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.
In class on Monday we began our discussion of Washington Square by Henry James, along with the play based on it, and two film adaptations. We discussed the time period in which the author wrote the novel, and the time in which the novel takes place. We concluded that the play was able to take place in 1850 because the civil war had not yet began. This was an interesting point about the novel that I had never considered before.
“The Heiress” is the 1949 film version of Washington Square. We learned the name of the film was changed because the producers considered “The Heiress” to be a more understandable and relatable title than “Washington Square”. I preferred the portrayal of characters in this version rather than those in the more recent film. I thought the actor who played Morris Townsend in this version was more true to his characteristics in the novel. He brought out a better portrayal of cleverness. With the addition of color in the newer film, it was easier to notice details such as the color of Catherine’s dress. The character who played Catherine in the black and white version seemed more socially awkward and timid compared to the other film. I imagined that the play would be more similar to the 1949 version.
We began class on Monday by discussing Sunday’s concert called Culture in Harmony. Dr. Kahan introduced us to the works of Felix Mendelssohn, a man whose contributions I had never heard before. Although his music was very popular at the time, Mendelssohn took a “Grand Tour” around Europe, where he was introduced to many aspects of society such as culture and history. He was able to take his experiences around the different countries of Europe, and turn them into great musical works. The work that we heard at the concert was called “Scottish” which was a composition of what Mendelssohn viewed Scottish lifestyle as.
We also discussed how the novel “Washington Square” was written in in 1880 but it was set to take place in 1850. I had not paid attention to this fact until Dr. Kahan pointed it out. The society in 1880 varied vastly to that of the 1850’s. During 1880, there were a lot of post-war problems. Society was reformed from the serene extravagant lifestyles that people were accustomed to. In order to evoke the tranquil feeling behind the title of the novel, it was necessary to match the time frame to the lifestyle that James was aiming for.
In the latter segment of our class we compared the two movies that were based off of “Washington Square”. The two versions, “The Heiress” and “Washington Square” both portrayed Catherine differently, each with a different approach on her behavior. In “Washington Square”, Catherine meets Morris through her cousin Marian. She seems like an awkward girl who manages to even make the viewers feel uncomfortable. In the older movie, however, she met Morris through her aunt Penniman. Personally, I liked the older adaptation better because I felt as though it more accurately painted a picture of the way I viewed Catherine while reading the novel.
In the beginning of Monday’s seminar class, we talked about the book Washington Square that we had read and written a paper on. While a majority of the points made were in agreement with my thoughts while reading the book, a couple of interesting and new observations came up as well. For one, I never really gave much thought to the time period that this story was placed in. After discussing it in class, it was brought to my attention that selecting the setting is actually a thoughtful process. Henry James wrote this book to take place in the 1850s with the purpose of having the events occur at a time that was calm. No war was going on and there were not many worries; it was a time of relative prosperity. I also never realized the possibility that the story was given its title to evoke all that is bright and calm. I was actually a bit disappointed that I did not make this connection, in that I know the area of Washington Square quite well. Lastly, James’s comment of Catherine carrying everything on her broad back came to mean something different to me than to many of my fellow classmates. To them, I believe it was taken as a negative comment that put Catherine down. However, to me, it seemed that James was just bringing to our attention that there was much that Catherine had to deal with. Therefore, she needed a broad back to get through it all. I did not pick up on the negative connotation of being open and making everything visible to others.
After discussing the book, we watched a couple of films based on it. First we watched parts of The Heiress, and then we watched Washington Square. The Heiress was a more dated film, but it was also my favorite of the two. The Heiress was more true to the book than Washington Square. In Washington Square, the cousin had to introduce Morris to Catharine, which made it seem like he had no idea she even existed. I didn’t like how Catherine seemed so uneasy and hyperactive. On the other hand, she did a good job of showing how desperate she was for her father’s acceptance.
On Monday in class we discussed our essays on Washington Square and watched clips from two different movie adaptations of the book by Henry James. Personally I really enjoyed reading Washington Square. I found Catherine’s story compelling and I enjoyed the contrast of her plainness to the strong personalities surrounding her. I found it interesting in class to see the ways directors and different actors decided to bring the world of Washington Square alive.
