The Street opens with the story’s main character, Lutie Johnson, braving a bitter, cold wind as she walks through Harlem in New York City. The wind Lutie faces is personified as a hostile character, mirroring the aggressive attitude of many white Americans toward African Americans during the pre-civil rights era. More generally, the wind represents the oppressive forces of poverty and racial inequality and the chilling impact they have on the urban-dwelling African Americans of Ann Petry’s novel. Lutie is on her way down 116th Street to look at an apartment she is interested in renting for her and her eight-year-old son Bub. In addition to wanting to shelter her son from a life of poverty and violence, Lutie seeks to protect Bub from the influence of Lil, her father’s current girlfriend, a promiscuous woman who gives Bub alcohol and has him light her cigarettes for her. At first Lutie thinks that anything would be better than continuing on . . . Read More
AustenBlog declares that ‘‘She’s everywhere.’’ Laurie Brown’s time-travel novel published in 2009 is titled after the question the heroine constantly asks herself: ‘‘What Would Jane Austen Do?’’ More than a decade ago, Austen scholars and readers started their own Republic of Pemberley online (named after Darcy’s estate in Pride and Prejudice) as a clearinghouse of Austen information and gathering place for discussion. Austen fans travel the globe, from Bath to San Antonio, to dress in Regency period costumes and attend balls similar to those in Austen novels. Year after year, Austen novels are remade for television and film, are transformed into contemporary novels, and serve as inspiration for online fanzines and journals. How do the worlds of Jane Austen’s fiction spark such an avid following and translate across different mediums and genres, even today?
Austen’s debut novel, Sense and Sensibility, began two centuries of this type of Austen . . . Read More
Jane Austen was born a year before the start of the American Revolution, became a teenager at the beginning of the French Revolution, and grew up during the Napoleonic Wars, the height of the English Empire, and a time of rapid industrial development. Yet global politics do not dramatically affect the narratives of her original novel, Sense and Sensibility, or the film versions. The events of the world neither intrude on Austen’s English idyll and social drama nor the interpretation of that idyll and social drama in the 1995 film adaptation, remaining on the periphery in the form of military characters or other subtle references. What provided the cultural context to Austen’s masterpiece are the following.
Inheritance and Marriage
Instead, Austen’s works deal with domestic matters, particularly the lives and futures of women of her time. One issue that she returns to throughout her canon is the matter of inheritance. In Austen’s day, as in the . . . Read More
‘‘Sense’’ and ‘‘Sensibility’’
The title of Jane Austen’s novel and the Lee-Thompson film adaptation identifies one key theme of the story: the contrast between good sense and untrustworthy emotions. The moral of Sense and Sensibility is that rational thought, not strong emotions, should guide one’s actions and decisions. Those who get carried away by strong feelings—their sensibilities—must conquer their emotions or else continue to be hurt by their impulsiveness. In both novel and film, Elinor ultimately finds love with Edward through her consistent ‘‘sense,’’ while Marianne’s sensibility leads her through heartache before she adopts a bit of good ‘‘sense’’ and settles down with Colonel Brandon.
The dichotomy of ‘‘sense’’ and ‘‘sensibility’’ in Austen’s novel reflects the early eighteenth century, when two cultural movements—classicism, dominant during the seventeenth and eighteenth . . . Read More
Colonel Christopher Brandon
A retired army officer and a friend of Sir John Middleton, the kind and honest Colonel Brandon falls in love with Marianne Dashwood and marries her at the end of the film. In the novel, the Colonel is thirty-seven-years old. Alan Rickman, best known for his role as Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, plays Brandon in the Lee-Thompson film adaptation.
The twenty-seven-year-old eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood, Elinor restrains her passion in favor of reason and decorum. She is the character who represents the ‘‘sense’’ of the title. She falls in love and ultimately marries Edward Ferrars. Emma Thompson plays Elinor in the Lee-Thompson film and won an Academy Award for the role. Elinor in the Austen novel is only nineteen.
