An Analysis of Downton Abbey: The Rape of Mary Crawley

An analysis of Downton Abbey and Mary Crawley | Positively Smitten

Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault.

I am obsessed with the show “Downton Abbey,” as everyone should be. I didn’t know I’d be so caught up in a period drama that was only supposed to be a one-off miniseries, but it’s ripe with gorgeous scenery and interesting characters. The show includes the etiquette, thoughts, and feelings of that era, all of which I take a great interest in.

But that doesn’t mean the show is free of problems. (Spoilers ahead.)

One of those situations occurs early in the first season of the show. The show begins with drama regarding who will be the heir of the estate. The lord of the estate has three fathers and no male heirs; his eldest daughter, Mary, needs to marry the next male in succession so she will be Countess of Grantham.

However, a young solicitor visits Downton and brings a Turkish diplomat with him. Mary shows some interest in the Turk, Mr. Pamuk. Early in the afternoon, Pamuk kisses Mary against her will. She resists and pushes him away, and she is very obviously taken aback by this turn of events. Pamuk then asks if he can come to her room that evening, to which she responds with a very firm “No!”

Thomas, an under butler, is smitten with Pamuk and tries to caress him while the diplomat prepares for bed. Pamuk slaps his hand away and blackmails him with a devious plan: Thomas is forced to lead Pamuk to Mary’s room that evening.

When Pamuk arrives in Lady Mary’s room, she immediately jumps from her bed, covering herself (though she has a full nightgown on) with a blanket for protection. It’s clear by her face she is sincerely scared and she pleads with him, “Please leave at once or I’ll…”

“Or you’ll what?” He threatens—in a very nonchalant way, acknowledging he is in the alpha position here.

“I’ll scream.”


Photo credit to Masterpiece Classic. Click for source.

“No, you won’t.” He practically laughs, walking towards her menacingly. He knows most people would believe that she was the one to invite him to her room, as Thomas is self-serving and wouldn’t give himself up by admitting he was the one to take Pamuk to Mary’s room.

“I’ll ring the bell then.” She steps back, eyes still full of fear, but he advances on her.

“Will you really let them find a man in your room?” There’s no hint of friendly seduction here; the banter isn’t playful, or coy. Instead, Pamuk looks like a true predator, cornering his prey—letting her know he absolutely has the upper hand. The only way Pamuk will leave willingly is if she succumbs.

He advances on her more and begins kissing her neck; the shot is behind Pamuk, full on Mary’s face. She’s wide eyed and still afraid. This isn’t someone being seduced; this is someone being coerced into a situation she wants nothing of. Pamuk pushes her on her bed; she is still trying to protest. He shushes her with a finger on her lips. She’s still shaking her head no as he does this.

He guarantees her virginity by having sex with her a “different way”. After countless versions of no and different protests, Mary knows she is cornered and must fall victim to Pamuk.

Let’s be clear: this is not consent.

And the most horrifying part is that things like this still happen today. Later in that scene, Pamuk suffers a heart attack and dies in Mary’s arms, leaving Mary to ask for the help of her maid, Anna, and her mother, to bring Pamuk’s body back to his room rather than allowing him to be found in hers.

Mary’s mother asks if Pamuk forced Mary to have sex with him.

As viewers, we know that he did. What happened between the two of them was coercion; it was not consent. Yet Mary no. I’d like to say Mary, in that situation, was influenced by the era. After all, back then, women were viewed as conquests for men. She, like many others at this time (and some people nowadays, sadly), took the mention of “force” to also include violence, like being beating and held down during the act. Because Pamuk didn’t hold Mary down, or beat her, Mary felt she hadn’t been “forced” to do anything.

But she did. And, in the show, Mary must then endure this “stain” on her for the rest of her life. It’s used against her several times, including when the story is sold to a tabloid owner. This is an obvious form of victim shaming (where victims are often blamed for their own sexual assault) but it wasn’t seen this way during this age.

We can obviously view what happened and know what happened to Mary was wrong. After all, it’s been more than 100 years since 1912, and we are able to recognize Mary did not give her consent. We recognize Pamuk forced a kiss on her. He forced his way into her room. He did not obey her wishes to be left alone countless times. He regarded her as a challenge and raped her.

