A Madame Bovary’s Daughter: David Lean’s Visual Transliteration of Flaubert
Si nous daignons reconnaître à Madame Bovary le statut d’œuvre d’art innovante il est crucial de visualiser la stratégie narrative de Flaubert. Les travaux d’érudition relatifs au transfert de Madame Bovary au film ont examiné les nombreuses adaptations et la manière de les rapprocher de la technique d’écriture. La fidélité des versions repose sur l’équivalence d’un « texte porté à l’écran » où les intentions de Flaubert sont circonscrites au contexte authentique. Cet article juge bon de suivre une approche de cinéaste différente avec un film qui n’a pas jusqu’alors reçu d’attention : La Fille de Ryan de David Lean. La narration impersonnelle et l’expression sensuelle du roman sont repensées à la lumière de cette libre adaptation. L’analyse de scènes et de personnages clés est envisagée sous l’angle de la multiplicité de vues tout en ménageant une subtile évocation du style de Flaubert.
PlanHaut de page
- 1 Mary Donaldson-Evans, Madame Bovary at the Movies: Adaptation, Ideology, Context, Rodopi, Amsterdam (...)
- 2 Brian McFarlane, Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation, Clarendon, Oxford, 199 (...)
1Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece Madame Bovary has been subject of many and varied cinematic interpretations. Mary Donaldson-Evans has comparatively looked at the cogent successes and the inevitable flaws of landmark versions by Renoir (1934), Minnelli (1949), Chabrol (1991), and the BBC broadcast by Fywell (2000); she has also shown the benefit of using clever renditions of the original, when loosely transposed1. The ceaseless challenge of adapting a novel for the screen rests on the director’s choice to offer ingenious insight, and yet, to remain as truthful as possible to the spirit and structure of the book. However, if the fidelity approach undeniably shows deference to the work, it does little to win it further renown and interest. This article proposes to draw attention to an overlooked adaptation by David Lean, Ryan’s Daughter (1970), and to examine its visual impacts from and on the classic text. My intention here is not to cross the line of argument between adaptation and appropriation—this can be gained from McFarlane and Sanders2—but to expound the exchange process that the field of film studies might contribute to the reception of the literary source. Furthermore, I contend that the film can make us look at the book with a new appreciation of its artistic purpose, bearing in mind the perspective opted by the director.
- 3 Keith Cohen, Film and Fiction: The Dynamics of Exchange, Yale UP, New Haven, CT, 1979, p. 5; Alan S (...)
- 4 Mary Donaldson-Evans, “A Medium of Exchange,” op. cit., p. 21.
- 5 Ibid.
- 6 The films are Maya: The Enchanting Illusion (1992) by Ketan Mehta and Val Abraham (1993) by Manoel (...)
- 7 See reviews by Murf [Arthur Murphy], “Ryan’s Daughter”, Variety, 11 November 1970, p. 15; Pauline K (...)
- 8 Anne-Marie Baron, “Charles et ses images”, « Traductions/Adaptations », Flaubert: revue critique et (...)
- 9 Recently, Mieke Bal has re-evaluated the fidelity approach in a new sense of ‘transmediality’ no lo (...)
2Keith Cohen had hinted already at visual writing in the modern novel “showing how the events unfold dramatically rather than recounting them”, while, to Alan Spiegel, Flaubert is exemplar of “concretized form” supplying a great deal of visual information3. These early pronouncements of Flaubert’s proto-cinematic style were later confirmed by Chabrol, freely quoted by Donaldson-Evans: “a style that privileges showing over telling and features techniques that would later be developed by film”4. Subsequently, this critic recaps “the complexities involved in finding a cinematic equivalent for Flaubert’s style indirect libre, for his irony, and for the distinctive rhythm of his prose”5. In her book chapter “Adaptation and its Avatars”, she credits some spin-offs of Madame Bovary, among which are a Bollywood production (mixing musical and Hindu mythology), a version in modern-day Portugal, and even Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) as other Flaubertian appropriation of illusory lives6. Surprisingly, Ryan’s Daughter is not taken into consideration, despite the fact that its identification with Flaubert’s plot has been acknowledged by film critics7. Up-to-date scholarship on Flaubert and film has failed to make the link between Lean and the novel; Anne-Marie Baron, who overlaps adaptations examined by Donaldson-Evans, does not mention Ryan’s Daughter either8. My article intends to prompt new interest in the novel through this film, rarely considered among the Bovary screen adaptations, by exploring some cinematic expedients and assessing them in light of the author’s literary technique and visualization9.