Self-centered, arrogant, and manipulative, Fanny is the wife of John Dashwood . . . Read More
Socially conscious literary critics have made much of Balzac’s realism: his gritty depictions of actual life, in which the sentiments of a social moralist crop up here and there amidst the careful accounts-keeping of a bourgeois citizen (who would rather have been an aristocrat); his troubled portrayal of the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the bourgeoisie; his focus, for all that, on the voices of the underclasses, of the poor and the downtrodden as well as the beautiful and the wealthy. Literary theorist Fredric Jameson offers one particularly compelling version of such criticism in his description of ‘‘the novels of Balzac . . . as reflecting the reactionary ideology of a dying class.’’ Another, conflicting strand of criticism, however, follows Karl Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels in seeing Balzac’s realist approach to literature—which uses the novel as a tool for re-presenting a total social reality—as ‘‘further[ing] the class struggle by . . . Read More
The Influence of Environment on Character
Honore de Balzac’s portrayal of various social climbing characters in Le Pere Goriot examines how one’s environment shapes one’s character. As A. J. Krailsheimer puts it in the preface to his 1991 translation of the novel, ‘‘What interests Balzac is cause and effect, environment more than heredity, and behavioral rather than ethical categories,’’ Many readers see in Balzac’s realism the precursor to the naturalism of Emile Zola and Thomas Hardy. These later writers saw individual character as a product of social and physical environment, drawing heavily on biologist Charles Darwin’s theories of evolutionary adaptation in their examinations of human nature. Balzac himself, though, seems to believe that environment influences, but does not determine, behavior. Hence, the novel’s extended descriptions of a wide variety of scenes, and the narrator’s frequent suggestions about various tendencies . . . Read More
Honore de Balzac’s classic novel Le Pere Goriot has been divided in several different ways by its various translators in the nearly two centuries since its original publication in French; the sections here follow the helpful divisions in the Franklin Library’s 1980 edition of an anonymous 1897 translation generally attributed to Jane Minot Sedgwick.
Part One: The Vauquer House
The novel begins with an extended description of the Maison Vauquer, a shabby boardinghouse run by the even shabbier Mme Vauquer, and of its inhabitants. The year is 1819, and the novel’s three protagonists, Eugene de Rastignac, Vautrin, and Jean-Joachim ‘‘Pere’’ Goriot, are lodgers at this boardinghouse in one of the grimier corners of Paris’s Latin Quarter, as are the young Victorine Taillefer and her guardian, Mme Couture. Also residing at the Maison Vauquer, which Balzac introduces directly after asking whether it is ‘‘more horrible to look upon a . . . Read More
Karen is Conrad’s friend from the psychiatric hospital. Conrad tries to reconnect with her after they leave the hospital, but they are no longer close. When Conrad learns she has committed suicide his discovery precipitates a crisis. Exploring his emotions about her death helps Conrad to finally heal the pain from his brother’s tragic death. In the film, Karen is played by Tony Award–winning actress Dinah Manoff, best known for her sitcom roles.
Dr. Tyrone C. Berger
Dr. Berger is Conrad’s therapist. In the novel, he is quirky and eccentric. In the film, Berger is more low-key and focused. Berger teaches Conrad that expressing his feelings is vital to good mental health. He helps Conrad recognize that he is not responsible for his brother Buck’s death and that he needs to forgive himself for both surviving the boating accident and attempting suicide. In the film, Dr. Berger is played by Judd Hirsch, who . . . Read More
The novel, Ordinary People by Judith Guest, takes place in Lake Forest, Illinois, during the 1970s. The story centers on the Jarrett family—Calvin, Beth, and their son Conrad. They are mourning the older Jarrett son, Buck, who was killed in a boating accident. Conrad felt so guilty about Buck’s death that he attempted suicide by slashing his wrists before the novel begins. Guest uses three points of view to tell the story, allowing Calvin and Conrad to narrate their own internal conflicts in alternating chapters and also occasionally using an omniscient narrator. Beth’s character is developed through the point of view of her husband or her son.
Screenwriter Alvin Sargent meticulously adapted Ordinary People for the screen. Director Robert Redford, in contrast to Guest, adheres to a traditional onscreen storytelling style with an omniscient point of view and a focus on characterization through action. Redford cuts and combines certain scenes and rearranges the order of . . . Read More