Misery Loves Company

         I chose the title for this essay because I feel that it is completely true. Misery is a very common part of life, and I believe that almost no one could be able to avoid feeling miserable at some point in his or her life. Several of the works that were discussed in class and their related films dealt with common types of misery that people may deal with over the course of their lifetime. I believe that some of the authors of the works were trying to share this emotion with their audience, and there is nothing wrong with it because it is natural part of life. Misery in life cannot be avoided; and, if authors or film makers to try “sugar-coat” life, then they have done a disservice to their audience. By depicting characters who are miserable in some way, the authors have demonstrated that misery, in deed, loves company.

         The first example of misery in a particular work would be the 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, filmed in 1939 by William Wyler. In this novel, Emily depicted a family, which was extremely miserable, as it was in the film version. Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) harbors a jealousy of Hindley’s (Hugh Williams) position in life that has completely taken over his life and made him and the people around him miserable. Over the course of his life, Heathcliff has used and abused nearly everyone who has been close to him. Because he is also miserable over not being able to be with Catherine (Merle Oberon), whom he loves, he is hell-bent on making everyone around him suffer. In the end, it all his misery did was ruin his life and the lives of others. He and Catherine never got the chance to be together, and all he did was set up future generations of his family to be as miserable as he was.

         The 1880 novel, Washington Square, Henry James depicted yet several more characters who were miserable in some way, as they were in the 1949 film version, The Heiress, directed by William Wyler. In the case of Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), he was miserable about the fact that his beautiful and talented wife had died in childbirth, and, in the novel, his only son had died at a very young age as well. All that Dr. Sloper is left with is a very average daughter, whom he despises. He despises young Catherine because she is a female, is not above average, and also is named after his deceased wife. This misery leads Dr. Sloper to being very controlling of Catherine (Olivia de Havilland). Dr. Sloper’s actions lead Catherine to rebel against him and make him even more miserable. This novel, along with the movie, is completely honest because many fathers try to control their children, and some fathers are disappointed when they do not have a male heir to carry on their name.

         Both the 1913 play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, filmed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, and the 1956 play, My Fair Lady, by Alan J. Lerner, filmed in 1964 by George Cukor, depict a professor who is miserable whether he realizes it or not. Professor Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison) believes that he can make it without a woman until Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) comes in the picture and shows him different. He becomes used to having her around, and learns to depend on her for many things. When Eliza leaves, Higgins realizes just how miserable he would be without her. In the case of My Fair Lady, Eliza decides to come back and Higgins becomes happy again.

         The 1879 play, A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, filmed in 1937 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland respectively, completely demonstrated what misery is like. Poor Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) was miserable because she had always been controlled by a man. First it was her father, and then it was her husband (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins). Nora snuck around and borrowed money for Torvald without telling him, and she has been miserable about it ever since. She hates that she cannot go and talk to him about it, and she also hates that he will not trust her to understand more complicated matters. This misery ultimately leads her to leaving her husband and children to “find herself” and one hopes get over the misery that has been her life.

         One last example would be the 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan. In this play, Blanche (Vivien Leigh) is miserable because she had basically caused her true love to commit suicide and she has lost her home. Her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), is miserable because her husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando), is a raging alcoholic who beats her. It is not until Blanche loses it and has to go to a mental institution that Stella, in the 1951 film version, decides to leave Stanley. In the film, it is at this point that she sees him for what he is, and she decides that she must make a better life for her and her child if she ever wants to be rid of the misery.

         In conclusion, nearly all the works discussed this semester dealt with misery in some way. This misery of the characters loved company, and it found its solace in the audience who either read the literature watched the film. The authors depicted a very real part of life when they created characters who were miserable. It is easy to see that people want to read about or watch real-life scenarios even if they do contain misery. If people did not care for misery and only wanted things “sugar-coated,” then these works would not be bestsellers or hit movies. Misery does love company, and audiences obviously love misery.

Alicia Hughes

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