It’s hard to believe there are just two Crawley sisters remaining at Downton Abbey. After the tragic and sudden death of beloved youngest daughter Sybil during Season 3, just Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) remain and they’ve never exactly gotten along.
That remains true throughout Season 4 but Lady Edith’s got her own stuff going on this time around. The oft neglected, oft scorned middle daughter is bound and determined to make a life for herself away from the hovering presence of her parents and the scorn of her beautiful older sister. Edith’s destination: London, where her career as a writer has taken off.
Her romance with editor Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) has similarly bloomed with Michael proposing marriage once he can seek a divorce from his mentally insane wife (a possibility, he finds, if he becomes a German citizen). Seemingly infatuated with one another, the couple often sneak off to his flat with one of those rendezvous taking a turn for the passionate on the eve of Michael’s departure for Germany.
Edith, head held high, returns to her Aunt Rosamund’s (Samantha Bond) where she says she regrets nothing that has come to pass despite the fact it could ruin her reputation in prim and proper 1920s English society. So imagine Edith’s mix of horror and surprise when she finds out she is indeed pregnant with Michael’s child. To make matters even more complicated, Michael’s sent no word since he arrived in Germany and is presumed dead.
And so Season 4 finds Edith, no stranger to be jilted, caught in the most unbearable predicament of her life to date. After deciding against an abortion, she must decide whether to have a child out of wedlock and be an outcast from the only world she knows, or follow Aunt Rosamund and Grandmama Dowager’s (Maggie Smith) advice and give the child up for adoption abroad. Meanwhile, the rest of her family, including Mary, remains clueless of Edith’s latest predicament.
By the time the Season 4 Christmas Special rolls around we’ve fast-forwarded a few months and Edith has just returned from the Continent where she had a healthy baby girl. As per the advice of her aunt and grandmother, Edith gave her daughter to a family in Switzerland but is tormented by memories of her. Meanwhile, Michael remains missing with the only news of him being that he got into a fight with a gang of brown-shirted ruffians during his first night in Germany.
With Edith set to claim the power of attorney Michael gave her before his departure, she feels it only right to reclaim her daughter so she can receive her father’s inheritance. With that goal in mind, Edith deploys the plan she initially had before consulting Aunt Rosamund and the Dowager: She arranges for her little girl to be adopted by a local tenant family at Downton. The whole endeavor, however, must remain the most secret of secrets — a likely impossible task in a place as full of gossip as Downton Abbey.