Why the Royal Wedding Matters

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life, Ramblings about Romance 1 Comment

If you have been reading the blogs or the newspapers lately, you have seen the chorus of people who roundly disavow any interest in the royal wedding.  Fair enough.  I admit the wall-to-wall coverage is probably annoying to people who have no interest.  It is true that an obscene amount of public money has been lavished on a ceremony when many people in England are groaning under the double-whammy of high taxation and skyrocketing unemployment, but I still hope something good can come out of this very public affirmation of marriage.  

I grew up in an era when little girls began planning their wedding before they were in kindergarten.  I remember playing Bride by walking around my bedroom with a white towel draped over my head.  This sort of thing was fun, and even though it is now eschewed by academics who believe little girls should be taught to aspire to something more professional, I am sorry the cynicism of our era has taught young women to be skeptical of marriage.  Given recent history of the royal family, such skepticism may be well-founded, but whoever thought it was a good idea for a 33-year old man to marry a 19-year old girl he barely knew?  William & Kate are both 29 and have been dating for years, so I am hoping they’ve got the foundation and stamina to make it across the finish line. 

We live in an era where a ‘starter marriage’ has become par for the course.  People get married jumping out of helicopters or at drunken affairs in a Las Vegas chapel.  Not too long ago, a celebrity got married with a whacky Alice-in-Wonderland theme.  She is already divorced.   

This morning, millions of girls dragged themselves out of bed in the dark hours of the morning to witness a big, bold, stick-in-your-memory-forever type of wedding.  I hope it becomes something for them to aspire to.  I am not referring to the horse-drawn carriage or the lavish gowns.  I want them to remember this celebration of a once in a lifetime event.  The wedding was a solemn occasion mingled with joy, pageantry, and music that soared to shake the rafters.  William and Kate were married within the sight of God with reverence, solemnity, and respect for tradition.  These girls witnessed the acknowledgement that a marriage can be a life-altering and life-affirming event.  And that is a good thing!

Wishing William and Kate all the best!

Photo courtesy of Defence Images


The Ultimate Modern Gothic: Rebecca

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life, Ramblings about Romance 1 Comment

When Rebecca Du Maurier’s Rebecca was published in 1938, the novel single-handedly resurrected the gothic novel, a genre that was on the verge of extinction.  Gothic novels reigned supreme in the 19th century, when works by Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Bronte, and Mary Shelly blended elements of a picturesque setting, mystery, romance, and sometimes a hint of the supernatural.  By the early 20th century, such storylines were being discarded in favor of mysteries and more realistic forms of drama.

The book was an immediate bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic.  Although it met initially with poor reviews, the public adored this story, in which a plain girl marries a wealthy and powerful widower.  Swept away to a house of bewitching splendor, there nevertheless is a sense of foreboding that pervades the great estate.  The heroine, who remains symbolically nameless throughout the book, lives in the shadow of the beautiful, glamorous dead wife.  In the course of the book, the heroine’s self-esteem is methodically ripped to shreds until she discovers that her husband actually despised his first wife.  The shift in power is subtle, but the second Mrs. De Winter gradually finds her backbone and is capable of becoming a salvation for her husband.  

It has been noted by critics that there are striking similarities between Rebecca and Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte, 1847).  Both novels feature a presumably dead but haunting first wife, a plain heroine, a spectacularly gloomy estate in the English countryside, and a fire that destroys the estate and reduces the hero to a state of dependency.  It is easy to understand the appeal of witnessing an apparently plain, unassuming heroine ultimately triumph over the beautiful, privileged other woman. For my thoughts on the enduring appeal of Jane Eyre as a movie, see here. 

Rebecca sparked a new round of interest in the gothic genre in the 1950’s and 60’s, when massmarket paperback mysteries were failing to find a female readership.  Gerald Gross from Ace Books set about to find the “next Rebecca.”  Using the same formula of young and innocent heroine venturing into gloomily mysterious settings, a new wave of authors led by Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt gave rise to the modern gothic.  Soon we saw countless paperbacks with young girls dressed in  floaty gowns fleeing the gloomy mansions.  Those battered paperbacks were my first foray into romance literature, and I devoured them.  It was Rebecca which can probably be credited with having sparked that gothic revival, and for that, I will be forever grateful. 

