Class 10-15-12

In seminar on Monday, we discussed the various aspects of Washington Square in preparation for seeing “The Heiress” on Wednesday night. As a segue, we talked about Felix Mendelssohn, a famous composer. He was born in 1809 and was very affluent. He was extremely well educated, spoke several languages and had taken the “Grand Tour,” just as most affluent children did back in those times. The “Grand Tour” allowed children to venture outside of the local town and see all that the world has to offer. Mendelssohn took this time to compose several symphonies, including “The Scottish Symphony,” which we heard at the concert on Sunday afternoon. He then went on to write incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which has been infused into American Culture as the “Wedding March.”

Washington Square was originally written by Henry James in 1880, but was set in 1850. This was primarily because any time after that, there would have to be mention of the Civil War breakout, and that could have possibly had an adverse effect on the characters and the society in which they lived. Throughout the novel, the point of views switched back and forth. The narrator never stayed neutral on his opinion of the characters. For example, Austin was portrayed nicer in Europe, yet, back home, he was a sour Grinch. In addition, the character of Catherine was looked down upon because she was a “romp,” or as we say today, a “tomboy.” This was very unexpected of a young lady in the Victorian Era.

To further familiarize ourselves with Wednesday night’s play, we watched two renditions of the Washington Square novel. The first was the 1949 film “The Heiress,” staring Olivia de Havilland as Catherine, and Montgomery Clift as Morris. The second was the 1997 drama “Washington Square,” featuring Jennifer Leigh as Catherine and Ben Chaplin as Morris. While these two movies follow the same plot, the stories are interpreted two completely different ways.

In “The Heiress,” Catherine is portrayed as a very plain and quiet girl who is introduced to a random man, Morris, at a family gathering. In contrast, Washington Square depicted Catherine as a lively, active, tomboyish, young woman. Her mannerisms and actions reflected those of a seven year old child, rather than a grown woman. In this rendition, Catherine is introduced to Morris by her cousin Marian, rather than her aunt.

Another major difference in the two pieces was the interpretation of Mr. Sloper. According to the novel, Austin is a gentleman that is very astute and opinionated, often seeming a bit snide and conceited at times. He is portrayed similarly in the 1997 movie. In contrast, the 1949 film portrayed Austin as a witty and comical man, in the sense that he is chipper and less uptight. Both movies have me curious to see how the characters unravel in The Heiress on Broadway.


Ariana Z. 10/15 class

On Monday’s seminar Professor Kahan spoke to us about the life of Felix Mendelssohn. He  is a very famous composer, whose piece was performed by the SI Philharmonic on Sunday. The piece, Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No.3” was (as stated by Professor Kahan) the size of a normal symphony. It consisted of four movements and was true to the Victorian era. The music was emotional but not too emotional, and polite at the same time. This spoke to the Victorian style of modesty as well.

Mendelssohn himself led quite a full life, he had the ability and financial stability to take music lessons . Along with his sister, he was home schooled, and had a rigorous education. They both went on to become gifted musicians.

One of the pieces he composed that was a complete shock to me was “Wedding March.” After hearing a song like that so many times in one’s life, it is easy to forget or to infer about who wrote this piece. To learn that it was by Mendelssohn was an exciting fact to know.

In class we also spoke about the differences between the play “The Heiress” and the novel “Washington Square.” Besides not being able to exclaim the character’s point of view on a subject, the play appears to have relatively few differences in its content . The movie versions, however (of which we saw both), differ greatly. What predominantly stood out to me was in the movie “Washington Square” how the director chose to make Catherine very awkwardly bubbly, and that he chose to make her dress yellow and mismatched  compared to the rich, luxurious red described in the novel. Both choices in my opinion just made it uncomfortable to watch, especially the personality of Catherine. Another factor of this movie that I did not enjoy was how arrogant Morris Townsend seemed, he was less charming than in the first movie we watched, “The Heiress.” Of the two, the first portrayal would have to be my preference.

One last thing that I found interesting was regarding the names of the movies and play. Apparently, “The Heiress” is a title used since it provides the public with more of an idea as to what it is about. When one simply says “Washington Square” unless you know of the place and its reputation, you might as well assume it is a story of a town in Washington.




Today, we spoke a little bit about why Washington Square is considered by many people a classic. We spoke about the narrator in the novel and how he was often ironical. I liked the narrator because I think he made a fairly normal story that could be boring more entertaining to read. I think the reason why I enjoyed the novel so much was because the style that Henry James wrote in reminds me of the way Oscar Wilde wrote. One reason why I think both authors write in a similar fashion is because James preferred European culture to American culture and Wilde was a European (Irish) author.

