What’s the Matter with Edith?

As Santa said in a recent comment, S7 may turn out to be a series we would compare to S4 because we may watch Martin and Louisa Ellingham “move through most of their anger at each other to some realization of how much they wanted to be together, even if they feared rejection from the other.” Although Santa’s remarks are not about Edith, Edith is the outside force that complicates the relationship between Martin and Louisa even further in S4.

I doubt I need to remind you that Edith only appears in S4. The last time we see her she marches into ME’s office to tell him she’s not mad at him, and that once he’s back in London, she’s sure things will seem very different. She thinks she has helped him conquer his haemophobia, and now he has intimacy issues that she can help him with. As of S6, we know he has not conquered his blood phobia and he has stayed in Portwenn.

As promised, I want to take on the subject of Edith. To do this, I think we need to look at the role Edith plays in this story, and the reason for bringing her into it. If we look at the structure of DM, Martin Ellingham is the protagonist and Louisa Glasson Ellingham is the deuteragonist. When Edith joins this twosome, she would be considered the tritagonist, or the least sympathetic character of a drama. A tritagonist also occasions the situations by which pity and sympathy for the protagonist are excited. Another way of identifying her is as the “Foil,” or someone who provides a strong contrast with another character in order to highlight or underscore a distinctive characteristic of the other character. Furthermore, the readiness to act by a foil can accentuate the other character’s delay.

In S4, Edith is certainly the least sympathetic character. She does, indeed, act as a foil to Louisa and, in doing so, she fulfills all of the qualities attributed to a foil.

The fact that Edith is a physician, who functions in both the clinical and research areas of obstetrics and gynecology, makes her highly accomplished. Even so, she misdiagnoses a mass instead of diverticulitis and is loathe to admit it. As a result, we see how Edith is similar to Martin in that she is well respected in her field and she hates to admit making mistakes. We also notice the tension between them as they jostle for superiority first with this patient, then with Louisa, and also with his haemophobia.

We are predisposed to disliking any woman who might seek to replace Louisa as Martin’s love interest. With Edith, though, it’s hard to get past her bright red, spiky hair, her severe, dark clothes, and her condescending manner of talking to Martin. Then she continues to make advances toward Martin despite knowing that he has had an intimate relationship with Louisa and that Louisa has quite obviously returned to Portwenn to reconnect with him. Furthermore, Edith barges into Martin’s home or office at her own convenience, has little compassion for Martin’s blood phobia troubles, and acts totally indifferent to him when he faints. Her efforts to treat the phobia fall somewhere between self-congratulation and meddling. She wants him to return to London, and she seems to want to reignite their love life, but it all appears to be mostly because that would work best for her. Therefore, we can conclude that she is self-centered, self-assured, strong-willed, unapologetic, matter-of-fact, and unkind. She has moments of warmth, e.g. when she looks at the Buddha figurine, when she recalls the poem he once wrote for her, and when she kisses his cheek. However, those are fleeting and the kisses seem self-serving and meant to manipulate him.

Her behavior elicits pity for Martin insofar as he is buffeted by her persistence even while he is conflicted about Louisa and her pregnancy. Time and again Edith intrudes into his life to entice him away from Portwenn only to be turned down by him. I particularly liked the time when she’s waiting for Martin to join her and Robert Dashwood for lunch where she is planning for Martin to make a strong effort to convince Dashwood to offer him a position as a surgeon again. Instead, Martin is rushing to get to a patient in distress and never gets to the lunch. Edith’s priorities are not Martin’s.