3Although the film differs in many ways from the story of Emma Bovary, we can find alternative visual details in it that may help to understand Flaubert’s writing idiosyncrasies. This in turn will help to transpose his universal plot into a timeless, sensory experience for modern audiences and readers. The protagonist, Rosy Ryan (played by Sarah Miles), is a young woman, the daughter of Tom Ryan (Leo McKern), a well-off publican in the village of Kirrary, during the turmoil of World War I and the 1916 Dublin Uprising. She is infatuated with her schoolmaster, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum), who had taught her the romantic ideals of literature, music, and history: Byron, Beethoven, and Robin Hood. Soon married to him, she realizes that her placid husband possesses none of the passionate attributes she had imagined. She grows dissatisfied with her life and yearns for physical ecstasy. Subsequently, she falls for an English officer stationed in the village, Major Randolph Doryan (Christopher Jones), and commits adultery with him in her quest for satisfaction. The strong Catholic and Nationalist community in which she lives gradually becomes aware of her transgression. After the arrest of IRA activists harbored by the villagers, Rosy is falsely accused of being a British sympathizer and is viciously attacked for her treacherous affair. Ostracized by the townspeople and abandoned by a lover who kills himself, Rosy, on the brink of marital separation, is seen leaving the village with Charles at the end of the film.
- 10 Anne-Marie Scholz, “Adaptation as Reception: How a Transnational Analysis of Hollywood Films Can Re (...)
- 11 George Bluestone, Novels into Film , U of California P, Berkeley, 1966, p. xi.
4After the film was released and from that time on, there have been no full technical and artistic accounts of Lean’s masterly rendering of Flaubert’s novel, as loose as it may seem. Ryan’s Daughter did not meet its expected knock-out success; on the contrary, it almost went through tribulations comparable to the trial for indecency upheld against the inspiring book. Major reservations about the film were its lack of historical flamboyance and the relatively slower rhythm when compared to Lean’s preceding blockbusters: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Doctor Zhivago (1965). Nonetheless, an evaluation of the filming strategies in terms of Flaubert’s acclaimed writing style would have done greater justice to the director’s underrated achievement. With Ryan’s Daughter, Lean did not primarily want to turn a celebrated novel into a screen sensation and, in order to evade a sclerotic “text-into-film dynamic”10, he relocated his Madame Bovary in a corresponding 20th-century milieu and mentality: a pitiful rural and Catholic community during the quest for an Irish national identity. In Novels into Film, Bluestone argues that a filmic adaptation often “fails to rethink the novel in plastic form”11. Similarly and convincingly, Lean’s project, with the contribution of screenwriter Robert Bolt, is an attempt to transpose a work of literature into a cinematic and sensual experience. His treatment of Flaubert’s story is used in an allusive fashion to re-enact more efficiently the transformative power and universal language of this world masterpiece. He tries to capture on film that invisible and motionless sensation which relates to the silent and intimate reading of a book by making the images on the screen reflect the sensory suggestions from the pages. When viewed as such, this film is a fine addition and complementary alternative to the conventionally recognized adaptations of the novel.
5Before comparing their distinctive crafts, one must be reminded that both Lean and Flaubert objected to mere sentimentality as the guarantee of reliable emotions. On the one hand, the novelist’s Correspondance frequently sheds light on his disdain for what he calls “personnalité sentimentale” in literature:
- 12 Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, edited by Jean Bruneau, « Bibliothèque de la Pléiade », 4 vols, G (...)
Je ne veux pas considérer l’art comme un déversoir à passion, comme un pot de chambre un peu plus propre qu’une simple causerie, qu’une confidence. Non! non! la Poésie ne doit pas être l’écume du cœur. […] La personnalité sentimentale sera ce qui plus tard fera passer pour puérile et un peu niaise, une bonne partie de la littérature contemporaine12.
- 13 Stephen Silverman, David Lean, Abrams, New York, 1989, p. 101.
- 14 Robert Stam, op. cit., p. 537.
6In close association with that opinion, when Katharine Hepburn was asked what she thought of Lean’s emotional treatment on film—having worked with him on Summertime (1955)—she credited his uncomplicated perception of life to “his utter lack of sentimentality”13. An objective-subjective mood is at the core of Flaubert’s realistic style of free indirect discourse and Lean’s cinematic techniques exploit the kind of “narrational camera[-like]” quality found in Flaubert, as stated by Robert Stam14. Sensations channeled through the viewers’ eyes allow for the same phenomenological sensation as that experienced by the book’s readers. The following examination expands on three novelistic aspects of the film, each supported by relevant interpretations of characterizations and significant quotations from the literary work.
7The first pages of Madame Bovary reveal an account of the early school days of Charles Bovary, as told by an anonymous narrator who presents the young man and the scene, as if he had been a part of it.
- 15 Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, edited by Bernard Ajac, Flammarion, Paris, 1986, p. 61.
Nous étions à l’étude, quand le Proviseur entra, suivi d’un nouveau habillé en bourgeois et d’un garçon de classe qui portait un grand pupitre. Ceux qui dormaient se réveillèrent, et chacun se leva comme surpris dans son travail. […]
On commença la récitation des leçons15.
- 16 Stephen Heath, Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 1992, p. 112.
