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Why Some Downton Abbey Fans Think Mary's Hatred Of Edith Is Completely Justified

Lady Mary Crawley (played by Michelle Dockery) has been the resident mean girl on "Downton Abbey" ever since it premiered in 2011 (via IMDb). With rapier wit, effortless beauty, and keen social skills, Mary is known for getting what she wants, much to the chagrin of her younger sister Edith (Laura Carmichael). The tense relationship between Mary and Edith is introduced right off the bat in the show's first episode, demonstrated when Mary berates Edith for crying over their cousin Patrick's death. The sisters needle each other every chance they get, and their rivalry continues to ebb and flow throughout the series. 

To be fair, it does seem like Edith is always getting the short end of the stick. After growing up in the shadow of her beguiling older sister, whose love story with Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is a focal point of the period drama's first two seasons, it takes Edith a while to find her footing. While Mary's storylines revolve around her thrilling love life, Edith is pretty much the butt of every joke for a while before being developed into a more rounded character in later seasons. However, Edith does something truly malicious early on in Season 1 that puts Mary's dislike of her sister into perspective.

Edith exposed Mary's tragic tryst with the Turkish diplomat

One of the most dramatic moments in Season 1 of "Downton Abbey" comes in Episode 3 when a Turkish diplomat named Kemal Pamuk (played by Theo James) pays a visit to Downton. In a shocking turn of events, Pamuk unexpectedly dies in Mary's bed, and when Edith inevitably finds out, she writes to the Turkish ambassador to tell him what really happened. The rumor spreads like wildfire, and Mary is soon ostracized from high society. 

Fans on Reddit pointed out that while Mary can certainly be petty toward her sister, Edith recklessly exposing Mary's traumatic sexual exploits went a step too far. As Reddit u/bassfairyy11 writes, Edith "never apologizes and never acknowledges the emotional and psychological damage she had inflicted." 

Not only do Edith's actions have a significant effect on Mary's reputation, but she also risks enveloping her entire family in scandal. As Reddit user u/guessimonredditrn points out in reply, "they both do truly heinous things to their sister." 

The fallout from this incident continues to strain Mary and Edith's relationship as the narrative progresses, although Mary tries to put her best foot forward. Reddit user u/Shaunaleigh242 notes that "on Mary's wedding day, when everyone is wishing her well before going down Edith decides to be kind of petty – to the point where Cora says: 'don't mind Edith'. On Edith's wedding day (the first one) Mary decides to set everything aside and actually be kind to her."

Mary and Edith's toxic dynamic is rooted in jealousy

In a promotional video for "Downton Abbey," actress Laura Carmichael explains that Edith and Mary's issues stem from deep-seated envy. "They're not afraid to say the worst thing they could possibly think of to the other. Their battle is always about how happy the other one is. I think it always comes out of a place of jealousy from one another. They can't bear to see the other one succeeding when they are failing," Carmichael postulates.

The sisters' feud makes sense considering the show's setting. In the early 20th century, women of Mary and Edith's station were expected to cultivate beauty, find a well-bred husband, and produce heirs, pitting the older Crawley sisters against each other from birth. After their good-natured younger sister, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), dies in Season 3, Mary and Edith have even less common ground. Although it seems like the sisters are always taking two steps forward and one step back, they do manage to eventually forge a bond with minimal bloodshed. Fans of the series will get another look at how Mary and Edith's relationship has evolved in "Downton Abbey: A New Era," which is out in theaters now.