FOR THOSE OF YOU with long pop cultural memories, you might remember way back in October of 2008 when former NFL star, actor, and accused double murderer, O.J. Simpson was convicted of robbery in Las Vegas. Simpson, along with several other defendants, were accused and convicted of breaking into the Las Vegas hotel room of a sports memorabilia dealer and stealing sports memorabilia the dealer claimed Simpson had sold him earlier. Armed with an audio tape that appeared to prove the prosecution’s case, O.J. Simpson and his fellow defendants were convicted of committing several crimes, including aggravated robbery and kidnapping.
Here’s the kicker, though – O.J. Simpson never denied taking the items he was accused of stealing. Simpson claimed that he wasn’t stealing someone else’s sports memorabilia, but taking back what was rightfully his.
Therefore, according to Simpsian logic*, it’s perfectly reasonable to get a little rough with someone you believe has no legitimate claim to your stuff to get your stuff that someone else claims it’s their stuff.
Although many folks cheered at the fact that O.J.’s conviction means he’ll be spending a considerable amount of time behind bars, the former Hertz rent-a-car spokesman’s steal-back-your-own-stuff claim did raise an interesting question: is it ever justifiable to steal your own stuff?
From someone else. Who claims it’s their stuff.
Well, I mean, we know that the law has to say about it. You go to jail.
But what would a philosopher say?
IF YOU TAKE SOMETHING THAT YOU BELIEVE IS YOURS AND SOMEONE ELSE HAS IT, AND YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE ENTITLED TO YOUR (former) STUFF – BUT THE OTHER PERSON ALSO BELIEVES THAT THEY ARE ENTITLED TO YOUR (former) STUFF, IS IT MORALLY PERMISSIBLE TO TAKE YOUR FORMER BELONGINGS BACK?
Let’s step into the world of fiction to contemplate this one, shall we?
The British import television show, Downton Abbey has all the Edwardian era costume drama appeal that’s become familiar to the typical post-retirement PBS audience.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting program directors have long since figured out the American insatiable desire to watch endless hours of old English folks (aka actors you’ve seen somewhere but for the life of you can’t remember what that guy’s name is) in period costumes solving crimes and doing all sorts of British stuff courtesy of the generous support of viewers like you.
However, anyone who has spent more than fifteen minutes watching Downton Abbey will soon discover that the secret to the popularity of the smash series really lies in the audience’s addiction to the soap opera-esque, morally mixed-up lives of the Crawley clan.
Where else could you find a TV show chocked full of an unplanned pregnancy, a scheming gay under butler, loveless marriages, premarital sex, adultery, and murder all broadcast weekly to PBS viewers under the guise of quality entertainment.
Ok. Alright. I’ve brought up O.J. Simpson and Downton Abbey. And so far as anyone knows the two could not be less connected.
Well, that’s not exactly accurate.
I know what you’re saying
But hear me out:
What O.J. Simpson and Downton Abbey have in common is this:
Lady Edith Crawley, like O.J. Simpson, stole something that she gave away to someone else, claiming that the object that was stolen was always hers to being with. However, unlike O.J. Simpson, who merely stole memorabilia, Lady Edith stole a person.
Lady Edith’s daughter Marigold.
To understand exactly why and how Lady Edith stole her own daughter it might do us some good to first get to know Lady Edith Crawley.
Take a drink. This is gonna be one of those blog posts.
The only television character to suffer from a case of Middle Child Syndrome (see: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Middle+child+syndrome) worse than Jan Brady, Lady Edith Crawley is the second daughter of Robert and Cora Crawley, the Earl and Countess of Grantham.
Lady Edith’s problem isn’t just that she’s the less attractive sister of the beautiful Lady Mary Crawley.
Lady Edith’s problem is that she’s perpetually miserable.
Lady Edith (and everyone else at Downton Abbey) is well aware that she lacks the beauty of her older sister Mary and the vivaciousness of her younger sister Sybil. They know that whatever qualities makes people drawn to Mary and Sybil, Edith lacks in spades.
Especially when it comes to men.
Edith is rejected by her cousin Patrick AND by her other cousin Matthew (hey, don’t judge. That’s what rich people did back then).
Unfortunately for Edith, both men are more interested in Lady Mary.
Edith managed to get herself engaged to marry Sir Anthony Strallan, but –
He pulls a runaway bride on Lady Edith.
Edith eventually finds love with the married magazine editor, Michael Gregson, who tells Edith that he will divorce his wife to be with her.
Well, because Edith Crawley can’t have a moment of happiness, Michael Gregson leaves England for Germany (where he can obtain a divorce from his wife and marry Edith) and disappears. Edith later learns that Michael is not only dead, but killed by these guys:
That’s right. The Nazis killed Lady Edith’s boyfriend.
But – before Michael Gregson fell victim to the Nazis, he left Lady Edith with a parting gift –
You see, back in the day, it wasn’t socially acceptable for an unmarried woman to have a child out of wedlock – especially a child whose father is already married to another woman. If it was revealed that Edith Crawley had a child by a married man out of wedlock, she would be shunned by formal society, her reputation permanently ruined, and her child would be labeled a
Obviously this is something that Lady Edith would not want to happen.
