Seminar 10/15 Christian Siason

In class on Monday, October 15th, we discussed the novel, Washington Square. Henry James wrote the book in 1880, but it was set in the 1850’s. The reasoning behind this, we learned, was that the 1850’s were a much more calm and prosperous period in American history. The economy was stable and the country was at peace. If he had set the story in the 1860’s or 1870’s, James would have had to incorporate the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. In order to save himself the trouble, he rolled back the clock a few decades to a better time in the country’s history, allowing him to focus solely on the relationships between the characters in the book.

Later on in class, we compared the two films based off of the novel: The Heiress and Washington Square. In some ways, The Heiress seemed that it was more true to the novel than the more recent film, Washington Square. In The Heiress, Dr. Sloper used more direct quotes from the book than in Washington Square. I also thought that Morris Townsend’s character in The Heiress was more like the character in the novel than in the newer film. He seemed much more outgoing and at times even arrogant. He was more subdued and awkward in the new movie. Catherine was also portrayed differently in the two films. In the older one, she was seen as a very quiet and dull girl, much like she was in the story. But in the newer one, she was more of a tomboy – a romp, which was how she was described at one point in the novel.

I just found it rather interesting how two films could be based off of the same book and have the characters played totally differently, due to the different actors and actresses and the different directors. One person’s take on a role can be totally different from another’s, and the results can be clearly seen by the viewers.