I found the older film (1949) more accurate than the more recent adaptation (1997). In the older one I felt that the screen write had kept most of what James wrote in the book the same, such as the red dress and Morris approaching Catherine at her cousin’s party. I didn’t really like how the version with Jennifer Jason Leigh (1997) changed the dress from red to blue and yellow, and how Marian dragged Morris over to Catherine and introduced them. On the other had I did enjoy how the 1997 version showed the father mourning Catherine’s mother and displayed him as tired and heartbroken. In this way Dr. Sloper was a more sympathetic character whereas in the 1949 version Dr. Sloper reminded me of a villain from a Disney movie. He seemed more frustrated and annoyed with Catherine, than tired and disappointed. In the 1949 version I didn’t sympathize with Dr. Sloper’s character at all, but in the 1997 version the moments when he looks at the paintings of his late wife made it clear that he was sad, therefore mitigating his behavior toward Catherine.
I also found it interesting how Jennifer Jason Leigh (1997) and Olivia de Havilland (1949) had entirely different interpretations of Catherine. In the 1949 version Olivia de Havilland played Catherine as mature for her age yet painfully shy (as described in the book). She made a few jokes to her aunt Lavinia and hid behind her fan. In the 1997 version Jennifer Jason Leigh played Catherine as if she were a little girl, running around the house falling at her father’s feet and laughing like a giddy child when her father comes home.
On Monday afternoon, it was refreshing to be able to sit back and watch pieces of the movie “Washington Square” in seminar class, after a long day of Calculus and Biology. Though I found it very similar to and consistent with the book, there were many obvious differences.
For one, I thought Catherine was more of a sympathetic character in the book. Readers of Washington Square are able to relate to Catherine, for everyone feels unloved at times and as if he doesn’t fit in. However, in the movie, Catherine isn’t portrayed as merely shy and a little dull. Her character seems extremely socially awkward and maybe even mentally retarded.
Moreover, one is able to enjoy the wittiness and clever sarcasm better in the book. The biggest contributor of irony in the book is the narrator, and since the movie does not have one, it loses an element of wit and satire. Still, the movie was really good, and I hope to see the whole thing.
In today’s seminar, we spoke about the novel Washington Square by Henry James. When I was first reading it, I could tell that Dr. Austin Sloper had a very sarcastic and condescending tone when speaking to his daughter, Catherine. He never considered his daughter anything special, and that is shown in his cruel words. In class, we spoke about a particular line from the novel in which Dr. Sloper really insults Catherine. She comes downstairs in a vibrant red dress, of which she feels very confident about because her late mother always wore red. She was very excited to wear the dress and be closer to her mother. However, when she walked down, Dr. Sloper immediately shot her down. First, he exclaimed that it was improper to “wear her wealth on her broad back.” He then said that she looked ridiculous because her mother “was dark; she dominated the color.” The class discussion really helped me to grasp even the smallest details with big significance in the novel.
We also watched clips from the movie and play versions of The Heiress in class. While watching the movie, I felt that the producer did not do the novel justice. He cut out the part about Catherine’s red dress, and he seemed to modernize it. The party Catherine had attended and the way the characters acted made it seem like any high school or college party someone would go to today. Morris seemed like “prince charming” discovering the painfully awkward girl at the party. It just seemed weird to me more than anything. The play was much different, however. The play preserved more of the literary elements and James’ tone while adding a whimsical aspect through dramatic acting. I look forward to seeing it on Wednesday!
In Monday’s seminar class, we discussed Washington Square. First, we discussed Henry James as a narrator. Then, we compared both movies that are based on the novel.
When I was reading this novel, I did not detect Henry James opinion of Catherine. Throughout the novel I was able to detect some irony, but I did not realize that Henry James had an opinion towards his heroine. Initially he makes fun of her when he says, “Catherine’s back is a broad one which could have carried a great deal.” I wish I would have looked more closely at some of the things he had said when I was reading the novel because I feel I have missed his sardonic comments. It was interesting to learn that he did have an opinion of his protagonist at one point, because from my understanding of the novel I thought he was objective.
