Great Women of the Past

     Throughout the semester in English 213, we have read numerous literary works, and viewed films that were adapted from these literary works. In each and every work, there was a woman that came to a new reality, whether it be good or bad, and discovered something new about herself.

     Beginning with Emily Brontë's 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, we have Catherine Earnshaw. She is living on a dream of Heathcliff as the nice young man she once knew, when in reality he had turned sour. Once Heathcliff acquired his money, he threw it in Catherine face because she had married another, and had not waited for him. This main theme is also portrayed fairly well in the 1939 screen version, William Wyler. Catherine (Sarita Wooten) and Heathcliff (Rex Downing) are portrayed as the couple at a young age, and then (the reality) by Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier as two very bitter people. I agree with Richard Wilson's "Are You Sure This is Based on the Book," when he says that Heathcliff's "fire and venom" are not portrayed well by Rex Downing. Also, so much of the adaptation was altered to extremes, that it was difficult to enjoy the film as much as the novel.

     The new cinematic version of literary work we viewed was William Wyler's 1949 rendition of Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1948 Broadway play, The Heiress. This was an adaptation of Henry James's 1880 work, Washington Square. The main woman in these literary cinematic works, was Catherine Sloper. She was a shy girl that was fooled by a good-looking, money-hungry man named Morris (Montgomery Clift in the film). Just as in Wuthering Heights, this Catherine was too fooled by her fantasy. Catherine Sloper believed Morris Townsend loved her when in reality he loved her money. Catherine's father (Ralph Richardson), was much like Morris. If one could take away his money and his job, they would be quite the same. However, her father did see that Morris was only after Catherine's money, but she did not listen. Finally, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland), after many years, realizes she was fooled. I agree with Jennifer Bean's "Older and Wiser," when she says that "over the years (Catherine's) her secret hatred has boiled inside of her." It seemed that Catherine developed such a hatred of Morris that, unlike a lot of women, it was easy for her to blow him off when he returned. My only disappointment in Washington Square that was improved in The Heiress, was Catherine's overall attitude. She spoke with more vengeance and confidence in the film. I like to see this in a woman, because it goes to show how much more this woman (for example Catherine) is worth.

     Next on the list of films is The Innocents, by Jack Clayton. This was based on the 1950 Broadway play, The Innocents, by William Archibald and Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw. I found the adaptation of this play to the updated film was quite interesting. It was as if the ghosts seemed more realistic in the film than they were in both the play and the novella. Possibly it is just the case because I could actually see the ghosts, but it seemed to be more than that. I had no difficult time believing the governess in The Turn of the Screw. She seemed kind of batty and as if she was missing some sense of reality upstairs. The play version, The Innocents seemed a little more realistic, and I believed the governess was seeing these apparitions. But it was not until we viewed the 1961 screen version, that I truly believed the governess (Deborah Kerr). The book seemed to leave a lot of things unexplained, whereas the film took its own explanations. I agree with Bud Byers' "Did Ghosts Exist," when he asks, "If there are no such things as ghosts, then what power was at work in this case?" He is referring to the end of the film, when Peter Quint appears and Miles is left dead. To me, this scene made it easier to justify the ghosts.

     Pygmalion, the 1938 film version of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, was my favorite adaptation. Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller), was nothing but a flower girl with a hopeless life. Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) finds her and through time, transforms her into a lady. This adaptation was very realistic to me. The scenes where she is practicing her speech and her manners seemed realistic. Eliza went through slow, but promising, stages. Wendy Hiller as the lady was stunning, yet not so extravagant that I never believed she had been a flower girl. She was exactly as I perceived Eliza from reading Shaw's play. Accents contribute a great deal to both the film and the play. I agree with Rebecca Henly ("Pauper to Princess"), when she said, "Eliza's vocal transformation becomes so much more evident in the film because I could hear the difference instead of merely reading about it." Eliza's accent as well as all the characters'(especially the scene at the beginning on the street, when Higgins is taking down her dialect), is demonstrated wonderfully. In the film it is easy to decipher between the different accents and gives one a better sense of Higgins' amazing ear. To me, this was a wonderful adaptation.

     Next we viewed the extravagant film version, My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor in 1964. This was another take off of Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion. Although this was a major production and a beautiful film, I liked Pygmalion better. Audrey Hepburn, in my opinion was not a good flower girl. She seemed to be too extravagant from the beginning. This took away from the fairy tale of a poor girl being transformed into a rich, dignified woman. However, she played one magnificent lady. At the ball she was so elegant she took my breath away. Overall, though I agree with Jenny Wohleb ("Musicals--A Thing of the Past?"), that musicals are great and that people's attitudes have changed drastically over the past couple decades, I did not care for My Fair Lady as much as she did. Although it is a classic, My Fair Lady took out some of the aspects I liked best in Pygmalion.

     Our second-to-last set of adaptations consisted of two 1973 movies: A Doll's House, directed in 1973 by Patrick Garland and Joseph Losey respectively, which were takeoffs of Henrik Ibsen's famous 1879 play. Nora Helmer is our woman focused on in A Doll's House. She has a huge problem with reality, due to the way she was treated all her life. I preferred Claire Bloom in Garland's version as Nora over Jane Fonda in Joseph Losey's version, but both were all right. Nora was misguided as a child by her father, who treated her like a doll. Then she married Torvald (Anthony Hopkins/David Warner) and became his doll. Although she should have broke away sooner, I do not blame her. I disagree with Jennifer Bean ("Grow Up"), when she says, "Nora was a childish, money- hungry wimp." If Nora were money-hungry (in my eyes), she would spend it all on herself, in order to make herself look better. However, she spent all her money on others. I felt she more so just liked to take care of everyone. Her problem of living a fantasy was self- solved when she left Torvald in the end.

     The final literary work was A Streetcar Named Desire, directed in 1951 by Elia Kazan. Tennessee Williams helped with the film, and it was a takeoff of his 1947 play. This was the best adaptation, as far as being almost exactly like the original play. Silly Stella is the main character. I did not care for her in the play or the film. She, of all the women we have studied, was the most pathetic. There is nothing I look down upon more, than a woman who will not stand up for herself. Stella (Kim Hunter) would not leave Stanley (Marlon Brando) until the very end of the movie unlike the original Stella. I found it pathetic. In my eyes, she had every reason to leave much earlier; he was a real loser. I agree with Thomas Moser ("The Metamorphosis of Stella") when he says, by marrying Stanley, Stella is introduced to a completely different world. That is the reason I do not care for her. She is better than what she makes of herself, and I find that disappointing. She is stuck in this fantasy that Stanley will change, and the reality is that he will not.

     Overall, this course was filled with classic literature and some wonderful adaptations. We saw many strong women stand up and turn their lives around, as well as those who did not. Overall, ever woman we saw came to some sort of new reality about herself. I feel self-discovery is needed more in women these days. Often, we are overlooked or looked down upon and it is wonderful to see all these classic tales of women doing just that.

Alison Brandow

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