceties that come with being upper class.  However, since she has never been required to actually work, she lacks depth and at times comes across as naive.

Lady Mary Josephine Crawley – The eldest of the three Crawley daughters, and perhaps the most determined to maintain the Crawley name and lifestyle.  She is as beautiful as she is cold toward those around her. She will not budge when it comes to propriety and decency and will not cross the line.  As the oldest child she plays the role of alpha female with her two sisters.  They look to her for guidance and advice and tend to take her lead. This isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of drama thrown in the mix, they don’t hesitate to throw each other under the proverbial bus when it suits them.

Lady Edith Josephine Crawley – Poor Edith suffers from middle child syndrome in the worst way. She feels trapped within the drama that her sisters continually cause but unable to cause her own.  More than anything she want’s to be in the spotlight, but she isn’t willing to cross lines in order to do so. She is more homely than her dark haired sisters and at times uses that as a crutch.  With all of that in mind she is a remarkably caring and patient woman who wants to see the best in those around her.

Lady Sybil Cora Branson (née Crawley) – As the youngest she takes it upon herself to experiment with possibilities.  She likes testing her limits and because of that is actually the most capable of the three.  She took it upon herself to learn a trade, even without the approval and support of her family, because she wanted to be useful instead of sitting around.  She is lead primarily by her heart rather than her head and although that has given her the greatest rewards, it also has caused her biggest problems.  Of the three sisters, she has the biggest heart.


Of the five I can’t pick a favorite, I like them all.  What I love is how they work with and against each other.  Where there is strength in Robert, there is a weakness in Cora.  Where Mary is cold and unwelcoming, Sybil and Edith are warm and inviting.  These contrasting attributes serve to intensify the different traits and make them more noticeable and fascinating.

Who is your favorite?

About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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7 Responses to Character Studies with Downton Abbey

  1. angelinebb says:

    I have not see it lately, but I do like this approach to studying characters in a story. This TV show reminds me of the “Upstairs Downstairs” series that I watched sometimes on the Masterpiece TV series on PBS. A strong understanding of character is critical for a great story.

    • Jodi says:

      You’re right, it’s very much like Upstairs, Downstairs and I think that’s where much of the appeal stems from. I’ve had lots of fun trying to figure out each character and how they contrast and compare against each other, it’s taught me volumes on how to create an ensemble cast.

  2. Susan says:

    I LOVE what I call costume dramas–in Great Britain, even more. I love the accents, the clothes, the history, the traditons. This is my favorite genre for books, too–historical fiction. I am in my seat watching Masterpiece Theater most weekends. I’m glad something got you interested 🙂
    However, after the last episode of DA, I refuse to watch the next season. Also, when you watch more of the episodes, you will find some of your characteristics will change for each person mentioned above.

    • Jodi says:

      I’m just coming up on the end of season three and i know something horrible is going to happen, now I can’t stand waiting to see what it is. Only two episodes to go. I’ve seen several of the characters starting to grow and change with this season and am very interested to see where they go from here.

  3. geanieroake says:

    I was also refusing to watch the next season, but I don’t think I’ll be able to go through with it. The series is just too darn good. You haven’t covered my favorite characters yet. Will get back to you on that if you continue this.

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