And yet, I have seen “Downtown Abbey” fans dissent regarding this, thinking that Mary’s initial interest in Pamuk is what speaks the loudest, or her answer to her mother about whether or not she was forced is more telling than the actual scene. Had we not gotten the actual scenes of the kiss and the subsequent breaking into her room then perhaps I would believe this; but we are given direct evidence of Mary’s fear, of her saying no over and over and finally falling victim to him when it’s clear he will not leave without taking what he wants.

These quiet scenes that depict rape in the media can be damaging, and also contribute to rape culture. (Rape culture is an overarching attitude in which rape and sexual violence are made to seem “normal” through prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and—yep—depictions in the media.)

I would have liked to have gotten more of a narrative from the writers stating that it was rape, but I hope viewers can see it when they watch the episodes. Mary is shamed enough about it in the show, considering the era and subsequent storylines, but we are viewers in the 2010s, and should be able to recognize what does and doesn’t constitute as consent. Today, we need to realize that anyone saying no isn’t an invitation for coercion; a fleeting interest isn’t an invitation for sex.

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14 responses to “An Analysis of Downton Abbey: The Rape of Mary Crawley

  1. I’ve just watched this episode and I was really bothered by the radio silence on the topic of what was very clearly a rape. I understand that in the early 20th century that is probably the way things were perceived, unfortunately, but it just doesn’t sit well with me that there is a decidedly 21st century lens on certain other aspects of the show, but this rather important topic got no treatment at all for the 21st century viewership. I’m glad I was not the only one bothered by it.


  2. Finally someone else in this world sees how this casual reference to rape is completely repressive to women. Why are we continuing to support other countries in this matter, teaching them rape is wrong, and yet we view it on almost every tv series made today. Are our children being desensitized to rape going to lead to any positive relationshipes in their future? No. We are becoming Neandrathals in our views. Sad.


  3. I just watched this scene again as it was some time ago, rape is a very disgusting and disturbing thing but I’m sorry to say Mary wasn’t raped and the above account of the scene is incorrect.

    Mary is a girl who knows nothing about and sex and yes she resists at 1st but as the scene goes on she is not resisting she is scared. She even engages in the kiss and as stated above you don’t see fear in her eyes, her eyes are closed and she puts her arms around Pamuk and holds him close.

    Rape is shown on TV too much and I hate it but this is not one of those occasions, I’m sorry but I think your analysis is wrong.


  4. Bee, I’d urge you to read up on rape law. Perhaps in that era this would not be described as rape, since she doesn’t try to fight him off physically.(Which is normal by the way, fear causes paralysis in many men and women, also there’s the threat of being hurt further)

    The definition of rape in this day and age, and I quote direct:
    “1-(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
    (a) he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,
    (b) B does not consent to the penetration, and
    (c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.”

    The law defines consent in this way –
    The defendant (A) has the responsibility to ensure that (B) consents to the sexual activity at the time in question.

    This is a further clarification of consent\;
    Consent must be freely given without coercion or deception.
    Consent cannot be given when a person is underage, drunk, drugged or asleep. A person must have the freedom to make a choice
    Consent cannot be assumed – silence is not consent – no answer does not mean yes. Consent means making an active decision to say yes, an assumption of consent is not enough.
    Submission is not consent – giving into verbal/physical pressure or coercion is not the same as consenting freely to a sexual act. A person is entitled to withdraw their consent at any stage of a sexual act. If someone wants to stop and the other person does not stop it is rape.
    Consenting to one type of sexual intimacy does not mean consent to any type of sexual intimacy. Just because a person has agreed to something does not mean they have agreed to everything.
    Consent is a verbal process – if someone is not sure if someone is consenting or not they should ask. If a person can not get an answer they should stop.
    Giving consent is active not passive, it means freely choosing to say yes.

    I hope that’s helpful


  5. this wasn’t a rape scene, season 4 episode 3 that is a rape scene, Mary was just an inexperienced virgin being swayed by a man she found attractive (though I have no idea why) the reactions throughout the series to this proves this if it were a rape do you really think her mother would of just sat by and simply mentioned about finding her a husband now her reputation is questionable? No I don’t think so either.