Towards the end of the class, we watched scenes from two movies based on the novel. I preferred the older film, the Heiress, to the more recent Washington Square. I had a lot of problems with the scenes we watched from the more recent film. I didn’t like the way Catherine was portrayed, she was too jittery and I saw Catherine as more of a quiet girl. I didn’t like that they changed the color of the dress to yellow. A major point of the dress was that it was red as a tribute to her mother. I also didn’t like Morris in this film either, I feel he was too stuck up and wasn’t doing a good job of hiding his confidence.

I enjoyed the scenes from the Heiress. I felt Dr. Sloper was sarcastic but, in an enjoyable way. In the party scene, you can tell Catherine is nervous but, she isn’t jumpy like the Catherine portrayed in Washington Square. I also thought the slight accent Morris had was charming but, not in your face. Even though I didn’t picture Morris with an accent, it was a nice touch to make the movie different from the novel but not completely different so that it loses touch with the original story.

I’m excited to go to the play and see how they portray the different characters. I’m not going to do any research so that I can have a completely fresh impression on Wednesday.

-Amber G.

The Heiress vs. Washington Square: 10/15/12

Monday’s class opened with a discussion of the concert the class went to see on Sunday, 10/14, Cultures in Harmony.  The piece we zeroed in on was the third piece we heard that day, “Scottish”, by Felix Mendelssohn.  Dr. Kahan explained to us that Mendelssohn was a well-respected and highly sought – after composer in his day, during the Victorian Era in history.  His music spoke to the people of the time…it was emotional, but not too emotional, something I could understand after listening to one of his pieces.  In addition, Mendelssohn was very well – educated, and as a requirement of his education, took the Grand Tour, a tour all around Europe, during which he was introduced to the history, architecture, and cultural styles of many different countries within Europe.  Being a lover of music and interested in the orchestral and symphonic aspect of music, Mendelssohn took his experiences in Europe and turned them into music.  The piece we heard at the concert, “Scottish”, was Mendelssohn’s interpretation of Scottish culture and their way of life.  It was interesting to me to put into perspective that an artist’s work is not only an influence on a certain time period or group of people, but is a result of the time period he or she lives in and the people he or she interacts with.

After our introduction to Mendelssohn, we moved onto the main discussion of the class, that which concerned Washington Square by Henry James and its play counterpart, The Heiress.  We first examined the actual book and the script of the play and identified some of the similarities and differences between the two.  One of the main differences, something that I had always taken notice of and interest in, was that when reading a book, one can either infer or absolutely know (depending on the author’s style) the emotions and responses of a character within his or her mind.  We are made aware of his or her reactions to another character or a conversation they are having.  Personally, I love to read, and that was something I always enjoyed – being able to know a character fully and the ability to relate to them.  While I also enjoy seeing plays, if one does not know the background of the story he or she is seeing, it is not always possible to really know what is going on or a particular character’s reaction or personality.  While many of the conversations remain unchanged from Washington Square to The Heiress, it is not so easy to bring over the character’s personalities from the novel to the play.

We then watched clips from two different movie versions of the story, ironically enough, one named Washington Square from 1997 and the other named The Heiress from 1949.  Once again, there were similarities and differences.  I find the differences much more fascinating.  First of all, Catherine’s red crimson dress, which was such a vital aspect of the original story, was completely cut out of the Washington Square movie.  They also didn’t really stay true to the characters.  It seemed to me that in this movie version of the story, they tried to modernize the characters a bit, something that I usually enjoy, but in this particular story, just annoyed me.  Catherine was very perky, and Morris Townsend was just seemingly unintelligent and boyish.  I much preferred The Heiress version from 1949 that we saw clips from.  Catherine was much more poised and elegant and the director didn’t stray from particular story aspects like it seemed they did in Washington Square.  To me, analyzing the two versions is enjoyable and gives me a chance to evaluate how different people can interpret the same story.

I enjoyed reading the story of Washington Square and I look forward to seeing the Broadway production of The Heiress tomorrow night.

Stephanie Solanki, 10/15/12

In today’s class, we opened by talking about zeitgeist. Mendelssohn was a composer at the same time as Beethoven, yet Beethoven is so much more famous than he is in this age. This is because Mendelssohn appealed to his time period. His music was influenced by the Victorian era, and his music influenced the Victorian era. I thought this was an interesting concept. Mendellsohn’s music was for that specific era, and so it didn’t become as famous at Beethoven’s because his music transcended time.