Cinderella for Guys

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 2 Comments

Do you ever watch those sweaty guy movies like Die Hard or Under Siege?  My husband devours these movies with an unholy gluttony.  Now, I am the last person on the planet to criticize anyone for their preferred genre.  After a long day at work, I confess to having a bizarre fascination for watching old re-runs of Cops, so I have no desire to pick up the first stone.

Having sat through my fair share of these guy movies, I have concluded that most of them adhere to the male version of the Cinderella theme.  The classic example is Under Siege (1992).  Steven Segal plays a cook on the battleship Missouri.  He’s a mild mannered guy, overlooked and under-appreciated by everyone except the captain of the ship, who treats this lowly cook with a great deal of respect. 

Segal keeps to himself and performs his humble kitchen chores until the ship is infiltrated by clever villains who are out to steal the ship’s nuclear weapons.  Chaos and mayhem ensue, but suddenly the humble cook is revealed to be a former Navy SEAL who was busted down to the position of cook after he struck a commanding officer who got his men killed in botched operation in Panama.  Sooooo, Cinderella sheds his rags and emerges as the hero, the only man who can save the ship despite his lowly status as a cook.

I think this movie, and the thousands that follow in a similar mold, speak to something inside the average guy.  Who doesn’t want to be a hero?  For every real life cook or mailroom clerk, there is the young kid who once dreamed of becoming a Navy SEAL.  For every manicurist or secretary, there is a woman who once dreamed of being Cinderella.  I think most women who hanker after this kind of storyline will migrate to romance novels or romantic comedies (Ever seen Pretty Woman? Maid in Manhattan?)  Women endure a lot of ribbing from their men for liking this sort of thing…..but I still say a healthy chunk of men’s action movies are simply Cinderella for Guys.

Splendid Libraries: Edith Wharton’s Private Library

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Last week’s library entry on Mark Twain’s Library got me to thinking about what other writer’s library’s look like.  I started prowling around the web to see what I could find.  As expected, it tends to be the very rich and famous writers whose libraries have been preserved.   Possibly the grandest of them all belongs to Edith Wharton, who chronicled of the Gilded Age so well because she lived the life.

 Her home in Lennox Massachusetts was known as The Mount.

And here is a picture of her library, which is as elegant and formal as you might imagine for someone of Edith Wharton’s stature.  Lovely, but not particularly comfortable?  I can imagine enjoying this room to browse the shelves, but as soon as I found something, I think I would scurry away to find a more cozy place to enjoy the book.


Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 1 Comment

I love a good World War II movie, and one that made a profound impression on me was Plenty (1985) staring Meryl Streep.  I don’t mean to suggest the movie is particularly enjoyable.  It jumps back and forth in time, is difficult to follow, and features terribly unsympathetic characters, but it contains a few pieces of wisdom that have stuck with me ever since I saw it more than a decade ago. 

Meryl Streep plays Susan, a young British woman who risks her life to work with the French resistance during World War II.  While in the midst of a terrifying assignment, she meets Sam Neill (another British spy) and spends a remarkable twelve hours with him.  Then the war intervenes and she never sees him again.  For the next twenty years, Susan becomes increasingly bitter and disillusioned with life, always remembering those twelve hours with her dashing spy, who she idealizes as the epitome of strength, courage, and romance.   Every man she will ever meet, every incident in her life, is measured against the yardstick of this phenomenal man.  How can she help but be disappointed? 

Susan is the classic example of a glass that is half-empty.  During her few months in service in France, she overcame mind-numbing terror to throw herself into the crusade against Nazi Germany.  She was rightfully proud of that service, rightfully in awe of her fellow compatriots, but she ultimately becomes impatient and self-destructive when she does not find that level of valor in her post-war existence. 

The movie was based on a play written by David Hare, whose inspiration came from the fact that 75% of the British women who engaged in wartime secret operations divorced within a few years of the war’s end.  What was to account for this shocking statistic? 