8The Nous-voice, commented on at length by Stephen Heath, is a perfect example of Flaubert’s impersonal style: “the drafts here move between the nous and a je, a particular ‘I’-witness from within the collective ‘we’-memory”16. Likewise, the depersonalized On takes place inside and outside a narrative voice that could be a shadow character in the film. From this perspective, one can scrutinize key personae and incidents from the film, and explore possible transpositions of this impersonal style of narration.
- 17 Murf, “Ryan’s Daughter”, Variety, 11 November 1970, p. 15.
9Contrary to the dissatisfaction of the critics with Ryan’s Daughter, the character of Michael, a mute halfwit with a limp, has earned a more positive reception as a sort of Greek chorus; John Mills was awarded best supporting actor for his role at the 1971 Oscar ceremony. Critics who first entertained the idea of a Greek chorus—rather intended as sardonic witticism—did not consider how exactly this judgement would transpose a modern style of tragedy to the screen. One must, however, ask, a contrario, how intuitive and relevant this can be in a film genre as opposed to the printed text. Certainly, one could very well speak of a Greek chorus apropos the impersonal and collective voice of the pronoun on. The reviewers seem to have underestimated the importance and implication of Michael in the film, when it comes to matching him to the narrative voice of the book: “John Mills might be a technical tour de force as a Quasimodo-like town idiot, but the character is overdrawn and often jarring to story-telling”17. However, a sound comment by Deleyto reinforces my contention about this opinion:
- 18 Celestino Deleyto, “Focalisation in Film Narrative”, in Narratology: An Introduction, edited by Sus (...)
The chorus of a classical tragedy or similar devices in modern drama would have a similar function to that of the narrator, but it would be always second-level narration. Narration, if it exists at all in a play, is always framed by representation. The same happens in a film when an onscreen character tells a story18.
- 19 Edward Branigan, Point of View in the Cinema. A Theory of Narration and Subjectivity in Classical F (...)
- 20 Christian Metz, Essais sur la signification au cinéma, 2 vols, Klincksieck, Paris, 1971, I, p. 51; (...)
- 21 Celestino Deleyto, op. cit., p. 220.
10Whereas, according to Branigan, “in film, the narrator is not necessarily a biological person, not even a somehow identifiable agent like in the novel, but a symbolic activity: the activity of narration”19. Of course, a dumb Michael does not need to speak at all, in order to fall into this symbolic narrative instance. Among other film specialists, Christian Metz credits cinema as “a language without a tongue” (langage sans langue), and Bluestone concedes that in film “the attributes of language must be suppressed in favor of plastic images”20. Hence, what is referred to as narratological in the film can fit Deleyto’s expression of “metaphoric activity whose origin is the camera”21, be it the scene editing (as equal to author-writer), the focalization of the operator (as omniscient narrator), or some acting in front of the camera (as intrusive narrator).
- 22 The terms in italics are theorized in landmark books on narratology, such as Mieke Bal, Narratology (...)
- 23 The British Film Institute holds valuable records of Lean archives: “File containing drafts for Rya (...)
11As surely as there is a narratological agency of the novel, at times within one of the characters or an unnamed bystander, one can say that ‘Michael’ is a narratological agent of the film, with his presence in the visual text (Mills’ enactment) and without truly being inside (his gaze being that of every viewer). Michael is, in turn, the untainted conscience of the film (as fabula), of the audience (who follows the story), and of Rosy herself (in internal focalization; his voyeuristic attitude antagonizes her for most of the story)22. In that regard, it is significant to point out that, initially, a contemplated title for the film was Michael’s Day23. In truth, Michael would better epitomize the invisible narrator in Flaubert’s novel: sometimes omniscient (he is well aware of the adultery all along) and sometimes an outside focalizer (sharing his gaze with the audience as he observes and objectively “relates” the ongoing action). For instance, the wedding scene in the film is observed through Michael’s eyes, and the uneasiness felt by the newlyweds, Rosy and Charles, is sensed more intrusively by this naïve persona than by any other guest. Furthermore, at the end of the film, there are two crucial moments when Michael and Rosy communicate their mutual empathy through reciprocated looks. The first occurs when Michael runs in panic to the schoolhouse, after Major Doryan has blown himself up, and his horrified face needs no words to convey the enormity of the tragedy to Rosy. The second occurs when Rosy’s despairing eyes collide with Michael’s after a gust of wind blows away her hat and wig, revealing her shorn head—her mark as an adulterer inflicted upon her by the angry mob. From these examples one can infer that the presence of Michael in the story plays the same role as the use of free indirect discourse in Flaubert’s writing style with its imperfect tense and impersonal narration.
- 24 Particularly illuminating, as regards Michael’s persona, is the study by Max Aprile, where the begg (...)