Felix Mendelssohn was a very educated individual. He was very wealthy. He was interested in composing orchestral music, and his father hired musicians to play his music so he could practice. He went on a grand tour of Europe; this was part of his education. He saw Scotland, and wrote the “Scottish Symphony.” He was a German man who took his idea of a Scottish dance and put it into a symphony. He imagined another culture by putting it into music.

We listened in class to Mendelssohn’s most famous music piece of all time. It is called the “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” This was an incidental music for the play, which was written for a specific scene or between scenes. Dr. Kahan said that we don’t think about this piece as something that someone had to write down at one point in time; it is just a part of our culture. I will try now to look at popular music pieces differently, and look at each piece of music as something that someone created.

In Washington Square, James set back the novel 20 years before than at the time it was written. He chose to start the novel in 1850 because the Civil War was in 1861. There are no wars in 1850. It was a period of stability and economic prosperity. The Civil War altered society, and so it would had altered the arts. This goes back to the idea of zeitgeist. The novel is called Washington Square because the title is meant to evoke the calm nature of the setting, Washington Square Park.

We then compared the two movies Washington Square and The Heiress. In Washington Square, the director chose to cut the red dress that Catherine wore and switched it with a blue and yellow dress. I think that this is a terrible choice on the director’s part because the red dress was such an important part of the story. It shows how she looked older than she was, even though she was not trying to be flirtatious. In both versions, however, Catherine is portrayed as a very awkward and unusual young lady. Her father is also very mean and blunt in both versions. The two Morris’ were very different. In The Heiress, it seemed as if Morris had known of Catherine before. However in Washington Square, it seems like the two were meeting at the same time. He also seemed as if he was trying to “match her awkwardness,” as Naomi put it. I feel like both versions have their own strengths and weaknesses. I think that the newer version of the story imposes the modern age social constructs onto the characters of the novel.

I really cannot wait to see The Heiress on Wednesday. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and am looking forward on the onstage production of it. I am expecting the acting to be outstanding, considering the star-studded cast.

10/15/12 – Washington Square & The Heiress

Today’s seminar class was for the most part brand new material for me. I never heard of Mendelssohn, but I was shocked to hear of all the wonderful contributions he made to the world of art. He was a brilliant man, which rubbed off on his children because they were consumed with a rigorous education schedule. Mendelssohn’s children had many tutors, music and gymnastic lessons, learned Greek, Latin, and arithmetic. While in Europe, he did the Grand Tour, which is to go all around Europe absorbing the culture as part of your education. Mendelssohn took ideas of what he believed the Scottish individuals portrayed and poured it into his symphony. We were privileged enough to hear one of his most famous works, “Wedding March,” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Also, this brilliant man wrote incidental music, because he got caught up with writing music for Shakespeare. Because of Mendelssohn prodigious education, he knew five languages, and was constantly reading, making him fluent in Shakespeare.

Henry James, the author of Washington Square spent most of his life in Europe, and his point of view of the Native Americans was in fact, completely prejudice by his experiences in Europe. He thinks European culture is way better than American life, and developed a keen eye by constantly observing the human character. The narratives point of view is quite sarcastic, and ironic. In my opinion, Catherine, as described in the novel, looks like a plain yet pretty woman and solidly built. Catherine loves to spend her money on fancy clothes, which definitely isn’t approved by Dr. Sloper. Her father doesn’t like it because it shows that she is wearing her money as well as making her look older. I found it quite interesting as to why the novel was written in 1880, but Henry James set the action back thirty years. The reason for doing this was because it was before the Civil War, and economically, it was prosperous. The title, Washington Square, evokes a sense of calmness, and a feeling, that everything is good in the world.

Henry James makes fun of Catherine by saying that her back is a broad one, which could have carried a great deal. He never blatantly says something nice to her, which in a way upsets me. Catherine doesn’t wear expensive clothes to look better; she just likes the clothes and the way it feels on her body. Therefore, the reason she chose to wear a red dress was because her mother wore red, so it was Catherine’s way of connecting with her deceased mother.

Finally, towards the end of class, we compared both movies, which are Washington Square and the Heiress. There are some striking differences pertaining to both motion pictures. For example, Catherine is perkier in the movie Washington Square, whereas in the Heiress, she is more elegant and contained. Also, different people in both movies introduced Morris Townsend. This class was another one of those influential and uplifting sessions, teaching me a lot of something I hardly knew anything about.