It happened! Last night on Downton Abbey, Lady Rose MacClare, the glamorous carefree cousin to the Crawley clan (some might think of her as the adorable romper-clad Olivia to Lady Edith’s dolorous Vanessa Huxtable, but we’re not supposed to think about The Cosby Show anymore) liked her nice Jewish boyfriend Atticus Aldridge so much she put a ring on it, according to the laws of Moses and Israel. That’s right. House Grantham has added a full-blooded Jew to its roster (Cora, remember, is only half, and her quarter-Jewish daughters are probably rich and influential enough for the Nazis to give them only some cursory restrictions and otherwise leave them unmolested, which we all know is the test of whether someone is really Jewish or not: How the Nazis would have treated her.) It’s done. As far as I know, they’re consummating the ketubah right now, while we’re still listening to Neil Patrick Harris go on and on about his stupid fake Oscar predictions that nobody cares about.
Of course, this being Downton, the proceedings couldn’t go off quite as planned. There was the minor element of Anna being arrested for the murder of Mr. Green, the valet who raped her last season and was then unceremoniously thrown under a bus by “someone who is shorter than he was.” I’m looking forward to Anna’s monologue in The Exonerated one day (given that she is, you know, actually exonerated. Yikes.) And Lord Sinderby, Aldridge’s father, is not pleased that his son his marrying a “shiksa,” a word so awkwardly introduced to the Downton universe I wouldn’t have been surprised if a glossary chyron popped up at the end of the screen like on Sesame Street, and he has an oddly Roman Catholic disdain for divorce (so let us not speak of Shrimpy and Rose’s horrible mother please).
But the real villain of the night was Susan Flintshire, Rose’s aforementioned horrible mother, and her dastardly plot to hire a stripper-type figure to trap Atticus into a compromising position and thus break her only daughters’ heart. (And you thought your mother was pushy? Just imagine what would have happened if Rose had run off with the black jazz musician!) Luckily for everyone, her plan was seen for what it was, a misguided attempt to throw her future son-in-law a bachelor party, and Rose and Atticus can get down to the business of making grandchildren, because we’re not getting any younger, you know.
So what does it all mean? What do we talk about when we talk about Jews on Downton Abbey? I think it’s a perverse yearning to belong to the club that wouldn’t have us as a member. Jews have won so many Nobel Prizes and Oscars and Pulitzers that it’s not even worth keeping track anymore. But the aristocracy, unlike the meritocracy, has been an altogether harder nut to crack. Most of the great families of England have a Jew somewhere in the background, a Rothschild here, a Sassoon there. But entrance into the castle (the literal castle) has come at the price of sublimating their Jewishness so deeply that it’s a family quirk, like red hair or congenital madness. Just something that happens every few generations or so. When we see Lady Rose at her son’s bar mitzvah, then we’ll know that Jews too can be truly fancy. Until then, we’ll have to content ourselves with Hollywood.