As the “Foil,” Edith is the provocateur in this series, forcing Louisa to admit to herself, if not yet to Martin, how much she wants him to be a part of her life and the pregnancy. In scene after scene, we see Louisa exhibit jealousy as well as forcefulness in response to something Edith has done or said. We know more than Louisa about Edith’s devious manipulation of Martin, especially when it comes to trying to lure him away from Louisa. Nevertheless, Louisa is aware that Martin and Edith were once engaged to marry, and she can easily see that Edith is finding ways to visit Martin fairly often. There are enough occasions when Martin is summoned to help Louisa throughout her pregnancy that we can come to the conclusion that Louisa is battling with her own hesitations about including him. The ultrasound scene and Edith’s assessment that the baby might be SGA (small for gestational age), provide an important interaction where Louisa seeks out Martin’s opinion. Martin reassures Louisa and keeps the ultrasound picture of the baby, and Louisa makes it clear that she has mixed feelings about having Edith as her obstetrician. Edith has provoked Louisa during her examination, both because she asks intrusive and unethical questions and because she has mentioned possible complications with the baby. The episode ends with Martin taking another look at the baby’s ultrasound picture and appearing quite pleased.

We also see these two women clash over Martin when an obstetrical nurse asks whether the father will be accompanying Louisa to prenatal classes. Louisa answers that the father won’t be joining her. In her case it’s because she has denied him that option, but Edith is convinced he wouldn’t participate because she thinks she knows him better. Once again, Louisa looks miffed.

Louisa doesn’t allow Martin to be involved in the pregnancy the way he would like, but Edith’s presence highlights Louisa’s fluctuating feelings and eventually leads to Martin’s conviction that he wants to be with Louisa and not with Edith. His decision to leave the hotel while Edith is giving a lecture and cannot stop him is bookended, in the next episode, by Martin’s race to catch up to Tommy’s taxi and Louisa, and the birth of the baby. Although he packs up and is ready to leave Portwenn for London, he’s waylaid by all the patients who want to see him one last time, and by Tasha’s collapse. Tasha’s condition awakens Martin’s protective instincts for Louisa and the baby, and off he goes. The initiation of labor while Louisa and he are dealing with Tommy leads to his realization that he doesn’t want to leave either Louisa or Portwenn after all.

The amorous kiss that Martin and Louisa share during the birth of the baby is a total abnegation of anything Edith was hoping for, and plotting for. With her prodding, Martin and Louisa’s feelings for each other are consummated.

Originally posted 2015-04-17 11:28:29.

17 thoughts on “What’s the Matter with Edith?

  1. Santa Traugott

    So you are not among those who suspect that there were moments when Martin was actually tempted to fall into a relationship with Edith?

    I think he was largely oblivious to her designs on him, but I think he enjoyed their collegial relationship working on her paper. Maybe it crossed his mind that being with her could be rather comfortable.

    I loved that scene when she barged in on him in his office after he left the hotel.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I have to say that I wondered if he would be foolish enough to be taken in by Edith again. The more I thought about how they presented her, though, the more I found to dissuade me. I do think he was supposed to enjoy the act of helping her with her paper. But even in that case, Edith didn’t agree with him and only took some of his advice. Of course, the scene after he leaves the hotel was a time to cheer.

    I really also felt certain that he had to go back to Louisa. I have trouble imagining Martin being willing to live under Edith’s dominion.

  3. Mary F

    Good analysis; I just loved watching Edith make trouble for the both of them, with the end result being to drive them back together. Without Edith’s presence, I wonder if Martin would have spent as much time sorting out his real feelings about Louisa and about becoming a father. Edith really pushes him into a decision and he really appears to be on the fence about it at one point. I also loved it when Edith referred to Louisa as “spiky”….she smugly assumes that Martin has no feelings whatsoever for Louisa, nothing more than a brief affair and of course he never tells her how he really feels. So many misconceptions are made by both women because he keeps so much buried inside.

  4. Carol

    Hello everyone. Karen, I will agree that he couldn’t have lived long under her domination. I just kept seeing how much she was like his mother – always something he needed to do differently, better. “You just need to grow a little backbone Ellingham.” That line drove me crazy. Why did he allow her to say that? I don’t know many men who would allow anyone to say that to them. (For that matter, I don’t know many women who would either!) Good riddance to bad rubbish. Wish they’d have shown her a few weeks later finding out that he didn’t leave.

