Poor Edith. For six seasons on Downton Abbey things never seemed to go her way. Ever the middle child, not as sought after as Mary, nor as adventurous as Sybil, her life for the first three seasons is a series of failures. She was pitiable, but, as she’s often her own worst enemy (and Mary’s too) she was hard to root for.
But it’s not much of a story if she never grows or learns, and Edith did both in spades. She fell in love, became a magazine owner and editor, had a baby out of wedlock, and ended up with her happily ever after. And in that time, had some great lines.
10 "Something happening in this house is actually about me."
Edith’s first inkling that she might get her happily ever after is when she earns the attentions of Sir Anthony Strallan. A friend of her father’s, and easily 25 years her senior, he was a widower with an injured arm. Still, he’s kind to her and genuinely prefers her to Mary which was new for Edith. And while Mary initially sabotages their relationship, they reunite after the war and become engaged.
On the day of her wedding, Edith is overjoyed that for once all the fuss happening in the house is about her. Little was she to know that she was hours away from being jilted at the altar.
9 "How comforting it is that there really are a few good people left in the world."
When she discovered she was pregnant, Edith resigned herself to giving her child away and never seeing her again. It wasn’t possible for someone of her station in 1920s England to keep an illegitimate child and still have a chance at marriage and a reputable life. However, despite the logic of her head, her heart couldn’t leave behind her child.
She arranged with Mr. Drewe, one of the tenant farmers, to take in her child and raise it on the estate. He agreed, and let her know that not only would he allow her to “take an interest” in the child, but he knew the truth of the situation. And he also promised to keep it between them. Edith hadn’t been shown a lot of kindness until that point, but he did prove good people still existed.
8 “Did you ever think we’d get here?”
At the end of everything (at least until the upcoming movie), Edith got her happily ever after. She met an estate agent who was a cousin to the Marquess who owned the estate and fell in love. He loved her as well, and it seemed they were bound for a happy, if low-key, life together.
However, Bertie Pelham was not only the cousin, but the sole heir to the Marquess, and when he died Bertie became the 7th Marquess of Hexham and heir to a grand estate. After some difficulties once again caused by Mary, the two were engaged and got married, giving Edith her happily ever after. (And making her the ranking member of nobility in their family.)
7 “Well, we're together, darling. And I know it's not ideal, but it's such an improvement on being apart that I think we should celebrate.”
Edith tried her hardest to keep Marigold at a respectable distance. To be merely a benefactor and someone who would visit occasionally. But the more time she spent with her, the more it became impossible for her to be separated from her daughter. Unfortunately, Mrs. Drewe had also fallen in love with the little girl, and separating her from Marigold became a trial unto itself.
But she finally took her daughter back, determined to start life anew in London as Marigold’s mother. In the end, her mother, grandmother and aunt came up with a more feasible solution to keep Marigold in her care. But when Edith finally got Marigold back, it was a cause for celebration.
6 “You’re a grandmother. And I know you’re going to be a wonderful one.”
Except towards Mary, Edith is a well-intentioned, kind woman. When Sybil died, her first concern was for the well-being of her niece and brother-in-law. She cares deeply for both of her parents and her grandmother.
And when Matthew died, she made sure to visit his mother Isobel, to make sure she was okay. When Isobel laments that she doesn’t know who she is or what to do as without Matthew she’s no longer a mother, Edith reminds her that she still has a very important person in her life in Baby George. And it helps Isobel begin to move past her grief.
5 “I want your forgiveness, Papa. Am I allowed to say that still?”
Edith was terrified of what her father’s reaction would be to finding out that Marigold was her child. In the end it turned out she had nothing to be afraid of. While he may have been slightly disappointed, his main concern was about her future. He assured her that he knew she didn’t enter into a physical relationship with Michael Gregson lightly. He also knew that had Gregson lived, he would have married her and it wouldn’t have been an issue.
Still Edith wanted his forgiveness. And her father let her know there was nothing to forgive. Edith may have sometimes felt like the family’s black sheep, but she could never doubt after that how loved she was.
4 “The fact is, I’d like a life.”
Edith flourished once she moved to London. She had been pigeon-holed at Downton, forever the maiden daughter, doomed to spinsterhood for the rest of time. In London, she had an exciting group of friends, she dined at fine restaurants and owned a magazine.
She was an independent woman whose words held weight and who had a good life. When discussing her desire to move to London full time with her aunt Rosamond, she voiced her simple desire to have her own life. One where she wasn’t a fallen woman or the failed Crawley sister, but the smart, capable woman that she’d become.
3 “I know now I need a purpose.”
It might seem like the lap of luxury the Crawley family lives in should fulfill any desire. But each of them in their own way chafed at being idle. Sybil became a nurse. Cora joined the hospital board. Mary became co-agent of the estate with Tom. And Edith ran a magazine. But when she fired her editor for disrespecting her repeatedly, she found herself having to edit an edition with a looming deadline.
She loved the challenge and the rewarding feeling of a job well done. As she told Bertie after he helped her get the edition out, she doesn’t want to lead a purposeless life.
2 “Who do you think you're talking to?! Mama?! Your maid?! I know you! I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming b****!”
The culmination of six seasons of bitterness between the sisters resulted in an explosive fight. Edith had not yet told Bertie the truth about Marigold, and Mary had recently weaseled the truth out of Tom herself. Feeling sore that Edith was about to surpass her, and that she couldn’t negotiate her own feelings for Henry, Mary spilled the beans about Marigold’s mother. Bertie was understandably upset, not that Edith was a mother but that she had lied, and called off the engagement.
When Mary tried to deflect her actions by saying she didn’t know Bertie wasn’t informed, Edith let her have it. The poisonous vitriol that bubbled under the surface of their whole relationship spilled over and it seemed like nothing would be able to repair it.
1 “Because in the end, you’re my sister. And one day only we will remember Sybil...Until at last our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.”
After their blowout fight, it seemed like nothing could restore Edith and Mary’s relationship. They had been at odds too long, and there was too much nastiness on both sides. So, no one was more surprised than Mary when Edith arrived for Mary’s wedding to Henry Talbot.
Mary apologized profusely to Edith, but still expressed surprise at Edith’s willingness to give her another chance. But as Edith tells Mary, even after everything that’s happened, they’re still sisters. And their mutual loves of their family and friends will overcome their dislike of each other.