How To Pick Your Major While Watching Downton Abbey

Thou shalt not covet, but I am even going to miss the Ralph Lauren advertisements that precede each episode.  Last night I didn’t dream of Manderley, but I sure dreamt of Downton Abbey, and boy I am going to miss it.


Although tonight is the big end of season finale, no need to dispense with the utility of tonight’s episode.  I’ll cut right to the chase–certain lines might have a certain resonance with you, and then maybe you should major in whatever is getting you all worked up. Or, if you attended college and have already graduated, you can stop taking those quizzes that keep going around the internet that tell you what you should have majored in, as if that will help now.  I say do a do-over and choose your major based on a soap opera, which actually makes more sense that how I chose mine.  I am pretty sure during my junior year at Baylor, someone told me I needed to pick a major, and I had taken the most classes in history, and well, then the rest was History and that is what is on my degree.  We didn’t have a lot of career counseling.

Mrs. Hughes:  “We’re all tired, but not as tired as we are going to be.”  Clearly a knowledge of the law of diminishing returns.  #economics

Lady Grantham actually says: “Kerfuffle.” #linguistics Continue reading

“I’ve Come Down in the World”: Downton Abbey and the Politics of Hope

Well, here we are again.


One time, when my son Christopher was a toddler, learning to walk better, he was practicing going up and down the stairs.  He was midway down the staircase when he stopped, and in a moment of panic, said, “Mommy, I don’t know if I am going up or down.”

I thought of this moment in an early scene in which Mr. Mosely, who has seen his fair share of troubles, confides to another servant that “I’ve come down in the world,” and we all know what he is talking about.

Hey, we have all been there.

This is the great theme of Downton Abbey: upward and downward mobility.  It is a tough gig, requiring a striving that may not have even been possible in previous centuries.  English culture is still stratified, but it has loosened.  But America has always been a little revolutionary:  I am teaching early American literature right now, and whenever I am watching this show, important notions ring in my ears.  I think of John Smith telling early Virginians:  Hey, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.  I think of Benjamin Franklin, in his essay addressing those who “wish to remove” to the colonies, breaking the news that your la-dee-dah title does not count for much.  Instead, he tells his readers that in the colonies, it is not so much who you are, but what you do, that really counts. Continue reading

Six Things to Love about February 2014

1.  Groundhog Day, 2 February.


My month started off hysterically.  I walked into my twelve-year old’s bedroom to make sure he was up for school and he was hiding under the covers with the iPad waiting to see if Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania had seen his shadow. Let me put it this way: Christopher believes the groundhog over the most seasoned meteorologist.  Anyway, we are apparently having six more weeks of winter.  I know this has been a cold, rough winter for much of the nation, but this Texas girl is thrilled.  That means six more weeks of cute winter clothes that I hardly get to wear anyway.  Plus, every time this day rolls around, I think of that movie with Bill Murray called “Groundhog Day,” and it makes me happy all over again.

2. The Olympics, Opening Ceremony and Events, starting 7 February.

I love the Olympics–and even though that fifth ring for the opening ceremony failed to open, I still was wowed by the whole spectacle, and you cannot help but love Team USA.

I can help loving those sweaters, but the team:  Love. Them. Continue reading

The Real and the Unreal: Downton Abbey and Joys of Distraction

Tonight the announcer for PBS promises “surprises and scandals,” but today has been full of them in real life–forget Masterpiece Theater.

This morning everyone was stunned at the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead in his New York City apartment.  He was only 46. Winner of an Academy Award for his portrayal of Truman Capote, praised for his stage work with such plays as Death of a Salesman, his talent was indisputable.


He was found with heroin.  He had apparently struggled with addiction.  He had three small children.  He was supposed to see them today.  Something went terribly wrong.  But it had been going wrong for awhile.  Richard Brody has already written a piece for The New Yorker praising his stratospheric talent, and suggesting that in some way his genius was so great, so incomprehensible to mere mortals, that, somehow, he had died for his art. This is the stutter of grief. Continue reading