  5. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    We’ve talked some about the social status issues brought up in the show, and how Edith turns her nose up at Louisa partly because Louisa is a local, presumably low class, woman. It’s kind of a shame that Martin doesn’t speak up throughout S4 to defend Louisa or himself, but that also makes for some humor. Edith’s attacks on Louisa, however, are another reason Martin is not attracted to her, although he does have a lot of disdain for the people of Portwenn. Aunt Joan must give him some pause since she lives there and he loves her. And we know any derogatory comments about Louisa would make him defensive, and not only because they harm Louisa. He would also have a problem believing that his obsession with Louisa could have happened if she weren’t of good enough stock (so to speak).

  6. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Well, any association with his mother would likely be a deal breaker for him, wouldn’t it? Our psychologists might say he was drawn to Edith against his best wishes because she treated him like his mother. I think he was cowed by her, yet put off at the same time. When he finally tells her “Maybe I didn’t want to be with you,” he conclusively stands up to her. Most women would be deeply hurt. Not Edith;she persists even then. I guess we can say she’s goal-directed! We don’t see it, but we have to assume Edith knows he has stayed in Portwenn, or at least he has not taken a position in London. How she explains that to herself is something else again.

    They drop the Edith storyline, I believe, because it had been there for particular purposes and was no longer of value. Just like Danny in S2, Edith departs Portwenn for London and leaves Martin and Louisa to their romance.

  7. Santa Traugott

    I agree with what you say about Edith’s character. We love to hate her, not only because she is so manipulative of Martin, and unpleasant and dismissive of Louisa, but also because, I think, she is so plausible as a potential mate for Martin, just as Danny is for Louisa (until he reveals his flightiness).

    That is, Edith and Danny in their own ways, are persons with whom Martin and Louisa could be comfortable. Edith would cater to Martin’s idiosyncrasies, and more important, never challenge his emotional comfort zone. She wouldn’t expect more from him in the way of emotional intimacy than he could give (never mind her little speech in the office — I think she meant sex). They could have a nice life in London together, with plenty of money, fashionable apartment, no children, etc.

    Similarly, Danny is comfortable. Louisa has known him a long time, and he would be affectionate and demonstrative in a way that she seems to need. He’s easy going, and probably she would have little trouble in shaping him as she wanted him to be, given that he doesn’t seem to have a central core.

    So the audience’s concern about these relationships is justified. They COULD work. We can see how they could be tempting. Why not settle for a comfortable relationship, and walk away from all the pain and frustration of their (Martin and Louisa) relationship?

    So the contrast of Edith and Martin, Louisa and Danny, with Louisa and Martin, really raises the question, should we settle for what is comfortable and attainable, and asks little of us, or should we risk the pain and frustration of a different situation, which is potentially risky in that it asks us to grow in unexpected and painful ways, but also potentially offers us a chance of much deeper happiness?

    The show’s answer is, of course, yes. (Somebody’s been reading The Prophet:
    But if in your fear you would seek only
    love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
    Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing floor,
    Into the seasonless world where you
    shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
    and weep, but not all of your tears. .)

    I know, kind of hokey, but I think that’s the answer they’re going for.

  8. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I follow what you’re saying about Danny and Edith being easier choices for Louisa and Martin respectively. I think they had to come up with potential alternative love interests that are plausible or viewers would dismiss their presence out of hand. I still think both Danny and Edith have been brought in for particular purposes, as I described, and that they clunked in the end. Seeing Louisa walking around with Danny just struck me as a mismatch, especially since he was so dedicated to religion. To me there was an effort to include something in each case that strained the relationship. We see a lot of that between Martin and Louisa too, but it always turns out that they regret their squabbles.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some message being promulgated even if it’s something as simple as sometimes love strikes when we least expect it to and between people who don’t at first seem well suited to each other. I certainly know some couples like that. Also, I think they give us some fairly good reasons for why Martin and Louisa are compatible. You suggested we look at their strengths as a couple and I want to do that soon.

    P.S. You are a true romantic and there’s something very lovely about that.