12Can one identify, in Madame Bovary, an over-dramatized character such as ‘Michael’ that would embody the impersonal voice of the novel? Here the blind beggar figure comes to mind, he who haunts Emma and appears to be a foreshadowing of her downfall. At first glance, Michael does not exert this fatal influence over Rosy. On the other hand, he is seen with Major Doryan before Rosy’s lover commits suicide (a substitution for the tragic end of Flaubert’s heroine) and he acts as an accessory to his death by giving him the fuse that will blow him up. So Michael like the beggar seems to represent the aspects of fate-bearer and passive onlooker24.
- 25 For example, one reads in Flaubert: “Rodolphe avait mis de longues bottes molles, se disant que san (...)
13Another episode in the film is worth mentioning with regard to the novel’s subtle narrating scheme. When Rosy first meets Major Doryan, she is substituting for her father at the pub and she is absorbed in a book—indicative of hypertextuality—as the young officer makes his entry. (It should be noted that Michael is sitting in the room, almost in a hideout, in his now characteristic observing position.) After several moments, Rosy lifts her eyes from the pages and furtively looks at the stranger. She promptly returns to the book after timidly glancing at his boots in a fetishist manner—an astute reference to the emotional transference to objects or items of clothing seen in Madame Bovary25. And all along one is given additional cross-references to objects: Michael collects trifling things and the Major gives him his cigarette case at the end, while Emma Bovary keeps, among other things, the Viscount’s cigar holder in memory of the ball at La Vaubyessard. Whether intentional or not on Lean’s part, these graphic allusions would not be remote to the spirit of the novel. Most certainly, as Jean-Pierre Richard has noted, an objective narrating style rests on the suggestive power of objects:
- 26 Jean-Pierre Richard, Littérature et sensation. Stendhal, Flaubert, Seuil, Paris, 1990, p. 121.
Flaubert se délecta toute sa vie à noter les détails d’un costume, l’éclat ou le grain d’une étoffe […] le vêtement lui apparaît comme la surface où il va bientôt se perdre; il fait presque partie de ce corps dont il constitue la promesse: le col velouté du manteau de Léon annonce à Emma le vivant velours de son cou26.
14Indeed, and quite abruptly, the scene ends with unrestrained kissing between Rosy and the Major once the pub is cleared of its sole eyewitness: Michael. This unreserved flirtation precedes the decisive love scene. And like her counterpart Emma after the covert sexual intimations in the “Comices” chapter, Rosy will soon shift from fictionalized passion to actual bliss.
15The famous and much debated love scene in the woods is the most revealing visual element of the film provably drawn from the novel, for it diffuses the same strong suggestion in both artistic media. Emma and Rosy similarly go for a horseback ride with their lovers, Rodolphe and Randolph respectively. In each case the ride represents the alibi for the illicit encounter, embarked upon with the foolish consent of the husbands. In the novel, Charles encourages this healthy exercise and soon acquires a mare for Emma; in the film, Tom Ryan buys the mare for his daughter at an agricultural fair (the “Comices agricoles” affair turns up surreptitiously) and Shaughnessy later approves of having Major Doryan break her horse. In the novel, Emma is at first a bit reluctant to commit adultery, and the long naturalistic description in the woods expresses the collision of her confusion and her indomitable desires. In the film, Rosy is determined to consummate her passionate love, and yet, on the screen, one is shown her concern and diffidence during a comparable contemplative and silent ride through the woods. This passage, central to the novel, consists of four pages of rich descriptions of the equine attributes and the natural surroundings; the importance of this scene requires some filmic counterpointing not quite capitalized on in the other cinematic adaptations of the novel.
- 27 Roger Ebert, “Ryan’s Daughter”, Sun-Times, 20 December 1970, Available online. www.rogerebert.com/r (...)
16Whether the film has treated this scene with exaggerated nature imagery or with realistic emotional accuracy is left again to critical evaluation. “When the young couple makes love for the first time, we’re hardly surprised when Lean shows the seeds blowing off a dandelion pod and landing, you guessed it, in a lake”, complained the refined Roger Ebert in his review27. Obviously, Ebert was not familiar with the French novel that inspired this “inexcusable” fall into cheap symbolism. Instead of displaying unproductive symbolism, as he denigrates it, the scene gives the perfect visual echo to the very passage in the book, where Emma Bovary succumbs to her longed-for and idealized lover. That being said, nature does play an important role in the novel (and in the film) by reflecting her mindset before and during the love-making. Moreover, Flaubert acknowledged quite bluntly to his intermittent lover, Louise Colet, that he was envisioning this love scene plunged into a pastoral setting:
- 28 Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, op. cit. II, p. 483. Letter to Louise Colet (23 December 1853).
[J]’écris de la Bovary. Je suis à leur Baisade, en plein, au milieu. On sue et on a la gorge serrée. [...] je me suis promené dans une forêt, par un après-midi d’automne, sous les feuilles jaunes, et j’étais les chevaux, les feuilles, le vent, les paroles qu’ils se disaient et le soleil rouge qui faisait s’entre-fermer leurs paupières noyées d’amour28.
