50 of Maggie Smith’s best quotes as the Dowager Countess in ‘Downton Abbey’

The role of Lady Violet Crawley won Dame Maggie Smith three Emmys, her first non-ensemble Screen Actors Guild Award and her third Golden Globe award.

The Dowager Countess may not have been central to many Downton Abbey storylines during the period drama’s six seasons – and the actress has admitted she’s never even watched the show.

But that didn’t stop Smith stealing every scene she was in with a reliably memorable stream of caustic insults, dubious advice and witty asides.

Here are some of our favourite quotes from Violet:


On romance

“I do think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.”

“In my day, a lady was incapable of feeling physical attraction until she had been instructed to do so by her mama.”

“Every woman goes down the aisle with half the story hidden.”

“I am not a romantic. But even I will concede that the heart does not exist solely for the purpose of pumping blood.”

“I know several couples who are perfectly happy. Haven’t spoken in years.”

Mary: “I was only going to say Sybil that is entitled to her opinions.”
Violet: “No, she isn’t, until she is married. And then her husband will tell her what her opinions are.”

“Every woman goes down the aisle with half the story hidden.”

“Oh, I should steer clear of May. Marry in May, rue the day.”

“Give him a date for when Mary’s out of mourning. No one wants to kiss a girl in black.”

“My dear, love is a far more dangerous motive than dislike.”


On technology and change

“First electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.”

“What is a weekend?”

[On the new telephone] “Is this an instrument of communication or torture?”

[On jazz musicians] “Do you think that any of them know what the others are playing?”


On life

“Life is a game, where the player must appear ridiculous.”

“No life appears rewarding if you think about it too much.”

“Hope is a tease, designed to prevent us accepting reality.”

Carson: “Hard work and diligence weigh more than beauty in the real world.”
Violet: “If only that were true.”

Isobel: “How you hate to be wrong.”
Violet: “I wouldn’t know, I’m not familiar with the sensation.”


On growing old

“Just because you’re an old widow, I see no necessity to eat off a tray.”

“At my age, one must ration one’s excitement.”

“All life is a series of problems which we must try and solve, first one and then the next and then the next, until at last we die.”


On social etiquette

Violet: “I’m afraid Tom’s small talk is very small indeed.”
Robert: “Not everyone can be Oscar Wilde.”
Violet: “What a relief.”

“Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”

“Principles are like prayers; noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”

“You know me: never complain, never explain.”


On Americans

“Why does every day involve a fight with an American?”

Cora: “I might send her over to visit my aunt. She could get to know New York.”
Violet: “Oh, I don’t think things are quite that desperate.”

[To Cora] “I’m so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.”

Cora: “I hope I don’t hear sounds of a disagreement.”
Violet: “Is that what they call discussion in New York?”

“Try not to let those Yankees drive you mad.”


On class

“Don’t be defeatist, dear. It is very middle class.”

“The presence of strangers is our only guarantee of good behaviour.”

“Edith, you are a Lady, not Toad of Toad Hall.”

Isobel: “Servants are human beings too.”
Violet: “Yes. But preferably only on their days off.”

“Nothing succeeds like excess.”

Martha: “I have no wish to be a Great Lady.”
Violet: “No, a decision that must be reinforced whenever you look in the glass.”


On the English

“Last night, he looked so well. Of course it would happen to a foreigner. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house.”

“If I were to search for logic, I would not look for it among the English upper class.”

“Rosamund has no interest in French. If she wishes to be understood by a foreigner, she shouts.”


On dealing with other people

“An unlucky friend is tiresome enough, an unlucky acquaintance is intolerable.”

Isobel: “You take everything as a compliment.”
Violet: “I advise you to do the same, it saves many an awkward moment.”

Robert: “I thought you didn’t like him.”
Violet: “So what? I have plenty of friends I don’t like.”

Isobel: “I suspect she’s quite a tough nut.”
Violet: “And I’m quite a tough nutcracker.”

“I don’t dislike him. I just don’t like him, which is quite different.”

“I do hope I’m interrupting something…”

“You’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.”

“There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends, that’s the real test.”

“No guest should be admitted without the date of their departure settled.”

Cora: “I take that as a compliment.”
Violet: “I must have said it wrong.”


Dame Maggie Smith returns to our screens later this year in new ’60s period drama The Miracle Club.

The complete Downton Abbey box set is available on DVD on Amazon.