  9. Linda D.

    I think the addition of Edith and Danny was fantastic writing. It got everyone riled up and forced us to get out of our expectations and comfort zone about Louisa and Martin’s future. It would have been comfortable to just assume neither or Martin or Louisa could have feelings for anyone else. I had not thought a lot about the importance of these relationships until this post. It was brilliant of Karen to say that they had to find plausible new relationships for Martin and Louisa so the viewers had something real to chew on.

    I agree that we COULD see Louisa deciding to marry Danny because Martin wasn’t making any moves at that point. She was frustrated about that. Some would have seen him as a pretty good catch. Thankfully, Louisa was not going to settle for a man who changes his mind so easily and who really had no respect for her and her career. She recognized that his current behaviour was exactly what she had experienced in the past. I admired her for standing up for herself and for realizing where her true feelings lay. Besides that, who would marry a guy who dressed like that? “Flood pants”? Just WRONG!

    We could see that Martin enjoyed collaborating on the paper with Edith. Could they renew their relationship? It was certainly possible if he had not been “Martin”. He totally missed her real intentions. Getting back into academia might have motivated him to continue on his path to return to surgery in London – a life he had certainly valued. Since 6 months had passed and there was no interaction with Louisa, we can see why he felt it was time to move on. Don’t get me started on why they never connected in that time! Martin might have been bamboozled by Edith if not for his real love for Louisa which kept him setting his compass towards her. Her return to Portwenn ignited his old feelings. He never told Edith a thing about his relationship with Louisa or let on his true feelings. It is easy to see why Edith became predatory. He may have felt defensive about Edith’s comments about Louisa. These comments certainly gave him pause but he never said anything to defend Louisa after these comments did he? I found that confusing because he never had trouble bucking other people up when he disagreed with something THEY said! I suppose he may have been sorting his feelings out and may not have felt the need to fill Edith in on any of it. This could be why she assumed he had gotten one of “village girls” pregnant and that it meant nothing to him. She was quite fine with him just letting Louisa get out of her predicament without any help from him. That showed her character didn’t it?

    Edith appearing in Martin’s kitchen at the exact time that she arrived back in Port Wenn with her “news”, put Louisa into a tail spin. She probably hoped that Martin might be at least a bit pleased about the baby and that they might at least co-parent the child. I am sure she hoped for more. The minute she saw Edith, the whole situation changed. She would have expected that Martin had been “pining away” while she was gone. After all, she had been miserable without him. The last thing she would have expected was that he had moved on with someone else. She did ask him about Edith but he gave him one of his famous “non-answers”. We must remember that he was STUNNED to see her and to learn that she was pregnant! Louisa got her back up, (as was her way), and totally dismissed him without thinking about how her news would have been taken. Neither suggested that they sit down and talk then, or later. Weird but not surprising, given their history. So, now, HE thinks she doesn’t want him involved with the baby. SHE thinks he has another woman. Edith knows nothing. And, the whole thing is a MESS.

    Edith and Martin were certainly cut of the same cloth in many ways. Both had brilliant medical careers which included specialties. Both came from the big city. Both were well-to-do. Neither of them excelled in the social graces. Neither of them ever thought about family or children. Both were very dismissive of their patients but it was over this issue that we first see Martin stand up to Edith. She misdiagnosed Barbra Collingsworth and would certainly have operated on her except that Martin intervened and proved her wrong. We see Edith and Martin clash big time over his handling of things. Here though, we see a big difference between Edith and Martin. He was a bit dismissive of Barbara in the beginning but he twigged right away when she asked him about her condition and mentioned how Edith had not really explained things to her. He would not have allowed her to be operated on without good reason and especially just to save face.

    Edith was rude and dismissive with Pauline’s uncle and aunt – the infertile couple. Martin was awful too – talking about them on the phone in less than polite terms while they sat there, although he later treated Mickey much better when he returned to confess about his homosexual affair. We saw many examples of Martin’s character in terms of his treatment of his patients. Though he may have started off being short and rude, he always came through for them in the crunch. What really got my attention was the way Edith treated Louisa when she entered the room while Louisa was talking with the nurse and filling in a questionnaire. She assumed she knew “Ellingham” better than the mother of his only child! She was unbelievable again when she examined her ultrasound and afterwards when they talked in the hall. She was truly unprofessional. No doctor would have asked, “When did you have sex with X?, in front of a tech. She suggested a problem with the baby but did not explain it. I think it was brilliant that Edith called Joan “Jill” twice and didn’t get that Joan was glowering at her! That was a great punctuation mark!