17The description of the ride in the woods echoes the mood felt by Flaubert as he minutely recounted it to his lover:
- 29 Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 226.
De longues fougères, au bord du chemin, se prenaient dans l’étrier d’Emma. Rodolphe, tout en allant, se penchait et il les retirait à mesure. D’autres fois, pour écarter les branches, il passait près d’elle, et Emma sentait son genou lui frôler la jambe. Le ciel était devenu bleu. Les feuilles ne remuaient pas. Il y avait de grands espaces pleins de bruyères tout en fleurs; et des nappes de violettes s’alternaient avec le fouillis des arbres, qui étaient gris, fauves ou dorés, selon la diversité des feuillages. Souvent on entendait, sous les buissons, glisser un petit battement d’ailes, ou bien le cri rauque et doux des corbeaux, qui s’envolaient dans les chênes29.
18The sea symbolism, represented by the lake mocked by Ebert, is very much present in the written account:
- 30 Ibid.
Puis, cent pas plus loin, elle s’arrêta de nouveau; et, à travers son voile, qui de son chapeau d’homme descendait obliquement sur ses hanches, on distinguait son visage dans une transparence bleuâtre, comme si elle eût nagé sous des flots d’azur30.
19Finally, the depiction of nature evokes the love-making in a subtle way. The tossing and bristling of the tree-tops and foliage, both in the text and in the film, replace the graphic description or visualization of intercourse; the flicking of bird wings, or dandelion seeds, responds to the palpitations of the flesh; the muffled breath of the wild surroundings conveys a discreet gasping and achieved orgasm.
- 31 Ibid., p. 228.
Les ombres du soir descendaient; le soleil horizontal, passant entre les branches, lui éblouissait les yeux. Çà et là, tout autour d’elle, dans les feuilles ou par terre, des taches lumineuses tremblaient, comme si des colibris, en volant, eussent éparpillé leurs plumes. Le silence était partout; quelque chose de doux semblait sortir des arbres; elle sentait son cœur, dont les battements recommençaient, et le sang circuler dans sa chair comme un fleuve de lait. Alors, elle entendit tout au loin, au-delà du bois, sur les autres collines, un cri vague et prolongé, une voix qui se traînait, et elle l’écoutait silencieusement, se mêlant comme une musique aux dernières vibrations de ses nerfs émus31.
20The Chabrol adaptation, though praised for its fidelity approach, does not stress this strong association with nature; this highly charged psychological scene is reduced to minimal descriptive details in a minute’s time. By contrast, a five-minute love scene in Lean’s version has almost received the loathsome libel of gratuitous nudity. Nonetheless, there is a preliminary silent narration to the intercourse during the slow crossing of the woods. This variation of the ride might constitute a screen-visualization expedient for the much-developed description of the novel, making up for a transitory disorientation caused by the protagonists’ self-indulgent and anticipated thirst for passion.
- 32 For an amended opinion of the film, see Glenn Erikson, DVD Talk Reviews, 2007. Available online. ww (...)
21Following the release of the special edition 2-DVD set in 2006, critics have shown a readiness to reappraise Lean’s and Bolt’s visual poetics and breath-taking cinematic message32. The fact that Lean plays so much with natural scenery in his films makes it an important visual transposition of the richer intimate impressions in books, otherwise hardly translatable. The poignant and erotic aspects of nature expose the realistic intention that both he and Flaubert wanted for this (un)veiled narration of uninhibited sexuality.
22The successful transposition of Flaubert’s impartial style and psychology can be found in the fantasy scene, another highlight of the film. This scene has been fairly evaluated for its visual appeal and psychological relevance:
- 33 Michael Anderegg, David Lean, Twayne, Boston, 1984, p. 137.
The sequence where Shaughnessy imagines he can see the illicit lovers as he follows their tracks in the sand, for example, plays with the tension between objective and subjective (a favorite Lean motif), at one point combining the imaginary images of Rosy and Doryan in the same shot with the objectively real image of Charles, thus validating his fantasy33.
- 34 See Dorrit Cohn’s chapter on “Narrated Monologue”, in Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presen (...)
23This “favorite Lean motif” bears out the conviction that Michael’s screen presence has already claimed such symptomatic motif through his character. What makes free indirect discourse both subjective and objective in Flaubert’s narrating style is the confluence of two voices, the author’s and the character’s, mediated by that of the narrator34. Neither a writer in the flesh nor a fictional character can, in essence, pretend to be objective, since the former is emotionally attached to the story and the latter merely is of his invention. Hence the need for a free narratological agency through the narrator’s indirect discourse, a “middle voice” that sometimes tells of the character and sometimes of the author. Cohen has given reason for the use of visual alternatives:
- 35 Keith Cohen, op. cit., p. 141.
