Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Stendhal's heirs (1)

By Tracy

Stendhal's literary influence on subsequent writers is huge, so theoretically this topic could go on forever.

What interests me at the moment is the way so many narratives have picked up on the motifs of The Red and the Black and re-worked them into such different and often compelling stories, or films.

Julien is the paradigmatic upstart whose destiny is crime. I haven't read John Braine's novel Room at the Top, but I have seen the film -- first many years ago in Britain, and then again recently (VHS from Planet, almost the only place you'd find it in Perth!).

Room at the Top follows Joe Lampton as he attempts to make his way up in society. Joe has little in common with Stendhal's Julien except perhaps his youth, his humble origins, his ambition -- and the fact that he loves an older woman but pursues a young woman who's the daughter of a rich and socially important man.

What goes wrong as a result of this conflict is not quite in the vein of Julien's criminal trajectory, and the endings differ accordingly (I don't like spoilers, so that's as much as I'll say!).

But the story shows a clear inheritance from Stendhal's plot, transposed to 20th-century Britain and a different set of class circumstances, with many of the same mistakes and emotions.

It's a finely watchable movie with a poignant performance from Simone Signoret as the older woman and an appropriate cold, callous manner from Laurence Harvey as Joe Lampton.

Apparently a t.v. series based on the character of Joe Lampton, Man at the Top, also written by John Braine but set after the movie narrative's end, was screened in Britain some decades ago (thanks to G. for this info).

No comments: