I should begin by saying I love, ardently, William Wyler's 1936 film adaptation of Dodsworth. Now having read the book, I just marvel at the film moreI should begin by saying I love, ardently, William Wyler's 1936 film adaptation of Dodsworth. Now having read the book, I just marvel at the film more, and can't say that I'm aware of any more efficient and elegant translation of novel to screenplay, nor of a cast who has more successfully captured the spirit of their literary alter egos, without being a bit restrained by the text—very few lines straight from Lewis appear in the film.
Which isn't a pity since they couldn't play conversationally, but Lewis' command of words, words, words is often staggering. He irks, in attempting to capture dialect and slang, in insisting that people speak parenthetically (parenthetically, I'm convinced people speak exclusively in dashes), in asserting that people think in elaborate and well-constructed theses. But over and over his ability to just get it so astonishingly right has a way to cut through all manner of frills to simple, accurate, truthful human nakedness.
Strange that I should be so much more a partisan of Fran in reading the novel than watching the film (I'd expect it in the film, that is, always being a partisan of Ruth Chatterton). In the film, Sam's final choice seems both inevitable and right. Fran seems so certainly wrong. But in the novel, set beside her increasingly obvious ghastliness, there is so purely and faithfully Sam's love for her to contend with. "Have I remembered to tell you I adore you?" begins as youthful flirtation, becomes rote, becomes desperate, serves to cement their real affection despite it all, turns bitter and final... It is not banal shorthand but cuts a little deeper every time. He loves her; what else for the reader to feel but love? The ending doesn't feel so right. In fact it feels horrifyingly wrong—nothing inevitable in it but that no matter what Sam does for himself now he has lost.
But the film is fairer to Fran, or Chatterton makes her more human than Lewis cares to. I'm disappointed that her selfishness and pretentiousness and haughtiness is carried to inhuman extreme by the end—it goes beyond slowly revealing her for what she is as Sam slowly discovers it and turns her into a really unrecognizable monster, only redeemed by his baffling adoration for her—making the ending all the more troubling perhaps, but seriously damaging her credibility as a character. Besides I like Fran. I like the Fran of the first three hundred pages who acted reprehensibly but still turned and said "Have I remembered to tell you I adore you?" and you could almost positively convince yourself she means it.
It is a brilliant book—oh, I'm uninterested in the travelogues and endless debates about what it means to be European and American—but at core it is a terribly sad story about opening one's eyes to life, love, and self for the first time at fifty. It is a love tragedy about two people who love ardently without knowing one another—for I will insist upon viewing Fran that humanly, and crediting her with that much. I will be haunted, as Sam always will be, by the thought of her, a desolate wraith, flitting off to another adventure, head high, and terrified. Finding oneself feels like no great gain at all....more
Altogether a charming and fast-paced book that chronicles the fleeting love affairs and cynical love matches of the young generation in late-20s EnglaAltogether a charming and fast-paced book that chronicles the fleeting love affairs and cynical love matches of the young generation in late-20s England -- the smart and clever set with nothing but contempt for marriage and tradition on the one hand, and the more well-bred, romantic and value-driven sort on the other. Delafield takes as her thesis that the two types ought not to mix, no matter how strong such a first love may strike. Well the characters are enchantingly well-drawn to a point, but over 340 pages she drills down their habits and slang and temperaments too insistently and in ways that reveal much too little new about them for it not to lose some of its glow. But if you love the era and its types it's hard to see how it could fail to be anything but an enjoyable read. My idea of Delafield was that she would be a good deal wittier and more sardonic than this, which I hope will be borne out in her more famous works....more
A mostly martyred and sadistic treatment of "inversion" circa 1928 Britain, which alternates between passionate cries for equality and recognition asA mostly martyred and sadistic treatment of "inversion" circa 1928 Britain, which alternates between passionate cries for equality and recognition as natural on one hand and on the other abased self-denial and reaffirmation of "the perfect thing" that is heteronormative love, raising children, and a sense of belonging to society. In tone, too, it varies wildly from prosaic to embarrassingly romantic and pagan to brutally intense (the last chapter is, while sort of ridiculous in substance, unusually successful in this).
An important landmark for lesbian literature and a fascinatingly grotesque exercise in self-perception, but not a very good novel at all. Following nearly forty years of a life from birth to final tragedy, Stephen Gordon is described sometimes in excruciating, pointless detail; at others, major events breeze past with little consideration. The supporting players are mostly stock figures, and perhaps read more so today than when it was published as all the gay and lesbian stereotypes have played out through decades of cultural output, but none have much to contribute besides a definite articulated viewpoint and position counter to our heroine, and are dropped and brought up again with no elegance. That is the major problem with all aspects of the story: everything is definitely articulated and inelegant, and the epic length makes it so tiresome weeks went by without wanting to take it up (then again, there were days of compulsive, delighted reading, too) -- and Hall relies on a number of recurring favored turns of phrase that grow increasingly stilted and oppressive.
Where it isn't bland it is almost relentlessly bleak, but, as far as it goes, for that it makes a useful study in gay life and identity in the early part of the 20th century. One only wishes for more -- or at least more style where it does find its purpose....more
Delightful collection of short stories, very New Yorker, very English, but sings with Mollie Panter-Downes' uniquely clever and gentle voice. All areDelightful collection of short stories, very New Yorker, very English, but sings with Mollie Panter-Downes' uniquely clever and gentle voice. All are charged with wry humor and an undercurrent of loneliness, populated by characters on the home front and their various ways of dealing with war, connecting with others in uncertain circumstances, and simply, as one must, getting on with life. ...more
Harrowing insight into the mind of brilliant actress Rachel Roberts through the diaries she kept in the last 18 months of her life and the words of heHarrowing insight into the mind of brilliant actress Rachel Roberts through the diaries she kept in the last 18 months of her life and the words of her closest friends. Not remembered as she should be today -- and she's as much to blame for this as anything: how much time and talent did she waste in her life and untimely death? -- but she emerged as one of the most promising and respected actresses of her generation on the stage and in landmark British New Wave films Saturday Night & Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life, playing women of simmering sexual desire and lonely resignation with rare vitality and intensity. During the filming of This Sporting Life, she became Rex Harrison's fourth wife, and too much of her potential and sanity were lost to that relationship and the mark it left on her.
I dispute and rather resent the subtitle "A Fatal Passion of Unrequited Love" (omitted from my own edition, happily), because, aside from sounding quite tawdry, it's fair to neither party to suggest the divorce was the cause of all her problems or the whole reason she ultimately took her own life. The same drives and behaviors and fears existed before Harrison came into her life; she wonders and comes to various conclusions as to whether she would have ended in the same nightmare of alcoholism and incapacitating self-doubt with or without him.
In her writing -- lucid if increasingly desperate right up to the eve of her death -- it is clear she was also a wit and a talented writer: more than once she remarks that only her writing keeps her alive, and with the help she needed perhaps she could have been an accomplished novelist, too. With apparently an intention of having it published in some form, and partly as a therapeutic tool, she uses her journal to examine her life from birth with brutal honesty and almost completely devoid of accusation and defense. She recognizes her yearning for the fame and glamour her particular talents and looks never could have earned her; her need for love and assurance her inveterate promiscuity could not garner her; her wild behavior and desperation to be the life of the party, but more crucially, and harder for her to achieve, to feel "a part of things"; her ongoing hope, even as she acknowledges the impossibility, that life could be the idyll she once had and was later exiled from in Portofino -- all recounted in excruciating detail, exaggerated by an increasingly unstable and masochistic mind, distorted in memory by the filter of pills and alcohol. Well -- it's exhausting to read.
By the end, she gives up the therapeutic and more literary journal format in favor of keeping a contemporaneous diary. At the same time, she begins to speak more seriously and persistently about suicide. What comes before is difficult, but the writer seems essentially in control. The last few months are desperately sad, spiraling through past and present, increasingly certain of what afflicts her but also increasingly hopeless anything could save her from it. She searches for and is increasingly detached from the "little Ray" she was, the "Rachel Roberts, distinguished actress" she was. Even in these final days, her words are so clear one can almost understand how it might feel to, helpless but without self-pity, feel so entirely separate from life and self and others that going on is actually impossible.
Still, it is not easy to reconcile all this with the woman I've loved on the screen: so intense, so vibrant, passionate, powerful; nor to the woman her friends describe as infinitely giving and funny and energetic. Despite her problems, she fooled many -- and what remains, wonderfully and tragically, is the work of an astonishing actress. I wish this world could have given such a woman what she needed -- whatever that may have been -- to live in it, to feel finally a part of things, to thrive. What a sad thing, and what a waste, that there isn't more on the level of This Sporting Life to appreciate her in. She could have had that: but she denied herself that, she lost faith in that, she wasted that -- life, too, took that away from her. But I'm grateful for every moment that did come to life, and does survive, from this hauntingly sad, fascinating woman, from this almost peerlessly brilliant, almost forgotten actress. ...more
Where my overriding thought about Chatterton's first novel, Homeward Borne, is that it is "tightly controlled," this one meanders about and ultimatelyWhere my overriding thought about Chatterton's first novel, Homeward Borne, is that it is "tightly controlled," this one meanders about and ultimately adds up to less... In some respects, it effectively reflects the realities of a life that never works out as neatly as one (a protagonist -- or a writer) imagines. In others, there are clear indications that Chatterton has attempted some overarching themes and observations that come across as redundancies rather than culminating in anything. Still, she uncritically and compellingly presents an array of vividly drawn characters, and effectively writes in three first-person voices. Almost too effectively... I nearly put the book away after becoming acquainted with the first two, and their liberal use of exclamation points!(!) That became easier to bear as I read on, and really I think she maintained the points of view impressively. A good read but nothing ground-breaking: for an introductory novel or if you only want to read one by Chatterton, make it Homeward Borne, but if that whets your appetite for more this will satisfy.
Oh, this amused me, bit of an in-joke for fans of her films I suppose... "Somehow I don't see you as a lovely faded derelict, living from man to man. The role of Madame X doesn't suit you." (Lots of sly comments, in fact, and very frank... really, a fan of Chatterton the actor must acquaint themselves with Chatterton the novelist. Where are her fans? Drop me a line... :)...more
Chatterton's really an unfortunately forgotten novelist -- and for that matter, hardly given her due in her master craft of acting these days, as herChatterton's really an unfortunately forgotten novelist -- and for that matter, hardly given her due in her master craft of acting these days, as her Paramount pre-Codes are difficult to come by -- so I'd be interested to know it if anyone ever adds this book to their library. It's quite good, a tightly controlled, absorbing and nobly intentioned thing. Worth rediscovering and begging for the Persephone treatment! Fans of Chatterton the actor must give this a look. It offers a fascinating view into the mind of a person one "knows" from the screen!...more