Monday, February 13, 2012

Downton Abbey: Was Mary date raped, and if so, er, where?

After a couple of conversations in Boston this weekend, I realized my interpretation of the infamous third episode of Downton Abbey diverges significantly from the consensus, at least among my friends.

***SPOILER ALERT*** If you haven't watched the first season of Downton Abbey, and plan to, step away, this post reveals key plot points.

As those of you who have been watching know, there's an incident in Episode 3 that has rippling consequences for the household for years. I'm referring, of course, to "the Turk," Mr. Pamuk, having "sexual relations" with Mary. Because people didn't say what they meant back then (do they now?), and because we don't actually get to see the act, there are two primary ambiguities around the incident. I'm more certain of my interpretation of the first ambiguity, which is ...

Did Mary consent to sex and/or was she "asking for it"?

I was always dismayed that, when asked by her mother if the Turk forced himself on her, she shook her head no. As far as I'm concerned, he did. He showed up unannounced and evidently unexpected. She asked him several times to leave and he refused. By my definition (and probably any American college's), this is date rape.

Here's the scene, as a refresher (sorry for the lousy quality):



Given the look on her face and her various shocked protests ("Please leave at once or I'll scream"; "Please, stop"; "I'm not what you think I am. If I've led you on I'm sorry...") I don't believe for a second that she expected him to show up or was even pleasantly surprised. Is she flattered? Yes. Is she attracted to him? Yes, very obviously. But did she want him to sneak into her bedroom and seduce her that night? No, I don't think so. She was angling for a proposal, not sex. And if she consented in the end, it was because, I believe:

a) She wanted him to like her (Haven't most women at some point done something they didn't want to do for this reason?).
b) She believed he might want to marry her.

This leads us to the second major ambiguity ...

Did Mary and the Turk have anal sex?

I was somewhat shocked to find this is the more common interpretation of what happened in Mary's bedroom that night. Mr. Pamuk tells Mary she'll "still be a virgin for her husband." She asks if he is asking her to marry him, and he says no, he doesn't think either of their families would like that. Then he says "With a little imagination ..." and mumbles something I've never heard clearly, which adds to the ambiguity. So most of my friends (most viewers in general? I don't know) took this to mean he was proposing they have anal sex.

Personally, I find this very hard to swallow (no pun intended, although I'd actually be more inclined to believe he was hinting at a blow job than anal sex). If this were The Secret Life of the American Teenager, sure, I'd buy it, but Downton Abbey? The show is really not that racy. And I just don't think it's plausible that Mary would go along with it.

My interpretation is that they had regular, old-fashioned, penis-in-vagina sex, and Mary gives in for one of two reasons:

1) She believes, as I noted above, that she might convince him to marry her, even if their families disapprove, because his lust could be a sign of love. Also, he doesn't say outright that he doesn't want to or won't marry her, just that he isn't at that moment proposing. I think the suggestion is there that he may eventually be her husband, and he plants the suggestion as a bargaining chip.
2) You could interpret the Turk's claim that she'll "still be a virgin" in another way, that he is getting her to agree to sex by degrees, i.e. convincing her to agree only to a heavy make-out session, counting on her being too compromised to say no to sex once she's already naked.

What do you think, Downton Abbey fans?

49 comments:

  1. honestly, i think they just engaged in a heavy makeout session, maybe oral sex or dry humping or something of that nature. that's how i interpreted it when i saw the episode. those kinds of activities would still have been scandalous enough in that time that mary would have been ruined had anyone known of pamuk came into her room, i'm assuming.

    i never saw it as a date rape, but your arguments as to why she may have consented are pretty solid, although i disagree. i see mary as someone who wants very desperately to be in control of her own destiny, but hesitates whenever she teeters close to actually getting that power. i don't think she wanted pamuk in her room initially, but i think she protested mainly out of propriety and that she was genuinely shocked. but i do think that she gave in because she actually did want to give in.

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  2. I guess I think she had very limited power (being a woman who was not an heir), and I took her protests as genuine. I think at the time you could flirt without most guys expecting it to lead anywhere concrete.

