21 responses

  1. belle on heels
    April 14, 2011

    i’m inclined to agree with you. “house of mirth” is one of my all-time favorite books, and i just don’t think a movie can do the subtleties of the book justice. i don’t think it’s the actors’ or the director’s fault…it’s just not a book that easily translates to film. at least the costumes and sets make for glorious eye candy!

  2. PetiteChablis
    April 14, 2011

    Oh dear! I have not seen the film, but reading your account of the way they gutted the meeting between Lily and Selden, I think I am unlikely to do so.

    It interests me that Scorcese chose Age of Innocence and not House of Mirth if what interested him was the brutality of the New York social world. I think of House of Mirth as far more brutal than Age of Innocence.

  3. The Preppy Princess
    April 14, 2011

    Wow. I love this post for a variety of reasons, perhaps most for the insight offered by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on why we “get all riled up,” it has taken decades to no longer need validation from others on matters of personal taste.

    I also appreciate the comments you selected from “rdconger, Ph.D.” and those engaged in the online debate, I always marvel at how quickly the comments become derogatory statement’s on one’s credentials, it is a universal phenomenon.

    Thank you for such a thought-provoking post!

  4. Claire
    April 14, 2011

    we think that others ought to share our judgment

    We want them to share our judgment because obviously we believe we are right. To slam one’s opinion of a mediocre movie is getting dangerously close to saying, “You are a moron!” Which is exactly what happened further on in this diagloue. Intellectual arguments do not have a right or a wrong. Oh, people may agree or disagree (and I’ve heard many people say HofM was a mediocre movie and Scorsese’s AofI was fantastic), but, really, it’s not a given. Like say 1+1=2. Plus, I do think that the anonymity of the Internet encourages confrontation, or at least is not as hampered by normal social conventions. I doubt these two would be at each other’s throats if they were standing face to face. They might “think” the other was full of it, but they certain wouldn’t say it.

  5. Pearl
    April 14, 2011

    The House of Mirth is one of my favorite books–in fact, it changed my life nearly 23 years ago now. What the movie misses (as does Scorsese’s equally problematic film) is that while both are all right films, they miss the subtleties of Wharton’s characters and setting and, frankly, the gender issues embedded in both novels. Or, rather, both films reduce the gender issues to simple “bad/good” melodrama. And as reductive as it sounds when I write it, these two male directors pay little attention to the female realities of Wharton’s stories–ergo the giddy-up and go quality of their films doesn’t allow for the nuances of Wharton’s tales–but men generally construct action differently than women, when telling stories. Lovely sets, costumes, food/meals, ceremonies, rituals, and situations should be only the glossy cover to the bare facts of life for women who are complex, independent, poor, with no family, and step outside the boundaries of accepted behavior–but in both films, Wharton’s feminist/humanist morality, rage, and fearless honesty are missing in favor of .

  6. Susan Tiner
    April 14, 2011

    Thank you for this analysis! I think I will skip the film.

    April 14, 2011

    I think that entire arguement showed the ignorance and immaturity of both of the commentors. I don’t believe this was an aesthetic disagreement. The root cause of the arguement seemed more about one-upmanship of “qualifications” than it did about the performance.

    I saw the door to this arguement open when I read the line, “Oh my. Have you ever read The House of Mirth? … I’m French and I studied literature…”.

    That comment insinutated that rdconger had commented without having read the book, and gave him (her?) an “I’m smarter and have more authority on the subject than you” slap on the wrist.

    And of course, the rebuttle: “I could point out that I read and speak French as well that I have a Ph.D. in comparative literature”.

    The argument that ensued was no more than name calling. It sounded like two kids in a sandbox using ninth grade vocabulary.

    None of the arguement (at least that I have read) gave any opinion to support or negate the actual film. Aesthetic differences? I doubt it.

    I do believe that there are some people who feel the need to validate themselves, whether those people realize it or not. Those validations are usually delivered by passive-aggressive statements, as seen in this dialogue.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post! I needed a little brain exercise this afternoon!

  8. dash
    April 14, 2011

    I watched the film ages ago, I remember thinking at the time it was enjoyable but a bit lightweight, however it did inspire me to buy the book which can only be a good thing. The House of Mirth now ranks amongst one of my favourite novels, a relevant story then and a relevant story now.

    Your post has inspired me to reread the book (will remember to have Kleenex on hand) and then watch the film.

  9. Karena
    April 14, 2011

    Great discussion. I am one to say that Intelligent people can agree to disagree.

    I will see the movie. Thank you Professor.


    Art by Karena

  10. lauren
    April 14, 2011

    ah, thinking that others ought to share our judgment; from the crusades all the way up to the kardashians, has conflict ever been about anything else? i think i’d agree with your take on davies’ version of mirth, though i have a hard time being on a side which includes someone who deploys their phd like rhetorical brass knuckles (rdconger, i’m looking at you). one demonstrates that one is well-educated.

    vaguely related: laura linney was a reader at my beloved ex-boss’s wedding this past fall, and we all felt very sorry for the groomsman who had to read after her.

  11. Sarah
    April 14, 2011

    I am reminded by this post of two books that I thoroughly enjoy, one movie that sucks me in with all of its trappings (and isn’t the term “trappings” when applied to the accouterments of wealth in Wharton’s works), and finally of one of my favorite cartoons.

    For, indeed, Someone Is Wrong On The Internet.

  12. Jen
    April 14, 2011

    I loved The House of Mirth – never saw the film and probably won’t.

  13. MJ
    April 14, 2011

    Ugh, the book was heavy (good but tragic) and like Ethan Frome I’m not sure I can bear to read it again. Custom of the Country wasn’t much cheerier, nor was Age of Innocence though I do love it for its exploration of duty and the human heart (and the ending, when the world has changed so much that boys from the best families are marrying the lovely young daughters of scandal and no one even thinks to harm them…). I love Wharton and am obsessed with her ghost stories. Again, so much of their power is from the underlayers – Afterwards is just great (and talking about layers? Roman Fever….).

  14. Mise
    April 14, 2011

    Oh, internet wars! They bring so much base reality to an earlier, more carefully depicted base reality. Good to see you here again, Professor C. I haven’t seen the film, so bow to your view. Perhaps one day you could tell us what you make of Nancy Mitford?

  15. Terri
    April 14, 2011

    Hm, I recently watched this film for the first time, while it has been some time since I read the book. I think there may be very good reason for the superficiality of the film. The subject matter of the story is about surfaces, isn’t it. It may be that the viewer, as in reader-response theory, is obliged to provide the interpretation and to search out the depths.

  16. Lisa
    April 15, 2011

    Thank you Professor C., and to all of you reading and commenting. These posts were highly requested in the reader survey, and I appreciate everyone contributing.

  17. Staircase Witch
    April 15, 2011

    Your quotation from the Kant entry is so apt, particularly considering the trash-talking of credentials that makes up a large part of that rather amusing exchange. I am a refugee from academia, and I don’t miss that aspect of it one bit.

    I haven’t seen “House of Mirth” either, but I am generally inclined to regard novels and film adaptations of novels as discrete, separate texts, because the acts of reading and watching are themselves so different. Adapting a novel completely faithfully for the screen so often results in a dull, plodding three-hour saga. Often the best film adaptations are more akin, say, to a theatre director’s decision to set Richard III in an alternate-history fascist England (also done on screen, and great fun) or perform Henry IV, pt. I with an all-female cast. “Apocalypse Now” comes to mind. Or even James Whale’s “Frankenstein,” which bears very little resemblance to Shelley’s novel but is still a masterpiece in its own right.

    So if I do see Davies’ film someday, I won’t regard it as the “The House of Mirth” adapted for screen, but as Davies’ interpretation of “The House of Mirth”–or maybe as Davies’ Marxist reading of the novel presented as a film (with the added scene of the Russian agitator as a kind of directorial commentary), rather than a journal article, with which I can choose to agree or disagree. Does that distinction make sense? It has the added benefit of affording me some detachment and protection from disappointment–the director hasn’t “destroyed” the film; it’s simply that I don’t agree with his or her reading of it.

    And if it is a great adaptation, as Scorsese’s was, I can still appreciate it as a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

  18. belle de ville
    April 15, 2011

    What an interesting post! It’s great to have imput on Edith Wharton by Professor C!

    Chez de Ville we’ve been discussing “The House of Mirth” as Madamoiselle de Ville has been studying the book in her American Novel class.

    I certainly preferred the book to the film, but at least the film, offered non readers a glimpse into Wharton’s work, as did “The Age of Innocence”. Perhaps, it even inspired a few people to go out and buy the book and read it.

    It’s odd how different I view the story today versus what I though 30 plus years ago. In some ways I now see the character of Lily as complicit in her victimization. Today I am less sympathetic and just want to scream at the book “Don’t do it, DON”T DO IT..you’re gonna get screwed!”.

  19. anhan1018
    April 16, 2011

    This movie has been one of my favorites since it came out. However, i do have one small issue with it, and its staying true to the plot of the Wharton novel:

    I understand things don’t always translate as well from print to film (especially with certain plot points), but i think the movie could have benefited by including the character Gerty Farish into the movie. Instead, the movie combines Grace Stepney’s role with Gerty’s personality. It didn’t ruin the movie for me (i still enjoyed it immensely), but…

  20. GSL
    October 7, 2013

    I loved House of Mirth (novel) and watched the movie not too long afterwards on youtube in 10 minute installments which is less than ideal however I agree with Prof C, the cast was all wrong. I like GA but she wasn’t the more womanly woman I imagined from the novel who was far more sympathetic. ES as Selden also missed badly as his characters never interest me. I can’t look at Dan Ackroyd w/o expecting him to stuff a salmon in his coat.

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