This generalized effect of simultaneity may be seen to earmark cinema as an essential precedent to colliding narratives and multiple presentations attempted in the novel, which is, strictly speaking, confined to a single focus, a single effect of time35.
24In Lean’s film, Michael alone cannot fulfill this double role, as he is simply impersonal. Only a visual scheme may reveal both the inside and outside participations of the characters. This is achieved through another key sequence. Since this scene has no match in the novel and relies exclusively on the director’s vision, it exemplifies, more evidently than the previous examples, the successful transposition of a literary medium into a cinematic medium.
- 36 This is particularly relevant to Flaubert’s style. Alan Spiegel notes: “Flaubert’s description begi (...)
25In a very picturesque scene on the beach, Mitchum/Shaughnessy finds himself in a position of intrusive viewer (as can be said of the readers of the book) and nearly is the teller of a silent story, in analogy with the novel’s narratological agency.36 It is simultaneously objective and subjective. This supreme invention of the director denotes his cinematic comprehension of a writing technique. While on an outdoor school project to collect cuttlefish at the beach, Shaughnessy notices footprints on the sand, which he at first interprets objectively as two friends or lovers on a pleasant walk. Out of curiosity, he follows the tracks and gets closer to a puddle of water, but cannot infer the activities from these simple traces. Since he wants to see more, he surrenders to the suggestions of his thoughts. At this point in the story he has a legitimate suspicion of Rosy’s infidelity. He allows himself to envision, in retrospect, his wife strolling along with her lover, the English officer, both in overly-stylish attire that does not match their actual clothing (as one later witnesses in the scene with Rosy and Randolph lying on the edge of the cliff after their embrace).
- 37 Intriguingly, over forty years later, Mieke Bal has utilized a similar visual expedient in her proj (...)
- 38 Celestino Deleyto, op. cit., p. 226. Besides, Gérard Genette reports a dream scene in Madame Bovary(...)
26The power of this masterly shot rests on the alliance of the real and the imaginary, in a surrealistic vision of Shaughnessy hiding behind the rock and watching a scene staged in his mind. In so doing he is subjective as the initiator of his act of imagination, and he is objective as the passive spectator of his enacted daydream37. A large and long take displays the two attitudes in a single frame, like a split screen, but without a time or space gap between the collated views. This is not the usual internal focalization intensified by the technique of quick shots and editing strategies. In its place, a cinematic collage provides the viewer’s mind with coalescing objectivity and subjectivity. The stillness of this pictorial effect may first suspend one’s reaction to time and events, and contrastively, it triggers distinctive emotions through a fascination for images set in motion again. Lean’s cinematography combines both phenomena from which spectators can hardly dissociate, and, reminiscent of the act of reading, it plays on multiple layers of sensations. This scene offers a fair correspondence to novelistic narration, evidencing that internal and external focalizations coalesce much like “in a novel, in a passage in internal focalisation, the mind of the character can be shown without a change in focalisation”38. In the vein of Flaubert’s narrative instances, Shaughnessy occupies three positions simultaneously: he is the outside observer until his vision turns into fantasy, then he visualizes his inner thoughts (as Flaubert’s narrator instills opinions in the idioms of the characters), and finally he takes part in the revived scene as demonstrated by his reflex hiding. In short, he is altogether composing, telling, and experiencing the moment. Spiegel sees also Flaubert in a hiding posture within the narration:
- 39 Alan Spiegel, op. cit., p. 30-31.
But whether he “hides” behind his character or behind a neutral narrator, Flaubert will characteristically seek to replace, wherever possible, the voice and presence of a god-like, omniscient novelist with the seeing eye of a man. In this manner Flaubert defines visual perspective itself as the fundamental means of presentation in a concretized narrative form39.
- 40 Béla Balázs, Theory of the Film: Character and Growth of a New Art, Dover, New York, 1970, p. 89; c (...)
27To apply this “concretized form” to film, Spiegel points to the early theoretician Balázs: “Every picture shows us not only a piece of reality, but a point of view as well. [...] The physiognomy of every object in a film picture is a composite of two physiognomies [...] determined by the viewpoint of the spectator and the perspective of the picture”40. We presume that Lean is behind, alongside, and within his fiction, in a posture similar to that of a novelist. Eventually, the participation of the spectator leans toward the stronger pictorial appeal, in the same way that the writing style enlightens the reader. Flaubert, as well, leaves his readers with a sense of mixed feelings about Charles and Emma Bovary; the impersonal narration is non-judgmental and objective, and yet everyone can internalize differently the guilt complex and the accusation of obscenity throughout the novel.
- 41 Celestino Deleyto, op. cit., p. 224.
- 42 Murf, “Ryan’s Daughter”, Variety, 11 November 1970, p. 15.
- 43 Sandra Holtz, Interview, “The Making of Ryan’s Daughter”, in David Lean, Ryan’s Daughter, 2 discs, (...)