    As for Edith being like his mother, I didn’t really see that but maybe Martin was attracted to that type when he was young and naïve. If he connected Edith’s bullying to his mother, he certainly never let on. It was a good connection though, Carol.

    I agree that Edith’s interaction with both Martin AND Louisa was just the catalyst to drive them back together in the end. Thanks for that Mary F! I also wonder what she thought when he didn’t show up in London? I can’t believe she would bow out so easily. Of course the Fan Fiction writers have her appearing again in many of their stories!

    All in all, it was great writing and a great way to stir things up in a most unexpected way! I loved that series! It was just great! Thanks everyone for your wonderful thoughts! I have enjoyed this discussion immensely!

  10. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m glad you’re not disappointed in the analysis of Edith, Linda. I certainly think both potential alternative love interests were designed to be plausible yet lacking in many ways such that they cannot substitute for the feelings Louisa and Martin have for each other. When Danny returns, Louisa can’t stop looking in Martin’s direction and, of course, has Martin on her mind. She thinks Danny is talking about ME when he mentions a “Martin” during their classroom discussion. We have the pretty clear picture that she’s with Danny mostly because she wants to make Martin jealous. She certainly doesn’t jump at the chance to accept Danny’s marriage proposal.

    Martin’s interaction with Edith isn’t as premeditated, but as soon as he sees Louisa and that she’s pregnant, he immediately asks her if she wants to get married. Naturally she doesn’t, but we can see the renewed fascination with her. Even though Martin’s visits with Edith were unplanned by either of them, it seems pretty likely that Edith is immediately ready to latch onto him again and that Martin, as you say, doesn’t realize it. Martin’s head is really still preoccupied by Louisa, especially once she returns to Portwenn, and working with Edith doesn’t mean that he is now interested in having an intimate relationship with her. He must be somewhat reluctant after being ditched by her before. Also, Louisa would never have expected to find another woman in Martin’s life so soon since he had never mentioned being engaged before or having any relationship with women previously.

    Your example of how Edith and Martin treat Pauline’s Uncle and Aunt is good too.

    Each series they have found something to stir up trouble and then found a way to reconcile things until S6. I think we’re headed in that direction in S7 and that Santa is right about these two series being linked.

  11. Linda D.

    What an interesting comment Karen! I like your comparison of the 3 “couples” when you say they built in some unsuitability into the Edith-Martin relationship and the Danny-Louisa relationship. Of course Martin and Louisa have had many differences and, as you say, have regretted their squabbles. This is because they LOVE each other. In the other two relationships, if you can even call them that, there is no evidence of love. Danny and Edith have “agendas” – their own. these agendas really didn’t seem to have anything to do with love or the needs of Louisa or Martin.
    You are right to suggest that although Martin and Louisa at first seem unsuited for each other, they fall in love anyway and are drawn to one another, almost from the start. There are no fireworks but they do grow in mutual respect and certainly like many things about one another. Many couples start out this way in real life. If, at the core, there is love and respect, then the differences become less and less important. I would love a post about Martin and Louisa’s compatibility as a couple.

  12. LindaD.

    Carol,
    I hated that line also! I think he was just ignoring her when he did not respond to her “backbone” comment.
    I think several of his comments reveal that he was just humouring her so she’d leave. He was committed to leaving at that point so it is anyone’s guess if he had ANY intention of meeting up with Edith in London. He seemed to be in some conflict having realized that he still had feelings for Louisa with no expectation that that relationship was going anywhere. It just clarified that he had NO interest in Edith in a romantic way. Was he worried that she would glom on to him in London? Perhaps he was just too busy and befuddled with all the issues surrounding his move to think about it . It was kind of a sad time for him. He was still at odds with Louisa about the baby, and he was saying goodbye to Auntie Joan again and must have felt a bit sad to actually take off.