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  3. I, too, thought it was going to be oral sex and was completely surprised when the dude not only died, but Mary didn't bother to clear things up when the shit started flying. I can't believe she'd be so ashamed that she wouldn't say, "We didn't GO ALL THE WAY, you guys!" if she really hadn't. So I'm not going to be surprised if she actually did. And it doesn't seem like the kind of show in which the issue of whether or not she had actual intercourse will become part of plot again. If this were HBO, maybe.

    I'm not ruling out anal, though. There was that "is he/isn't he" tension between the Turk and Thomas (and I believe he was totally into Thomas).

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  4. P.S. When it's revealed that he dies on top of her (she says that it was hard to move his body off her) I think that strongly suggests that they had actual sex.

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  5. I didn't see it as rape, since she starts kissing him back when the scene ends. That edit suggests we're to see it as consensual. If the scene had cut away abruptly after a "no" or her resisting in some way, I would take that to suggest rape. That's the way it usually works in movies anyway.

    The anal sex theory seems pretty far-fetched, based on what I know of the time. Although the show has been criticized for being anachronistic...

    I do think they had sex, since he's naked (though a sheet covers him because it's TV). Plus the heart attack suggests vigorous intercourse.

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  6. B, if he wanted anal sex (and was into Thomas) why didn't he just fuck Thomas? The opportunity was clearly there.

    And yeah, I don't think she'd let anyone (her mother, her fiance, etc.) believe she wasn't technically a virgin if she still was.

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  7. true re: the flirting. i may be reading mary more as i've seen her the entire series rather than just up to and including that third episode and its events. her relationship with herself and her position (which includes sex or not sex with pamuk, her choice to choose her feelings in a situation, whether she has created the situation or not) is so fascinating as it ranges from struggle to flatout anxiety, glimmers of hope, resignation, rage, and on and on.

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  8. Matt, agreed we're not supposed to interpret it as rape-rape, but date rape is (often) pressuring someone into believing they owe you sex. That's how I see it. When she said she was going to scream or ring the bell, he told her, basically, she was already screwed -- a man was in her room, she was going to look bad.

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  9. Carrie, I think I'm much more sympathetic toward Mary than the average person. For the record, i'm also very sympathetic toward Scarlett O'Hara. I think back in the day, as a woman, being conniving and manipulative (including sexually manipulative) was often the only way to achieve any semblance of power.

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  10. I think he skipped Thomas because that would be more scandalous than ruining some rich girl- guys did stuff like that aaaallll the time! But butt sex? Maybe not so much!

    Wouldn't it be funny if all that happened was he grabbed her boob a few times? Maybe we should turn to the fan-fic to see what ACTUALLY happened. Those people usually know. :)

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  11. elisa, i completely agree. as a kid, i always identified with scarlett and felt strangely bad/guilty that i didn't identify more with kind and generous melanie. i may have mentioned this on your blog before (i feel like i have?) but i come from a HARDCORE gone with the win fan family. like, my mom's house has a guest room entirely decorated in GWTW memorabilia. the book and movie loom large in my psyche, especially the scarlett and the rhett.

    sybil is my favorite of the grantham sisters, but mary is by far the most interesting. she's not the one i like the best but she's the certainly the one i see the most of myself in, which i'm sure is not coincidental for a modern audience.

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  12. I like both Mary and Sybil. I guess I should feel bad about this, but I don't: I hate Edith.

    That's interesting about your family! My grandmother loves Gone with the Wind but I don't think anyone else in my family appreciates it as much as me.

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  13. I like Mary too. But I seem to be the only person on earth who likes Edith.

    (And I just want to say I think it's important not to automatically associate interest in anal sex with being gay.)

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  14. matt, i like edith too. or at least i don't hate her.

    gone with the wind is HUGE. i could name all of the four principal characters and the actors who played them when i was 2 (questionable teaching on the part of my parents, but whatever) and i read the book over and over again, starting at age 9. have you read/seen any of the sequels? they're bad but they're a deliciously good-bad, especially the insane scarlett miniseries. clearly i love a good historical romance/drama.

