Friday, January 27, 2012
Downton Abbey is not the only realm where Dowager Dames rule
Out of the many characters ,both upper and working class,that are featured on Downton Abbey,the one that everyone relishes hearing from the most is Violet,the Dowager Countess.
As played by the enchanting Maggie Smith,this grand dame is a formidable yet off putting charming woman in her own way. Her opinions on the right way to proceed in any circumstance are not always agreeable nor are her attitudes regarding new people,places and things rather open minded.
However,you wouldn't dream of shutting her up. Either from respect,fear or amusement at whatever is bound to be delivered from her vast mental resources,any quip from Dowager Countess Violet is to be treasured:
The term "dowager" simply means a widow of considerable financial means but it also implies a strong influence amongst those in her vicinity when it comes to the manners and morays of the day.
Dowagers have held their own within pop culture circles throughout the years and with the current craze for Downton Abbey types,this is a fine time to showcase some of the most memorable of these venerable ladies.
Jane Austen created a truly iconic dowager in Pride & Prejudice, when she introduced the Lady Catherine De Burgh. Darcy's determined to have her share of the conversation aunt has many admirers for her take no prisoners approach to life.
Whether she's passing judgment on the musical talents of her guests or shocked at opinions given by decidedly young people,Lady Catherine is quite the original. A good score of talented actresses have portrayed her on film and my personal favorite is Barbara Leigh-Hunt's version in the 1995 miniseries, a real gem of a performance:
In the novel and film adaptation of Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm,many of the traditional melodramatic types from English literature of the 19th century were set up for satire and no mercy was given towards Aunt Ada Doom,the demented matriarch of the Starkadder clan.
Her reclusive nature and constant rants about seeing "something nasty in the woodshed" as a child allowed her to dominate the entire household and be as catered to as a queen.
Her rule slowly came to an end with the equally determined influence of great niece Flora Poste,who managed to bring all of the Starkadders out into the wider world. Even Aunt Ada became a better person from such forcefully gentle nurturing and dropped that whole woodshed business once and for all:
England is not the sole source of dowagers;plenty can be found on our shores as well. The most beloved of The Golden Girls was Dorothy's mother,Sophia Petrillo,a woman whose finances couldn't always be verified but her sharp tongue was a real asset.
While her dubious wisdom was regularly petitioned for,Sophia was capable of enjoying life just as much as her daughter and roommates did. When called to action,however,she was the best defense against an increasingly challenging world:
Even through visits from Nana Mary on Roseanne weren't as frequent as everyone would have liked,any episode with her was one to watch. Nana Mary was a favorite amongst every member of the Connor family,despite the occasionally embarrassing comments that came along with her.
It's hard not to like Nana Mary,who is a free spirit yet set in her ways. She may be a sweetheart but not when it comes to sharing her potato salad recipe. After a few minutes with her,you can clearly see where the sense of humor in that bloodline came from:
Dowagers can come in all sizes,shapes and incomes,yet one trait is truly necessary.
Her presence on any scene should be able to discomfort someone. If the mere thought of her imminent arrival doesn't set off alarm bells with at least one person,then she's not doing her job.
You wouldn't want to do without her for that reason as well. Having such a delighting demanding diva on hand makes any pop culture occasion a really regal treat:
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