  13. LindaD.

    Edith calling “Louisa, “Spiky” was like the “pot calling the kettle black”. No one was more “spiky” than Edith and I couldn’t figure out what she meant anyway. Since Edith did not know Louisa at all, I wonder how she assumed Louisa was anything?

  14. LindaD.

    Absolutely, true, Martin must have mellowed to the villagers in his time in Portwenn and certainly, he must have thought Joan was fine. He was INSTANTLY attracted to Louisa. I don’t recall that he ever said anything negative about Louisa or her standing to others. Did he? He made a few innuendos but that was mostly for humour. Her qualities or social standing must not have bothered him. As you say, he wasn’t letting Edith get any mileage with her negative comments about Louisa, or Portwenn. I don’t think he loved the fact that she was critical of them but he just wasn’t playing the game.

  15. egwrd

    Sorry to be getting to this discussion a little late in the game! I believe that Martin was intrigued with the possibility of engaging in a relationship with Edith. We see him, at the beginning of Season 4, contemplating a new start. His believes his time in Portwenn is at a close, and he is ready to start a new chapter in his life. Then Edith walks in. They have a lot in common, they have a history, they have a profession in common and he enjoys her company. And with Louisa’s immediate rejection of him taking part in her pregnancy, he continues to see Edith as someone who could be part of his “new” life in London. I got really mad when he tells Edith that his treating her for the bladder infection was a “one off” was also another indication that he was shutting the door on Louisa, and keeping it open with Edith. It is only when he is actually confronted with them sharing a bed at that hotel room, that he realizes he is fooling himself and that he does not want her. Up until then, I think Martin was open to the possibility of being with Edith.

  16. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    It’s never too late and I am happy to read an alternative view. I disagree, but I still like reading your argument!

    I agree that Martin is contemplating a new start at the beginning of S4 and that he is hurt be Louisa’s unwillingness to allow him to participate in her prenatal care. However, there is never any sign that he reciprocates at all when Edith kisses him, unlike how he reacts when Louisa decides to kiss him; he finds Edith’s practice of medicine sorely inadequate and disagrees with her diagnosis of a cyst rather than diverticulitis in Mrs. Collingsworth, later he tells Louisa that the sonogram Edith suggests shows signs of SGA could be read as nothing significant at all; he ditches the luncheon with Edith and Dashwood in favor of taking care of a patient; and he rejects Edith’s recommendation of a therapist and is particularly irritated that Edith ventured to influence the therapist about his case.

    He and Louisa find ways to interact throughout the series. He races to her side when Joan calls him because she thinks Louisa has had a fainting episode. He comes to her defense when she tangles with Mr. Strain at the beach. And I still would suspect that he would be reluctant to consider putting himself in a position to be rejected again by Edith.

    They need to provide a plausible alternative love interest to Louisa, but to me it became pretty clear rather quickly that he was mostly put off by Edith and only agreed to read her paper and go with her to the conference because he was intellectually engaged and because she sort of embarrassed him into going. He’s in a vulnerable point in his life and she happens to take advantage of that. I admit to being taken in at first because she’s soft spoken and they have a history, as you say. But then she does one thing after another that shows little sympathy for his condition and little patience either.

    The fact that we’re even having this dispute is evidence that they’ve put enough convincing scenes in this series to allow for debate. I enjoy the opportunity to defend our positions. Thanks for the comments!

  17. Amy Cohen

    During S4 I never saw any sign that Martin was romantically interested in Edith and was shocked when he didn’t immediately walk out of the hotel room when he saw that she was intending to share a bed with him. Is he really that passive?

    What also puzzles me is what he ever saw in her—to the point of writing poetry! We’ve never seen a side of ME that would suggest he is a poet. It just didn’t ring true. I do think he was seeing her as a mother replacement, but still? Poetry?? Doesn’t anyone else find that incongruous?

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