28The director’s cunning cut has a major impact on the public reception of the adultery. One must not ignore the fact that this scene starts the second half of the film (three hours in total) and allows for questioning among the spectators. The first part is interrupted in theatrical climax with Charles’s suspicion and Rosy’s guilt-ridden gaze at the camera and audience. “When another character looks straight at the camera (and straight at the spectator),” says Deleyto, “he [or she] addresses the character whose vision we are supposed to share”41. In this particular case, Rosy throws herself into her husband’s arms and turns her eyes to an external and multi-opinionated audience. Hence the spectators are held in suspense, and this timely pause releases them of any moralistic bias. The initial film review resented such bad taste and wondered why there was not “an effective curtain such as the physical consummation of the rendezvous in the woods between Miss Miles and Jones (far stronger than some kitchen-table chatter which really is part of the next act)”42. The dramatic purpose of this structural divide was to entertain the double perception of guilt and empathy, thus suspended to a subjective-objective debate during the intermission of the film, as Lean’s wife, Sandra Holtz, has confirmed it on a bonus track of the 2-DVD set: “What’s going to happen? Is she going to leave the schoolmaster? Is she going to go for the army officer? It’s got to be an intermission here”43.
- 44 Mary Donaldson-Evans, “A Medium of Exchange”, op. cit., p. 30.
- 45 In a reworking of former published material, Robert Stam suggests other techniques used by Chabrol (...)
29In great cinema, as in any great art, there ought to be equilibrium between the subjective mood and the objective outlook. The former enters through the feelings and the latter through the eyes. In the printed text, we likewise may grasp marginal connotations (symbolic or associative) and concrete denotations (organic meanings of etymology). Donaldson-Evans sees the use of voiceover as “the cinematic solution to Flaubert’s style indirect libre, encouraging audience identification with Emma, while at the same time capturing Flaubert’s irony”44. It is arguably a sonorous expedient, instead of a truly cinematic device, that may convert free indirect discourse from soundproof pages. I have tried to present another option for studying visual transposition of Flaubert’s style in Madame Bovary45. Through the multiple impressions left by this scene we relate to Charles Shaughnessy’s subjective mood, and yet we do not feel completely sorry for him because of the obvious voyeurism of his fantasy, which rather makes him a conscious accessory to his doomed cuckoldry. Similarly, and quite sadly, the readers of the novel arrive at the same conclusion about Charles Bovary. So there is a fair balance of subjective and objective inputs in the images of the film that are compatible with Flaubert’s art of writing and our capacity to read through his narrating strategy.
- 46 Stephen Silverman, op. cit., p. 171. Murf’s early film review is symptomatic of this misfortune: “T (...)
- 47 Evidence of this letter is given through various accounts in Stephen Silverman, ibid., p. 169; Kevi (...)
30“Poor old Ryan’s Daughter. The critics never caught on that it was really Madame Bovary”46. This comment by David Lean confers an appropriate conclusion to the article. But, was it a sincere identification with the novel? One cannot forget that Lean rejected Bolt’s initial script heavily drawn from Flaubert, and wrote him a detailed twelve-page rationale to point out the difficulties of such an enterprise47. More conclusively, Stam reaches the end of his seminal study with a shrewd remark that brings serious ground for assessing Lean’s film as a beneficial inclusion among the major adaptations of Madame Bovary, with due respect to its alternative sensorial qualities.
- 48 Robert Stam, op. cit., p. 548.
What is perhaps most disappointing in virtually all of the adaptations of Bovary is that no filmmaker seems really to have tried to forge the equivalent of Flaubert’s specific stylistic achievement—to wit, the counterpointing of styles that pits the exalted, romantic, metaphoric, and grandly literary style against the flat, boring, banal, metonymic style, and do this in terms of specifically cinematic techniques and genres, through lighting, camera movement, music, and so forth […]. For all these reasons, there is more than enough room for new “hypertextual” variations on Flaubert’s infinitely suggestive text48.
31Both the exalted, romantic, metaphoric and the boring, banal, metonymic are exemplified in Ryan’s Daughter—if only by lending an ear to the many criticisms raised. Yet, and rightly so, the grandiloquence of Lean’s epic style has here merged with the literary cliché of a love triangle. We may see the fantasy scene on the beach as the perfect example of the counterpointing of styles, alluded to by Stam.
32Madame Bovary offers at the same time a sensual and a neutral reading experience. This, however, is not revealed on the first reading, for it is concealed within the subjective initial encounter of the text; and only an active second reading can unveil it objectively. As a result of the visual strategies described in the article, a film adaptation like Ryan’s Daughter, as free as it might be, renders this experience truthfully and enhances our appreciation of Flaubert’s writing achievement.
