The Master and Mrs. Wharton: Film Adaptations of the work of Edith Wharton and Henry James.
Artt, S. J.
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Artt, S. (2005) The Master and Mrs. Wharton: Film Adaptations of the work of Edith Wharton and Henry James..
This thesis is an examination of six films adapted between 1993 and 2000 from novels by Henry James and Edith Wharton: James's The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl, The Portrait of a Lady and Wharton's The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth and The Buccaneers. All six films have been claimed as part of the costume drama/literary adaptation/heritage genre. The analysis of this cycle of adaptations focuses on the visual expression of four key themes: wealth, desire, decorum and social mobility. Dress and art are deployed within the visual fabric of these adaptations as symbolic objects that make up what Wharton termed the hieroglyphic world of society. In this cycle of films, the use of art and dress constitutes a new way of viewing costume and art as elements of the adaptation process. Barthes's aspect of the third meaning, the passage from language to significance is conveyed through dress and art as sites of visual meaning, a concept that is also deployed by James and Wharton in their fiction. The mise-en-scene of these six adaptations draws inspiration from a variety of artistic influences, ranging from the paintings of John Singer Sargent and James Tissot to the influence of early cinema and photography. Clothing plays an intrinsic role in both the novels and the film adaptations, in terms of displaying consumption, social class and character, and it also makes up the iconic images created by stars who take on key roles, such as Helen Bonham Carter's portrayal of Kate Croy as a heritage noir (cf. Church Gibson, 2000) femme fatale in the film of The Wings of the Dove. James and Wharton's narratives represent an expression of the 'transcultural aesthetic' making their fiction particularly apt for cinematic adaptation in an era of increased global mobility. This concept of the transcultural aesthetic is vital in attempting to widen the debate on 'heritage' cinema. While these films and novels share textual themes rooted in settings ranging from the late 1870s through to the early 1900s, the narratives are adapted in ways that make James and Wharton relevant to contemporary cinema audiences, while also reminding us of the timelessness of James and Wharton's narratives.