When we think of members of the British aristocracy. The pageantry, the press, the fancy clothes, the titles, etc. But, the question is, do we really know them or do we think we know them?
The 1999 six-part miniseries, Aristocrats, followed the lives of four sisters who have been born into the highest levels of 18th-century British life. Caroline (Serena Gordon), Emily (Geraldine Sommerville), Louisa (Anne-Marie Duff), and Sarah (Jodhi May), are the daughters of 3rd Duke and Duchess of Richmond (a pre-Downton AbbeyJulian Fellows and Katherine Wogan). The series follows these sisters as they grow from girls to women and deal with what life has thrown at them.
I enjoyed this series. What I think made it interesting was that even though the main characters come from a certain stratum of society and live in a way that is specific to both their era and class, they are human. Each woman in her own right is full of life, love, contradictions, missteps, etc.
Daniel Deronda is George Eliot‘s (born Mary Ann Evans) final novel. Published in 1876, it blends two different stories with one central character.
Gwendolen Haroleth is down on her luck. Gambling the last of her money away at casino in Germany, she meets Daniel Deronda, a young man who saves Gwendolen by returning to her a necklace she had gambled away the night before. There the story breaks off into two different stories: Daniel’s and Gwendolen’s.
Gwendolen’s mother has recently become a widow for the second time. She takes her children and moves in with her brother. Knowing that she has to marry and marry well, Gwendolen meets Henleigh Grandcourt, an older man with a mistress, several illegitimate children and a less than warm personality. He proposes marriage to Gwendolen and she accepts him, despite knowing that her marriage will disinherit his children and break previously made promises to his mistress.
Daniel has been raised by Sir Hugo Mallinger, a man he believes to be his father. But his heritage and his true parents are a mystery. As he is boating on the Thames, he prevents Mirah Lapidoth, a young Jewish singer from killing herself. Mirah is looking for her family. Daniel through meeting Mirah, begins to connect to London’s Jewish community and answer some questions about his unknown past.
In 2002, Daniel Deronda was made into a miniseries with Romola Garai as Gwendolen, Hugh Bonneville as Grandcourt, Hugh Dancy as Daniel and Jodhi May as Mirah.
I enjoy the book and the movie. In a literary era when the only Jewish character is Fagin from Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist, Mirah and her brother Mordechai are drawn as fully formed human beings, with good and bad qualities. The movie has an excellent cast with as much taken from the book as any adaptation from novel to the screen can be taken.
The 2000 film adaptation of the novel stars Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart. She is the star of the social scene, but foolish when it comes to financial matters. She turns down several marriage offers and has a will they or wont they flirtation with Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz). When she innocently accepts money from Gus Trenor (Dan Akroyd), who is married to her best friend Judy (Penny Downie), her social standing begins to fall.
I saw this movie for the first time last night and though I have yet to read the book, I will do so shortly. Edith Wharton, in this novel is a feminist. She writes about upper class women, who in the early 20th century were expected to marry. Education beyond a certain point and a career was out of the question. Lily is unmarried; a woman’s reputation or lack there of, especially a unmarried woman’s reputation at that time could be her best friend or her worst enemy. Anderson who is best known for her role as Dana Scully on the X-Files, completely breaks with the iconic sci-fi character to play a woman whose life spirals out of control.
The supporting cast includes Jodhi May, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Linney and Anthony LaPaglia.