If the velociraptor from Jurassic Park were your girlfriend, you would have the weirdest meet-cute.
You’re a handler on Muldoon’s staff. Handlers are classified as Essential Personnel so when the evacuation call comes, you stay. Your team splits up to put out fires around the island, but you’re the only one who returns to the visitors’ center. You see two raptors swarming with a T-Rex not far behind, so you hide. You enter the building and give yourself an hour in one of the ground floor utility closets while the animal battle in the lobby handles itself. The screeching of the raptors stops; the building is silent. You tell yourself that, thanks to the sheer size of animals you’re dealing with, their movements are easier to track than what you’re used to handling.
For a cosmic hot second in the 200+ years between Eliza Haywood’s death in 1756 and feminism rising from the murky depths of literary scholarship, we lost sight of her work and its role in the development of the English novel. The biographical facts of her life are hard to come by and harder to confirm, but what we do know portrays her as the 18th century’s J.K. Rowling: a single mom with two kids who wrote one of the most popular books of the century (1720’s Love in Excess) and then published a new novel every three months through the 1720s. Haywood was a playwright, a translator, a journalist and publisher, and that was after several years as an actress on the stage. For those two centuries after her death, the literary canon relegated her work and legacy not to the Early English Novelists trophy case, but to the genre sub-basement known as “amatory fiction,” to make room for her contemporaries Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding.
Don’t let the amatory fiction label fool you: Haywood wrote novels. Why the long exclusion from the canon, then? Why call it amatory fiction or domestic literature or ovarian dialogues rather than novels? In Haywood’s case, these were romances that had dark turns where women were seduced by rakes that they couldn’t recognize because their families had kept them innocent (read: ignorant). Her novels show the consequences to women who step out of line with the morals of their day: the money and security at stake, the shaming from her family and friends, and the toll those consequences take on a woman’s emotional health.
Much Ado is a rich, quotable comedy, with Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 adaptation the long-standing Definitive Film Version that you can absolutely use to bluff your way through a classy Shakespeare-quoting life. Yet (long may Branagh’s version reign), seeing Joss Whedon’s version revealed a new depth to this play I had seen and read so many times in so many forms. Whedon’s version completely remakes the play from the ground up, and his version poses a question that I hadn’t even thought to ask: in watching Much Ado, do we want a great story, or a great performance?
Full disclosure: I love Kenneth Branagh. I love his version of Much Ado. I love his Hamlet. I love his Thor. I love that he so loved the world, he gave it Tom Hiddleston when he had the chance to trap that rainbow-made-flesh in a crystal and keep it in the chamber of secrets beneath his house.
In thinking about this piece, I kept coming back to this idea of historical accuracy and the idea that Danielle’s fictional story could lose some of its strength because these inaccuracies (in a fictional story) undermined the world where she lived and therefore her entire story. However, these errors take nothing from the story; if these mistakes were resolved, they would bring nothing to the story. Ever After derives its real strength from the cast of fully realized female characters, who redefined the Cinderella story with a new way fairy tales should be told. Since this October marks 15 years since Ever After’s release date into theaters, let’s look back at Ever After and how it can inform the way we think about the adaptations, reboots, and remakes that populate our current media.
We can agree that The American President remains the stickiest and dampest of Aaron Sorkin’s liberal wet dreams–yes, stickier still than seven seasons of The West Wing, if only for the President’s intense laser focus that wakes us, panting, to the sight of Michael Douglas looking you right in the eyes as he stands up for Annette Bening…and you. After all these years, President still works so well because it’s a great story told with exacting precision: Michael Douglas, of the thick silk voice and so-ready smile, opens the movie with a walk-and-talk that announces he is the American President and he is very good at this. A story unfolds in which this American President stumbles in his quest to be a leader, a father, and a man, watching all three slip away before he wins them all back in one of those speeches only Dixie Carter and Sorkin men have the shoulder pads and ego to deliver.