Many war veterans have commented on how warfare lends a sense of intense challenge, of comradeship, an intensification of emotions that simply is not felt in the normal course of life.  Participation in a just war gave meaning to their existence.  The constant sense of danger and the looming threat of death gave life an extraordinary clarity, and when the war was over, they crave that sense of purpose as life returns to its ordinary shades of gray.  This is the malaise that affects Meryl Streep’s character.   

In a scene near the end, Susan is reunited with Sam Neill more than twenty years after the war.  Her hero is now a paunchy, listless, middle-aged man in a mediocre office job where he is harangued by his boss.  For twenty years Susan had been scornful of her husband and lovers for never measuring up to this gallant man who she caught a glimpse of during one of his finest moments.  

Like Susan, I was initially disappointed to see what became of the dashing, heroic spy.  But the more I think about it, I was wrong, wrong, wrong to jump to that conclusion.  I think there are heroes all around us, but until we are given a cause to rise to the occasion, most of us will never know it.  The Sam Neill character is an Everyman.  He was a normal, decent man who became a hero when his country asked it of him.  This movie taught me to look a little more carefully at the everyday people in my life.  There are heroes all around us. It is hard to spot them when you are paying for milk at the grocery store or talking to the guy from I.T. who is unjamming the office printer.  Ordinary, workaday people….until they need to rise to the occasion.  I believe most of us can do so.


Splendid Libraries: Mark Twain’s Library

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Mark Twain is one of those people it is almost impossible not to like.  Even if you aren’t wild about his novels, he seems like the kind of person you would like to know.  He was a product of the Victorian world, but he seemed too forward thinking for that era. After more than a hundred years, his sense of humor still seems remarkably fresh.  Also, I love the rambling nature of his house.

Do you see the circular glassed-in room on the front of his house?  That is his library!  Let’s have a closer look, shall we?

I love the abundance of natural light and the comfortable seating.  It is easy to imagine the great man curled up in here while he read. What I don’t know is if this is the room where he did his writing.  The nice big library table in the center of the room certainly looks conducive to writing, but if anyone knows for sure, I’d love to hear about it.

Jane Eyre, part 27

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life, Ramblings about Romance 1 Comment

Have you seen the new Jane Eyre movie? This latest edition marks the whopping 27th time this classic story has been captured on film.  Although Jane Eyre ranks as one of my favorite all-time stories, I am a little befuddled as to why it warrants a new major motion picture treatment every five years or so. 

Perhaps because no one has gotten it quite right yet?  A number of the adaptations feel depressingly alike.  The 1996 version starring William Hurt brought nothing new to the table.  Ditto the 1970 George C. Scott or the 1943 Orson Welles.  For my money, my favorite Rochester was in the 1983 BBC mini-series with Timothy Dalton.  He was criticized for being too good-looking and for overacting, but oh my….. I thought he was wonderful.  Despite my adolescent infatuation with Timothy Dalton, this version was spoiled for me by the actress who played Jane.  Yes, Chalotte Bronte describes Jane as having a wounded, quietly watchful demeanor, but this actress was so bland she seemed to be either bored or sleep-walking.  It was incomprehensible how she could have brought Mr. Rochester to his knees. 

For my money, the best Jane I have seen is Samantha Morton’s 1997 portrayal in the A&E miniseries.  She was physically plain and mousy as Jane is supposed to be….but with a quirky liveliness that makes her unique and helps the chemistry between Jane and Rochester spark.  Morton’s version of Jane displayed character, kindness, and compassion.  I believe she really made that version sing.  

My overall favorite so far?  I confess a guilty fondness for the 2006 BBC miniseries starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson (pictured below)  This version has been rightly castigated for not being true to the book, but I admire the producers for trying to bring something new to the table.  In short, this is the “hot” Jane Eyre.  The characters smolder.  They yearn.  They lust.   Physically, they don’t stray outside of what Charlotte Bronte wrote in the book, but the foundation of their relationship is nourished by a healthy dose of lust, which is not an unrealistic reaction for two healthy adults stranded in a remote country estate.  While many of the other Jane Eyre adaptations have the staid, proper feeling of a 19th century novel, this version is a steamy twentieth century adaptation, and I confess to being quite fond of it.

 I have not yet seen the newest version, and probably won’t until it comes out on DVD.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the latest version, or any commentary on the earlier ones.