January 03, 2005

Getting the Mood Music Right

Our pal Chan the Bookish Gardener has an interesting post (complete with blackline edits!) about a substantial change made by Henry James from an early edition of The Portrait of a Lady, switching out Beethoven and inserting Schubert as the composer whose music is being played when Madame Merle makes her entrance. Chan goes on to muse about the possible reasons behind this change, reflecting on the character and condition of the composers involved as they relate to the book's characters.

I'll come right out and admit that I've only read some of James' short stories and have yet to tackle anything weightier. So I have nothing intelligent to add here. However, it happens that my mother did her Masters thesis on James (albiet her focus was The Golden Bowl), so Mom, if you've ever thought of commenting on a post, this one's for you!

Posted by Robert at January 3, 2005 04:02 PM

Very interesting analysis of James' mind-change about Mme
Merle's piano piece (and even more fun to marvel at the polishing of the rest of the text by The Mawster), which she plays in her introductory scene in The Portrait etc; but so far as I know James was not in the slightest degree a musical person, so I think these interesting subtleties might have been beyond his ken. Of course as a cultured person, he would have heard of Schubert and Beethoven, but I would guess that all he knew of them was that the one, Beethoven, was commonly considered to be a much greater composer than the other, Schubert, so he may have meant nothing more by this change that Mme Merle was even in her "culture" a second-rater.
Alas, I have seen the Jane Campion film version and wish I had not. Chan is spot on about the wrong-wrong-wrong casting. Campion even has Malkovich demonstrate his cruel domination of Isabel by man-handling and even smacking her, not but what the chilly Nicole Kidman deserves it. She is simply not up to the part; maybe she did not understand the character. Malkovich, a favorite actor of mine, struggles manfully, but this role is outside his range. Chan is right--he looks so evil and menacing that it is baffling why such a prickly independent girl as Isabel would have anything to say to him.

Posted by: Mothe at January 4, 2005 02:35 PM
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