So, instead of facing permanent social exile, Edith, accompanied by her aunt Rosamund, goes to Switzerland, where she gives birth to a daughter and eventually gives the infant up for adoption.
We know that Edith never wanted to give the child away. She longs to raise her daughter herself, but gives the child up for adoption only because of the consequences that would follow such a socially unacceptable act of raising a bastard child. Edith’s daughter Marigold is placed in the care of a local farmer, Farmer Drewe and his wife Margie.
Here’s where things get complicated.
Farmer Drewe is aware that Lady Edith is Marigold’s mother. He volunteers to take the girl out of sympathy for Lady Edith’s situation. Drewe offers to raise Marigold as his own child and allows Edith to maintain a relationship with Marigold as the child’s godmother.
Of course, we know Edith Crawley.
Things are destined to not go as they should.
Lady Edith wants Marigold back.
You know, because
Although Edith initially agrees to sponsor Marigold and to leave the task of raising the little girl to the adoptive parents who have cared for and bonded with Marigold over a couple of years, Edith, more than slightly jealous at the fact that her siblings’ children are being raised at Downton Abbey, cannot prevent herself from bonding with the little girl (who has no idea that Lady Edith is her mother).
Edith not only feels compelled to assume custody of the child, she also makes a plan to get her back.
Lady Edith can offer marigold a better life but does that make Edith’s actions morally right?
Certainly Marigold will have more opportunities as a ward of the Crawley family than she would as the daughter of a farmer. The utilitarian position tells us that Marigold is better off living a life of privilege. Women in the early twentieth century didn’t have may opportunities, and the daughter of a poor farmer would find her life choices even more limited than the daughter of an Earl. The correct utilitarian choice would be for Farmer Drewe to hand over Marigold to Lady Edith as soon as possible.
But something doesn’t feel right about Lady Edith’s intention to take Marigold away from Farmer Drewe and his wife.
It kind of feels like Edith is stealing Marigold away from her parents.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant and the Bible (and maybe a few utilitarians) explicitly state we’re not supposed to steal, but what if we’re stealing something that we believe is ours? When does something stop being ours?
Lady Edith put her daughter up for adoption, but not because she wanted to. Edith reluctantly gives up Marigold because the social mores of Edwardian England dictated that an unmarried woman could not bear (let alone raise) a child out of wedlock. Edith could not risk the social condemnation that she would face if it were discovered that she had a (bastard) child with a married man.
ARGUMENTS FOR LADY EDITH’S LEGITIMATE CLAIM TO MARIGOLD:
- Lady Edith arranges for an abortion but does not go through with it (because she wants to have the baby).
- Lady Edith used her real name on the birth certificate (a risky move considering the circumstances).
- Lady Edith plans to marry Michael Gregson and wants to find him when he goes missing.
- When farmer Drewe and his wife adopt Marigold, Edith agrees to be the child’s godmother, thus allowing her to play a role in the child’s life.
Alright. Let’s say that we agree with Lady Edith. We agree that Lady Edith never intended to give her daughter up for adoption and that Marigold will have a better life raised at Downton Abbey than she will if she’s raised on the Drewe’s farm.
Edith Crawley’s claim that she never wanted to give up her child and that the child will benefit more from a privileged life than from a life as a farmer’s daughter is compelling. But let’s not forget that unlike O.J.’s claim to his sports memorabilia, Marigold isn’t mere stuff. She is a child. A real person.
A real person who can be negatively affected by the actions of other people.
You can ALMOST watch the psychological trauma happen in real time.
We may feel sympathy for Lady Edith, but when it comes down to it, we like people to not shirk on a deal. Lady Edith agreed to give her child up for adoption. She agreed to let Farmer Drewe and his wife raise Marigold while she would only play the role of a godparent to the child.
We can easily argue that Lady Edith, like O.J. Simpson, is the only moral offender. Edith reclaimed Marigold from the farmer fully aware that Farmer Drewe couldn’t match her family’s social status and wealth. Farmer Drewe had no other choice than to comply to Lady Edith’s demands, despite the fact that Drewe and his wife had bonded to the child. It’s not so far-fetched to conclude that the farmer and his wife were coerced into giving up Marigold. And coercion, can’t be justified no matter what the intention or original ownership of an object or person is.
That’s why the court sided against O.J. Simpson.
It’s also the reason why even the most pro-Lady Edith Crawley and Downton Abbey fan found themselves screaming at the TV set how awful Lady Edith is.
Even if either has a moral claim (or maybe even a legal claim) on their “stolen” stuff, neither was permitted to force or coerce anyone to relinquish them. The only appropriate thing for Lady Edith to do at this point would be to give Marigold back to her adoptive parents.
This means another unhappy ending is in store for Lady Edith Crawley.
Then again, I’m probably be wrong about all of this.
Anyway, season six doesn’t start until next year and I’ve got some binge watching to do.
* I totally made up the term “Simpsian logic”. Any attempt by anyone else to use it is an infringement on my intellectual property.
*Proof that Edith Crawley is the Jan Brady of Downton Abbey: