Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Duchess & Edith Wharton

I went to see The Duchess on Thursday. I have Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgiana Spencer in my TBR pile and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. My problem when it comes to biopics is that they're often too generic : they're so little contextualized (costume does not context make) that they lose all meaning so much so that at some point you will, inevitably, be able to change the main protagonist's name without changing anything else in the movie and it will still make sense. The Duchess most definitely doesn't avoid being yet another biopic about yet another important person. Halfway through the movie I wondered exactly what was special about the story : I think Georgiana's life was interesting enough to make a movie out of it but there was so little mention of her political influence, so little mention of anything else really besides the fact that the Duke didn't love her and that she loved Charles Grey. It becomes tedious enough at the end to allow you to wonder why they chose Georgiana when they could have chosen any woman in the 18th century and her story would have been the same - married to a man she did not love, loved another, her husband had affairs, she had a passionate one and was forced to turn away from it. Been there, done that ?
The acting was top notch, especially coming from Keira Knightley and Hayley Atwell (who plays Bess Foster), Ralph Fiennes had some good moments too and I adored the score. However, the whole movie seemed very shallow. I can't wait to read my copy of the biography so I can finally see why Georgiana deserves to be famous. Is it really because she was forced to give up love ?

Hermione Lee's biography of Edith Wharton is now part of my TBR pile as I borrowed it from the library yesterday. I wish I didn't, it's so heavy I can barely lift it, I should have bought it instead but when you're a poor student, you tend to rely on the library more than the average person. I didn't check it out on purpose but I realised later that it might be good to read it in parallel with Wharton's The House of Mirth which I bought earlier this year. I've started it on the bus and it's already my favourite Wharton so far. I haven't read that much by her, only The Age of Innocence and The Custom of the Country and as much as I absolutely loved the details of her perfect prose and her sharp criticism of American society, I thought the stories - although excellent too from a feminist point of view - read too much like melodrama, even like soap operas, especially the end of The Age of Innocence. I hope The House of Mirth will change my mind.