Kafka and Capote Side-by-Side

“The prefect evening…lying down on the couch beside the bookcase and reading himself sleepy…Jim lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other’s presence.”

Christopher Isherwood
A Single Man

 
 

Colin Firth and Matthew Goode in A Single Man (Tom Ford, 2009)

 
 

What would it be like, the main character in Christopher Isherwood’s novel A Single Man wonders, if the dead could come back and visit the living? “At best, surely, it would be like the brief visit of an observer from another country who is permitted to peep in for a moment from the vast outdoors of his freedom and see, at a distance, through glass, this figure who sits solitary at the small table in the narrow room, eating his poached eggs humbly and dully, a prisoner for life.”

In Tom Ford‘s lovely, tragic movie version of Isherwood’s book, Colin Firth plays that “prisoner for life” — a middle-age professor who lives in a glass house near the California coast, and is yet invisible. It is 1962 and he is gay; his lover Jim (played, in flashbacks, by Matthew Goode) has died, but he may not mourn. We see glimpses of the couple in happier times — laughing on the beach, lounging companionably side-by-side on a sofa (George reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Jim reading Truman Capote‘s Breakfast at Tiffany’s) — in comparison with George’s stark, lonely existence now. He goes quietly through the motions of his life; it’s as if he’s fading away.

 

To watch the movie scene, please check out The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

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The Greatest Book of Our Time

Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001)

 
 

BRIDGET:L-ladies and…
L–
Oi!
Oi!
Sorry. The, uh…
mic’s not… work–working. Ahem.
Ladies andgentlemen…
welcome to the launch of “Kafka’s Motorbike”…
“The Greatest Book of OurTime.”
[Mild applause]
Obviously exceptfor your books, Mr. Rushdie…
which are also very good.
And Lord Archer…
yours aren’tbad, either.
[Clears throat] Anyway…
uh, what I mean is, uh…
welcome, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for coming to the launch of…
one of the top thirty books of ourtime.
Anyway, at least.
And here to introduce it is the man we all call…Titspervert.
Titspervert….Fitzherbert, because that…is his name.

 
 

When Helen Fielding wrote the novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, she based the character of Mark Darcy on Colin Firth‘s depiction of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (Simon Langton, 1995). In addition to the inside-joke casting of Colin Firth as Mark Darcy, there are several other allusions to Jane Austen‘s story: Mark disparages Bridget to his mother within earshot of Bridget. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy disparages Elizabeth to his friend Mr. Bingley within earshot of Elizabeth. Daniel Cleaver lies to Bridget about a dispute between him and Mark, claiming Mark stole his fiancée; in fact, it was the other way around. In Pride and Prejudice, it’s a dispute between Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy, and Wickham lies about who’s at fault. The Darcy in both stories fails to disabuse the heroine’s misinformed notion until it’s almost too late. Bridget works at Pemberley Press; Mr. Darcy lives at Pemberley estate. Crispin Bonham-Carter was in both productions (his scenes were cut out of the film, although he can still be seen in the job-quitting scene and can also be seen at the Kafka book launch where Bridget asks Salman Rushdie where the toilets are – he is seen as the man on the left in the conversation). When Bridget stops at a mall to see her mother, she begins the scene by saying (in a voice over) that, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that as soon as one part of your life starts looking up, another part falls to pieces.” This is an update of the famous opening lines of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Jane Austen’s Matchmaking Heroine

Illustrations by C.E. Brock

 
 

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich.” Emma, however, is also rather spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.

Emma Woodhouse is the first Austen heroine with no financial concerns, which, she declares to the naïve Miss Smith, is the reason that she has no inducement to marry. This is a great departure from Austen’s other novels, in which the quest for marriage and financial security are often important themes in the stories. Emma’s ample financial resources put her in a much more privileged position than the heroines of Austen’s earlier works, such as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Jane Fairfax’s prospects, in contrast, are bleak.

 
 

(Douglas McGrath, 1996)

 
 

Douglas McGrath “fell in love” with Jane Austen‘s 1815 novel Emma, while he was an undergraduate at Princeton University. He believed the book would make a great film, but it was not until a decade later that he was given a chance to work on the idea. After receiving an Academy Award nomination in 1995 for his work on Bullets Over Broadway (Woody Allen, 1994), McGrath decided to make the most of the moment and took his script idea for a film adaptation of Emma to Miramax Films. McGrath had initially wanted to write a modern version of the novel, set on the Upper East Side of New York City. Miramax’s co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, liked the idea of a contemporary take on the novel. McGrath was unaware that Amy Heckerling‘s Clueless was already in production, until plans for Emma were well underway.

Although in general staying close to the plot of the book, the screenplay by Douglas McGrath enlivens the banter between the staid Mr. Knightley and the vivacious Emma, making the basis of their attraction more apparent.

Austen’s original novel deals with Emma’s false sense of class superiority, for which she is eventually chastised. In an essay from Jane Austen in Hollywood, Nora Nachumi writes that, due partly to Paltrow’s star status, Emma appears less humbled by the end of this film than she does in the novel.

 
 

(Diarmuid Lawrence, 1996)

 
 

This production of Emma stars Kate Beckinsale as the titular character, and also features Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith and Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley.  Previously, Andrew Davies was the screenwriter for the successful 1995 BBC TV serial Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Davies offered to adapt Emma for the BBC, but it had already commissioned Sandy Welch as screenwriter.

 
 

(Amy Heckerling, 1995)

 
 

This comedy film is loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma. Heckerling later described Silverstone as having “that Marilyn Monroe thing” as a “pretty, sweet blonde who, in spite of being the American ideal, people still really like.”