Since season one, everyone’s favorite Crawley family member, the Dowager Countess herself, Violet (played by the incomparable Maggie Smith) has had all of the best lines on Masterpiece Theater’s Downton Abbey.
Her age has given her nothing but wisdom and Violet has never been shy about speaking her mind. In this time of chaos, we could all use a little more Violet Crawley in our lives, speaking truth to power (and everyone in fact) and making sure everyone knows their place in her presence. Here are just a few of the very best burns offered up by the Crawley family matriarch over Downton Abbey‘s six fabulous seasons.
Part of what fans enjoyed while watching Downton Abbey was seeing the Crawley family adapt with the times, watching them deal with the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, and the roaring twenties.
As the fashions changed in the ’20s, eldest daughter Mary Crawley was all about keeping up with the latest styles and designs. However, when she cuts her hair into a short bob it causes quite the scandal in Violet’s eyes. When asked what she thinks about the new look Violet simply says, “Oh, it is you. I thought it was a man wearing your clothes.”
It is quite the scandal when youngest daughter Sybil gets involved with the family’s Irish chauffeur, Tom Branson. While the series ends with Branson fully embraced by the family at large, he was not a popular guest when the new relationship began. Violet is unable to keep her thoughts to herself when he joins the family for dinner. “Is it an Irish tradition?” she asks, watching Branson across the table. Tom is unsure what she means. What she’s pointing out, and insulting him for, is that he has not changed his clothes before joining them for the meal.
Isobel Crawley, the mother of new heir Matthew Crawley, stumbles onto the scene in Downton’s first season and Violet never quite lets up. While the two do develop a friendship of sorts over the seasons, Violet never lets the times change who she really is and Isobel is often the recipient of some of the Dowager Countess’s greatest burns. When Isobel discusses a new suitor with Violet, the Countess says, “There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends, that’s the real test.” It doesn’t look like Isobel, as one of Violet’s friends, gets the joke.
Not every burn of the Dowager’s is directed at a person, sometimes she just has to go after the world at large. She is no fan of the changing times and has quite the disparaging attitude when it comes to new technology, including electricity. When viewers watch Violet use the phone for the first time they hear her say, “Is this an instrument of communication or torture?” With cell phones currently taking over the world, it seems like Violet hit the nail on the head with this observation.
The Dowager Countess likes to be in control and be in on all the gossip. While she likes details and pays attention to the world around her, her old-fashioned views often lead her down the wrong path. After firing a member of her household staff for something that the man didn’t do Isobel chides Violet saying, “How you hate to be wrong.” The Countess doesn’t miss a beat. “I wouldn’t know I’m not familiar with the sensation,” Violet replies.
5Put That In Your Pipe
Oddly enough when Matthew is finally prepared to get together with Mary, it is Mary who delays in offering the young man her answer. When Violet hears about this she, shockingly, encourages her granddaughter to accept Matthew. Matthew’s mother, Isobel, however, believes Violet is one of the people encouraging Mary to delay.
Violet won’t hear this insult against her person and sets Isobel straight. “Your quarrel is with my daughter Rosamund and not me. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
4Virtues Of The English
Violet’s daughter-in-law, Cora, is American. While Violet gets along well enough with her, Cora’s mother is another matter entirely. When Cora’s mother, Martha, is set to visit, Violet lets the family know that “When I’m with her I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.” Matthew asks if Violet remembers that Martha is American. Well, that’s Violet’s point exactly,
3Better Than Nothing
Violet always follows the social norms of the day, which include not hosting male visitors on one’s own. Unfortunately, sometimes Violet has very few options and is forced to invite her friend, Isobel, even when she’d rather not. Isobel, always kindly self-deprecating, thanks Violet for the invitation and apologizes for being a poor substitute for the rest of the family. Violet doesn’t miss a beat, replying, “Mmm, yes but you’re better than nothing.”
As exemplified by Mary’s haircut, Violet is no fan of the changing fashions of the world in which she lives. She insulted Branson for not changing for dinner, but what outfit one changes into is also of great importance. As the world becomes slightly less formal her son, Lord Grantham, begins dressing in black tie, rather than white tie, and his mother is not impressed. “Do you think I might have a drink?” she asks her son one night, as she joins them all before dinner at Downton Abbey. “Oh, I’m so sorry –” she continues, looking up at her son. “I thought you were a waiter.”
In season two of Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones star Iain Glen appears as the love interest for Mary, Sir Richard Carlisle. He is seen as the villain of season two and calls off his engagement to Mary with most of the rest of the family present. “I’m leaving in the morning, Lady Grantham, I doubt we’ll meet again,” Sir Richard tells Violet. “Do you promise?” the Dowager Countess asks. It’s a real art form, using so few words to make such a big impact.