Picturing Mr. Darcy

Article first published as Picturing Mr. Darcy on Blogcritics.

Books and films have an uneasy alliance. If you truly love a book, you may passionately want to see it brought to life in a film…or you may not. In fact, some of the most vehement reaction to a book adaptation comes from some of the book’s biggest fans.

When you are first reading a book, you picture the characters, visualize the scenes as they unfold. For me, it is like watching a movie in my head. My actors do as they are told, as they turn the page. In fact, there have been a few times where I remember a “scene” in a movie, when in fact it was only in my head from reading the book.

Though the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1995) is as beloved as Jane Austen’s classic (#13 in Amazon’s top bestsellers), I defy anyone to watch it and then reread the book and not see this:

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

Arguably, seeing Colin Firth in your head for long stretches of time is not a bad thing. However, I can’t even remember what my original Mr. Darcy looked like. I’m fairly certain he had dark hair and flashing eyes and a haughty demeanor, as Darcys are wont to have. Other than that, I can only ever see Colin Firth.

It is a tribute to Firth’s acting skills that he has replaced the actor in my head; he was voted the Best Darcy by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. But what of my long, lost Darcy?

Once a book’s character is codified into the face of an actor, there’s few ways to reset it: Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter are actors who permanenty define their character hereafter.

We are a deeply visual culture, so we delight in the ease and immersive experience of watching a movie. No one denigrates the joys of a classic, well-done film. But reading a book requires us to conjure faces and feelings in our own imagination, subject to no person except ourselves.

I have resisted watching the new Jane Eyre thus far, to avoid replacing the Mr. Rochester in my head with this:
Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester

As for you, which characters are now inseparable from the actors that have made them famous? Does this please or dismay you?

Word of the Day – Elegiac

el·e·gi·ac [el-i-jahyuhk, -ak, ih-lee-jee-ak]  –adjective
1. used in, suitable for, or resembling an elegy.
2. expressing sorrow or lamentation: elegiac strains.
This seemed an appropriate week for the word elegy. Most notably, the ending of the NASA shuttle missions.
When you google ‘NASA’ and read the stories of the ending, the regret seems to be primarily over the loss of jobs and the loss of America’s role as a prominent space pioneer. These are definitely losses. 

I have not seen much addressing the loss of the wonder that was NASA’s shuttle program. The first orbital flight of the shuttle launched on April 12, 1981, described by NASA as “the boldest flight test in history”. The opening words of Star Trek
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Sorry, Kirk, it seems as though your reality may never be. Science fiction turns into science fact easily. The visions of the future by great artists and writers, these have been brought to reality by creative scientists: engineers, physicists and designers. We now fly around the world in one long day. We build robots that seem human. We go 10,000 leagues under the sea and to the stars…or at least until lately.

It is a sad development. Without science exploration, who will supply the dreamers? How can we colonize Mars or see existence beyond our solar system? Humans have stared at the stars and wondered for thousands of years. And, finally, finally when we have the capability to move into that great beyond, that final frontier…we turn our faces away. We lower our eyes from the stars to the ground. We may wonder, but there are more immediate worries: unemployment, the debt crisis, and so on.
No one disputes that these are worrisome problems. But to see NASA as only a dump for millions of dollars, when we spend far greater money on wars we cannot win, that is grievously short-sighted.

We have 101 ways to kill a man, but no longer any way to take him to the stars.

Little Cat Feet

If I had a single flower for every time I think about you, I could walk forever in my garden.  ~Attributed to Claudia Ghandi

This week I had to say goodbye to Persephone, the sweet little cat who had been part of my life for the last three months. Every day when I walked in, she would spring to greet me, jump up on my lap and start making elaborate overtures for my affections.This was new to me, as my prior cat experience had been Ramses, who is so chill he might just as well be asleep, and Pippa, who was half-wild and would snuggle only for thirty seconds before she decided she had better things to do.

Pippa ran away from my last apartment, frightened off by the gang of feral raccoons in our neighborhood. I was devastated and spent weeks wandering downtown before and after work, calling her name, “Pip-pip-pip-pippa”. I plastered her photo on all the telephone poles, in shelters, cried a lot. I finally got a response from a shelter in the north of town; they thought they’d found Pippa.\

I drove up, heart in my mouth, and almost sprinted through the door. They took me through a corridor filled with cages stacked to the ceiling, filled with cats crying. It was like the 7th circle of hell. They brought me to a cage and pulled out Pippa. She leapt into my arms and I was crying and she was crying and the shelter tech was crying.
They asked, “You’re sure it’s her?” I, holding her in my arms as she looked up at me so trustingly, said, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” I signed the papers and took her home.

My first clue that it wasn’t Pippa is that she just loved to sit in my lap. She could sit there for hours and snuggle. But she was the same age and size and the markings were identical…until the day I realized that this cat had the tiniest feather brush of white across her upper lip.

I took her to the vet, got her shots and fixed. I couldn’t just take her back to the shelter, say “Sorry, I was wrong.” I had taken her from the mouth of Hades; I wasn’t taking her back. I named her Persephone, after that other girl who spent some time there.
Persephone was my doppelganger for Pippa. She looked so similar that I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t her. I was reminded of stories where fae replaced children in their cradles with a being that looked identical but was not the same. However, she was a wonderful, wonderful cat, as sweet as can be.
Unfortunately, my living situation had changed since I’d had Pippa. We had moved from a charming old carriage house, surrounded by live oaks and plenty of running-wild space, to a brand-new condo townhouse. Cats were allowed, but no yard meant they had to stay indoors. My poor boyfriend has the worst cat allergies I have ever seen, so they had to be confined to our third bedroom.
Ramses was fine with this; he is my sweet lazy lump. Persephone, however, was a baby cat and ready to run and play. She had so much energy that the small space was like a prison. I would go in and play and pet as much as I could, but she knew full well that the whole world was going on outside her door. It tortured me to keep her confined there and so I tried to take her outside periodically, but she always ran back after a few minutes.
Life inside got steadily worse for Persephone. She was irritable and lonely. Where she once only snuggled, now she scratched and chewed. I knew I couldn’t keep her on like this.

Persephone (“Sephi”) hugging Ramses, her big brother

Serendipity knocked, in the form of a coworker of mine. Her dog had recently passed away and her young cat was lonely. She had heard about Persephone’s confinement and it had been bothering her. So we talked and she offered and so it was agreed: I was to take my sweet kitty to her new home, the Elysian Fields.

Well, that’s what it sounded like. My coworker lives in a rather rural area, on a large lot. She has magnificent gardens, “Here are the bromeliads and here are the orange trees and here are the azaleas.” So much room for Persephone to romp and play, with her new little friend. Her house is cool and eclectic and there are a dozen-odd places to hide, a window seat to doze…in short, Kitty Heaven.
How could I deny her? All week long, before I took her, I would go in the room and pet her and hug her and think, “This is the last time I am doing this.” The day came and I loaded her in her carrier, tearful all the way down. She was oddly calm on the way down and purred a lot. I like to think that’s because she knew her lot was about to improve dramatically, though that’s doubtless just a fanciful notion on my part.
I got to my coworker’s house and it was everything I could have hoped for the cat I loved and was leaving. I sat there for awhile with her and watched, heart full of bittersweet happiness. She already was happier, bounding here and there and exploring, sniffing everything. She found a new favorite spot, behind the bookcase. One last pet and then I left her there, much happier than when she came.

I know that the parting is not forever. I have been invited to come and see her whenever I like. And I know that Persephone is far, far happier. And, like Demeter, I know I have to let my girl go to wherever her destiny might lead her.

In no fix’d place the happy souls reside. In groves we live, and lie on mossy beds, By crystal streams, that murmur thro’ the meads: But pass yon easy hill, and thence descend; The path conducts you to your journey’s end.” This said, he led them up the mountain’s brow, And shews them all the shining fields below. They wind the hill, and thro’ the blissful meadows go.

Virgil, Aeneid (6.641)  – Elysian Fields