    And as a victim of rape I find it disgusting that people would even consider this scene a rape scene!


    • I’m sorry you don’t see this as a rape. There are different types of rape though, Mary experienced coercive rape. If it turns out that Tom Branson was drunk or drugged and Edna didn’t get consent– that was rape as well (which given the preview he clearly states “I was drunk last night” I would say that’s the case, though I doubt it will be handled as such). Thomas kissing Jimmy in his sleep was sexual assault while we are talking about it. Fellowes’ scope of consent is obviously very limited. Not to mention very indelicate, clumsy, and disgusting.

      As far as Cora “sitting by”– she asked Mary if he forced her. By Mary’s knowledge and the etiquette of the time he didn’t “force” her, he didn’t beat her. But he coerced her and that is rape, even as he kisses her she is fully frightened, she wants to ring the bell and he threatens how odd it would look with him in her room– he outmaneuvers her. This still happens today and people still blame the victims. This is why a number of actual, real victims do not come forward. With the rape culture thick in today’s world it doesn’t surprise me that people question victims.

      I am genuinely sorry that you’ve been a victim of rape and I hope you have resources available to help you heal. As I hope all victims have the resources and support around them.


  6. I totally agree with Lyndsey that this was rape. Nowhere is there ANY indication that this was an experience that Mary wanted or welcomed or consented to. Showing an interest in the opposite sex, even “flirting,” does NOT equate to consent to having sex. I’m extremely surprised that anyone would see this as anything other than rape.


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  8. I am in the middle of this episode and I had to pause it because I don’t understand why Pamuk died and I saw your post and read it. I completely agree that it was rape and I was confused why Mary told her mom no when she asked if Pamuk forced her. You gave a great explanation that in that time this kind of “force” (coercion) wasn’t viewed as such-forced meant physically violent. However, I believe she was raped because she was blackmailed into it and she explicitly told him no. Basically due to propriety him even going into her room was overstepping her boundaries, he knew that and used it against her to get her to go “all the way.” It’s not like she could call for help at that point and probably didn’t want to “make a scene” by trying to physically fight him off. I think Mary was embarrassed to tell her mother what happened and, like many women today who don’t understand “date rape” doesn’t really consider what happened to her “force.”

    Recently I came to understand the term date rape. I think we are reluctant to use the term because when we hear “rape” we think of it as physically violent. It is but we think something like going in to a room without permission or laying passively for a lover to finish when he moves you to have sex even after you said you don’t want to isn’t violent enough to merit the use of the word rape. But they are because these are violations of our boundaries. They are not as dramatic as someone jumping out of bushes and beating you but they are still wrong and we need to stop apologizing for other people stepping over us.

    In Mary’s case she had a lot to lose and he put her in that position. This wasn’t some secret love affair. As a woman of that time and social position she knew she had a responsibility to her self to maintain her chastity (as old-fashioned as that is.) She told Pamuk that and only when he told her he didn’t care and no one would come to help her if she screamed did she submit to him. She never gave herself willingly and that is a rape!

    I am sorry to the girl below who was raped. I have been sexually assaulted as a child (different matter) and forced by an ex boyfriend. I talked to a friend yesterday about an experience she had and had to tell her it was date rape. Well we were both sad but she said it made so much sense because of the feeling she had when it happened and afterwards. It was similar to Mary’s situation. She said “I bet this has happened to so many girls-they show interest in a guy, then she says stop because he is moving to fast or being too aggressive, but he has sex with her anyway-and they do not even know it is rape.” I said but you know it’s a violation you tried to stop.

    I haven’t watched enough but it seems like the show won’t address it as a rape. Mary will be punished for rebuffing a man she expressed interest in. (Imagine if you had to sleep with every man you expressed interest in! Yuck!) So I am glad you wrote about it on your blog!


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  10. Thank you for writing this. I agree completely. I watched this episode and the subsequent series and no one seemed to address it at all! It kind of makes me worried that even the writers/producers didn’t see that it was clearly rape and coercion. Problematic indeed. Glad some folks watched it critically.


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