If I had to decide to see one of the two movies, just from my knowledge of the book and from seeing the clips in class, I would see The Heiress. I felt that The Heiress was more like the book. I know that’s not what I am supposed to expect as a moviegoer when I see a movie based on a book, but I like to go into a movie and see it be very close the book. In this movie, Catherine was more contained and simple, which I feel resembles her character in the book more closely. Like Professor Kahan pointed out, the other movie, Washington Square, seemed to have more of a 20th century feel based on the movements of the characters, which I didn’t like. I also feel that the emotions conveyed in Washington Square were over exaggerated. For example, Dr. Sloper’s sarcasm jumps right off the screen. In the book I detected his sarcasm in some of his comments, but I do not feel he was as sarcastic as he is portrayed in this movie, which bothered me. Catherine’s flaws are also much more prominent. I liked how she aced in The Heiress more because her shyness and simpleminded are not as exaggerated as they are in Washington Square.
On monday’s class, Professor Kahan began class by giving background information on the famous composer Mendelssohn. We discussed Mendelssohn’s well known Symphony No. 3, which was played during sunday’s Philharmonic. Mendelssohn came from a very wealthy family and was very educated. His music was very well known during the mid 1800s, or the Victorian Age. Besides Symphony No. 3, Mendelssohn also wrote another very famous composition. This work is known as The Wedding March which is the song played during the bride and grooms exit of the church. This song, amazingly, is still used and favored today in many, if not all weddings.
After the discussion of Mendelssohn, we started to talk about the novel Washington Square and our opinions on it. We mainly focused on Catherine Sloper’s character, the protagonist of the novel. She is known as a plain and ungraceful girl who has a fine taste in clothing and is soon to be an heiress. Even though she likes to dress well, she does not do it to impress others. She does it to please herself. He father, Dr. Austin Sloper, does not like when Catherine dresses this way because she makes it seem like she “wears her money.” We also discussed why Henry James chose to set the book in New York in the 1850s. Since the book was written in 1880 during the rise of the civil war, the author chose to set the book before the civil war occurred to show New York during its prosperous times.
The we watched scenes from two movies: Washington Square and The Heiress. We compared how these two movies differ with the presentation of characters and how they act during the film. I felt that in the film Washington Square Catherine’s role was very much like the character in the novel in the sense that she was very unsociable and ungraceful. In the film The Heiress, I felt that Catherine should have been more awkward and unsociable. In Washington Square, Marian, Catherine’s cousin, introduced her to Morris Townsend. In The Heiress, Catherine’s Aunt Penniman introduced her to Morris Townsend. One particular difference that truly shocked me was Catherine’s dress in the movie Washington Square. Instead of Catherine wearing a cherry red dress just as her mother did in the past, the director of the movie disregarded this and had Catherine wear a huge and extravagant yellow dress. I was glad Professor Kahan decided to show us these scenes from the two movies in order to give the class a taste of what the broadway show would be like.
This session of seminar went by rather quickly. We watched two movies, both based on the novel, Washington Square. Both films followed the story of the novel; one was a black and white movie, The Heiress, and the other one was, Washington Square, a more recent film. Personally, I enjoyed watching segments of The Heiress more but Washington Square was enticing as well.
I rarely enjoy black and white movies and I avoid them when I watch TV. This is what made the class significant for me; when I saw that The Heiress was black and white I thought watching the clips would be very boring. Yet the film was oddly alluring, I thought that even though the film was old, it portrayed itself as a modern film. In addition, I really liked the way the actor performed Morris. The character was simply likable, I did not like Morris when I read the book but this actor drew me in. I would root for him throughout the course of the movie.
The film, Washington Square, was enjoyable but I would not watch it on my own time. Especially because of the actress that played Catherine, to put it simply, she was a terrible performer. Every time she spoke I felt uneasy; she just made the film needlessly awkward. I cannot really put my finger on the reason for her awkwardness, but I assume it was because she overreacted to everything; very melodramatic.
Hopefully, we will watch more movies for seminar in the near future. Who knows, a new favorite might arise out of this class.