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  15. Matt- I hope my comment didn't make you think I don't think straight people have anal. If so, my apologies. In the same comment, I acknowledge that we're talking about two straight people who might have had anal sex, so I didn't think that needed clarified.

    Every time I start to feel bad for Edith, she doesn't something terrible. Kinda like Mary. Sybil is the only sister I like and can relate to. Also, just sayin', she's the hottest one.

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  16. The book made me sob. I haven't read or seen any of the sequels. I used to love Joanne Whalley though (thanks to Willow). I think I wanted to keep my hope alive that Scarlett gets Rhett back, and didn't want to be told that she doesn't. (Does she?)

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  17. Sybil is the hottest, but I relate more to Mary, and care more what happens to her, because of all the moral ambiguities around her life/actions. More at stake.

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  18. she does in both sequels (the rhett-centered sequel is a little better). but it doesn't matter because you just KNOW she does, anyway, right? if the universe has any justice, you KNOW she does. she has to.

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  19. When I watch those Catherine Cookson mini-series on Netflix, I always hate when the main character is Mary-like instead of Sybil-like. Heh.

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  20. I was dismayed that she didn't tell her mother than he forced his way into her room. It seemed like date rape to me.

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    1. Glad I'm not the only one.

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    2. yes, thank you, me too

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  21. I have another point if view!
    Maybe he put his penis between her legs and copulated on her But never penetrated her!
    If this happened, she could have also had an orgasm from the clitoral stimulation leading her to think that they REALLY had intercourse when in fact they did not! But in this time period, the unmarried women didn't know as much!

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  22. YES. this has been bothering me so much since the third episode. maybe they don't say it in the film because at the time, power was such that men defined rape, and women were pretty much always blamed for "inappropriate" sexual relations no matter who was to blame. BUT, it must be said by us TODAY (or we are farther behind than I thought) that Mary said no, and because of his power and position, and because of the social norms I just mentioned, she felt the best option for her future was to consent. that being her best option does not mean it was her desire. NO means no.

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  23. That was like text book date rape I'm surorised people can see it any other way.

    This is how the scene goes:

    Pamuk: Let's have sex.

    Mary: No

    Pamuk: Let's have sex.

    Mary: No

    Pamuk: Let's have sex.

    Mary: No

    Pamuk forces himself on top of Mary

    Mary: This isn't going to hurt or get me pregnant?

    Pamuk: no

    There is no consent there.

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  24. When he said "you can still be a virgin for your husband," I took it as him saying that she could lie about it later and that he'd keep her secret: No one else would have to know she wasn't as long as he got what he wanted.

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    1. Maybe so, maybe so. Romance novels gave me the idea that back then, people assumed a man could tell whether his wife was a virgin or not, because if she wasn't, her hymen wouldn't be broken. But later I read that most girls' hymens' are broken before they hit puberty anyway.

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    2. Yea but at dinner when she had said she would pay for having rode her horse the next day, he alluded that sometimes a little pain is worth the satisfaction. I'm not sure what kind of blow jobs any of you have experienced, but I know anal sex comes with its fair share of discomfort, and I know turks, the backdoor is pretty popular with them.

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    3. And another thing, who has ever heard of a man his age having a heart attack from foreplay, or "rubbing it betwixt her thighs". Get real you all just can't swallow that she did some taboo, and it was with a brown skinned guy the latter of which bugs people the utmost.

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    4. as an amateur historian I have to say that anal was really quite a "popular" way of remaining a technical virgin for quite a while. Just because they are edwardians doesn't mean that they aren't dirty just like humans have always been. I agree it's the taboo nature of it thats bothering people.

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    5. It's not the time period itself I'm thinking about so much as the context of the show -- PBS.

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  25. I've just started watching this today on Netflix..I assumd that Mary and the Turk had anal sex.

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  26. My husband and I just started on Netflix, too. Totally rape. I don't care if it was vaginal, oral, anal, or non-penetrative sexual assault. I don't care if she orgasmed. Totally and completely coercive and rape-y. It had definite parallels to my own rape, including insisting to myself afterward (and for the better part of a decade) that his not taking no for an answer did not constitute force.
    My husband gave me a strange look when I practically yelled "yes he did!" when Mary denied to her mother his forcing himself on her. He said, "meh, well..." and did a "so-so" motion with his hand. I assured my husband it was rape, straight up.
    I can also relate to Mary's comment about her not having a heart; this kind of experience numbs your feelings even when you don't acknowledge that it was traumatic. Yuck-o.
    Oh, but Sybil's just plain awesomeness.

