From the miracle of a birth, to the tragedy we never saw coming, Downton Abbey doesn’t get more dramatic than this. Major season 3 spoilers ahead.
I’m sure everyone you ask was deeply affected by the fifth episode of Downton Abbey. Not only was it profoundly sad, but it was also infinitely tragic. This reaction could only have been emitted from a tragedy surrounding a beloved character, which is why I truly believe that Sybil’s death was more than sad, it was powerfully moving. It got the reader’s attention just as the deaths of beloved characters in Harry Potter such as Sirius, Lupin, Snape, Fred, Dumbledore and Dobby. These deaths had an impressive effect on the fandom, who refused to forget the sacrifices and honour of these characters.
The significance of Sybil’s death, in comparison to these immeasurable tragedies, is the legacy that she leaves behind. Whilst Sybil may not be your favourite character, I believe that it would be hard to find anyone who could possibly dislike her. She was always kind, caring and generous, which makes her death that much more tragic. I personally claim Mary and then Matthew to be my favourite characters, but there is a purity within Sybil that has always stood out to me.
Do you remember in series 1 when Sybil worked to help Gwen the housemaid to achieve her dream of becoming a secretary? She refused to give in to the roles that everyone else in society had accepted. She continued to rebel against her family and her station, going to political rallies in support of women’s right to vote, and demonstrated her compassion in working as a nurse during the war.
In order to prepare for being a nurse, Sybil secretly asked Mrs. Patmore and Daisy for help regarding cooking skills, as Isobel suggested she would need some basic skills. When Sybil came back to Downton as a fully trained nurse, Branson asked her if she could go back to her life after the war, and she responded, ‘No I could never go back to that.”
This is severely contrasted against almost everyone else at Downton.
Even her relationship with Branson emphasises the tragedy of her death. Rather than the beginning of a romance, their first meeting marks the beginning of a strong, yet ‘undesirable’ friendship, as her family members come to worry about her reputation. In an interview, Jessica Brown Findlay, who plays Sybil said, “The connection she has with Branson is beautiful. In the first series, I never saw it. I never saw it sort of being romantic or anything like that. I never read it as that. She’s just so happy for there to be someone she could talk to, and understand her.” Their friendship evolves into romance as they come to understand each other intimately, demonstrating the breaking of ties between the classes.
Reflecting on this reminds me of the importance of Sybil. She was kind and generous to a fault, irrespective of status. Her importance lies in this legacy she leaves behind, that we all share the same role, we are all human. Unlike others of her class, she refused to disregard the efforts and circumstances of those ‘below’ her, and never treated them as such. Therein lies the tragedy of Sybil’s death.
How else could we possibly describe the death of a beloved character, who had so much further in life to go, as a mother and as a woman of an aristocratic family who believed in equal rights?
Knowing that someone was to die in this episode, as soon as the episode began, I believed it would be Sybil’s baby, and yes, that would be sad, but not so infinitely tragic as the death of Sybil herself. There is something purely good in Sybil, her soul radiates a purity that cannot be found elsewhere. Her death was not only shocking to her family, but also to the servants, who too were devastated by her death. This is particularly evidenced through Thomas, who is visibly in tears at the word of her death, “In my life I can tell you that not many have been kind to me, she was one of the few,” he said, further demonstrating her complete goodness.
Because of this, I feel that Sybil is one of the few characters on not only Downton Abbey, but countless other TV shows and in countless books, who actually deserves a truly happy ending. But she didn’t get hers. This is why Sybil’s death was a complete tragedy, because her pure goodness is unparalleled and utterly deserving of true happiness. I for one, am just grateful that she got her moment with her husband and child before she had to leave them.
I am certainly going to miss Sybil. She will be remembered.