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    1. Yep, I'm still annoyed that she shook her head no in response to her mother's question.

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  27. There's no "maybe" about it -- the man croaked during anal intercourse (or attempting same), an act to which he was no stranger or beginner.

    But rape? No -- Mary was just being coy and naughty.

    Mary: "This isn't going to hurt or get me pregnant?"

    It's all actually pretty hilarious, so I am puzzled by some people's reluctance to see the obvious.

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    1. Oh give me a break, women aren't always being "coy" when they say they don't want to sleep with you, sometimes they really don't.

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    2. I think it was clearly anal sex due to the fact that after he said she would still be a virgin, and then mumbled something, She replied, "won't that hurt?".

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  28. I love Sybil. She's my favorite character, all the way. She's so sweet but at the same time very independent.

    I agree with Elisa, what you said in a lot earlier post that he was in top which justified that they were having vaginal sex.
    I don't believe it was rape. I think she was resisting because she knew she shouldn't, but in the end was overcome by his sexiness or something.

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  29. why are some people so convinced it was a rape? he was a womanizer with little respect towards social rules, he saw an opportunity to enjoy pleasure and pursued it, imposing himself over the inexperienced and naive Mary, who had flirted with him all day long. It was no love from him, no respect towards Mary, only lust and mysogyny but nevertheless no rape: she is torn between comme-il-faut behavior and sensuality, with the latter one prevailing. She's kissing him passionately, she's embracing him, grieving his death, thinking she won't be happy ever again. not the signs of a rape.

    Let's not forget that this Pamuk character was intended to posses an extraordinary charm; is it too hard to acknowledge that a 20-smth inexperienced girl loses her head in front of him? And later on she admitted it was a question of lust.

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    1. Being attracted to someone is not a reason for him to rape you. Flirting with him is not permission. Giving in because you see no way out is not the same thing as wanting and consenting. He trapped her in her room and stalked her like a predator with clearly no intention of taking no for an answer, and she, being a woman in the early 20th century and bearing all of the brunt of the social stigma of the scenario, had to choose between acquiescence and scandal. He was the aggressor but she was the one whose good name would be ruined by it. I was sick to my stomach through the entire scene, as only a woman who has been in a powerless position like that could be. When you're faced with the very real possibility of being brutally forced into sex or letting it get over with easily and more gently, what would you choose? In 2013, I would scream and fight back and hope to fend him off until someone nearby came running, but of course, for the most part, I no longer have to worry about my sexual reputation because I can vote and earn my own money and even sleep around if I choose. But the situation was different then. Not seeing it as rape is a big problem, because that is *exactly* what date rape looks like, to the letter, and exactly the reason countless women suffer through and feel guilty about something they did not really choose.

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  30. I think the industrial size bucket of duck-fat by the side of the bed gives notion the anal sex argument...

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  31. She clearly wanted to. The look on her face, the sound of her voice. She wanted him...she was just afraid of the shame that might come with it.

    There was implied consent when she asked "will it hurt?" Not date rape.

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    1. Wow. This is a complete misunderstanding of the (legal) definition of rape. The man doesn't get to make the call on what she secretly wants based on her face and the sound of her voice.

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  32. Interesting comment-stream. I agree that "implied consent" doesn't work--most notably, ethically--as a sufficiently reasoned concept. I have lately been really angry that consent is so central to the legal definition, when it itself is such a horribly complicated domain; it wouldn't take much--or in some instances be easier than one would ever ethically hope--to use the very definition to undermine that an injustice has been done, and that seems like an ultra shitty situation.

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  33. Would the duck-fat be like tallow for lighting a lamp--I mean I love the idea that it implies anal lube, but? Or is it a really awkward joke along the lines of this is a Canard? Canard can mean mishap/awkward moment, no?

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