1 Mary Donaldson-Evans, Madame Bovary at the Movies: Adaptation, Ideology, Context, Rodopi, Amsterdam, 2009; “A Medium of Exchange: The Madame Bovary Film”, Dix-Neuf, 4, 2005, p. 21-34; “Teaching Madame Bovary through Film”, in Approaches to Teaching Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, edited by Eugene Gray and Laurence Porter, MLA, New York, 1995, p. 114-121. Also helpful is Robert Stam, “Madame Bovary Goes to the Movies”, in Madame Bovary, « Norton Critical Edition », edited by Margaret Cohen, Norton, New York, 2005, p. 535-548.
2 Brian McFarlane, Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation, Clarendon, Oxford, 1996; Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation, Routledge, New York, 2006. In McFarlane, adaptation is presented as two-folded: “Underlying the processes suggested here, in the manufacture of the more or less faithful film version at least, are those of transferring the novel’s narrative basis and of adapting those aspects of its enunciation which are held to be important to retain, but which resist transfer, so as to achieve, through quite different means of signification and reception, affective responses that evoke the viewer’s memory of the original text without doing violence to it” (p. 21). In Sanders, a programmatic motivation for adaptation dwells on ideologies of personal, historical or proximate contingences—as evidenced in her case studies—rather than on visual transliteration of a source text. Adaptation, she says, can “make texts ‘relevant’ or easily comprehensible to new audiences and readerships via the processes of proximation and updating” by providing “clues to a text’s possible meanings and its cultural impact, intended or otherwise” (p. 19).
3 Keith Cohen, Film and Fiction: The Dynamics of Exchange, Yale UP, New Haven, CT, 1979, p. 5; Alan Spiegel, Fiction and the Camera Eye: Visual Consciousness in Film and the Modern Novel, UP of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1976, p. xiii.
4 Mary Donaldson-Evans, “A Medium of Exchange,” op. cit., p. 21.
6 The films are Maya: The Enchanting Illusion (1992) by Ketan Mehta and Val Abraham (1993) by Manoel de Oliveira, cited in Mary Donaldson-Evans, Madame Bovary at the Movies, op. cit., p. 170 & 177. See also Mary Donaldson-Evans, “The Colonization of Madame Bovary: Hindi Cinema’s Maya Memsaab,” Adaptation, 3, 1, 2010, p. 21-35; cf. Robert Stam, op. cit., p. 546-547.
7 See reviews by Murf [Arthur Murphy], “Ryan’s Daughter”, Variety, 11 November 1970, p. 15; Pauline Kael, “Bolt and Lean”, The New Yorker, 21 November 1970 (rpt. in Deeper into Movies, Little/Brown, Boston, 1973, p. 188-193); and Roger Ebert, “Ryan’s Daughter”, Sun-Times, 20 December 1970. Available online. www.rogerebert.com/reviews/ryans-daughter-1970. [Accessed 4th December 2013]. Of those three early reviewers, Kael alone, however, hinted at a parallel reading of Madame Bovary. The correlation has since been fully validated.
8 Anne-Marie Baron, “Charles et ses images”, « Traductions/Adaptations », Flaubert: revue critique et génétique, janvier 2009. Available online. http://flaubert.revues.org/628. [Accessed 6th April 2014].
9 Recently, Mieke Bal has re-evaluated the fidelity approach in a new sense of ‘transmediality’ no longer limited to historicist or authentic construal; see her “Madame B.: L’analyse cinématographique d’un roman”, « Traductions/Adaptations », Flaubert: revue critique et génétique, décembre 2012. Available online. http://flaubert.revues.org/1837. [Accessed 15th December 2013]. Her experimental installation project, Madame B., co-directed with Michelle Williams Gamaker, and a feature film, to be released in 2014, play on multiple viewpoints and simultaneous screen appearances to visualize the complex narrative structure. She has also claimed “une présence participative du spectateur”, in “Raconter en images: Flaubert aujourd’hui”, « Dossier “Storytelling” », Lendemains, 149, 2013, p. 67.
10 Anne-Marie Scholz, “Adaptation as Reception: How a Transnational Analysis of Hollywood Films Can Renew the Literature-to-Film Debates”, Amerikastudien, 54, 4, 2009, p. 678. The full article discusses this method at length. We find confirmation of this predicament in Kevin Brownlow, David Lean: A Biography, St. Martin’s, New York, 1996, p. 554: “Because the emotions of Flaubert’s novel were universal, [Lean and Bolt] were anxious to remove the story from its French background”.
11 George Bluestone, Novels into Film , U of California P, Berkeley, 1966, p. xi.
12 Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, edited by Jean Bruneau, « Bibliothèque de la Pléiade », 4 vols, Gallimard, Paris, 1973, II, p. 557. Letter to Louise Colet (22 April 1854); Flaubert’s emphasis.
13 Stephen Silverman, David Lean, Abrams, New York, 1989, p. 101.
14 Robert Stam, op. cit., p. 537.
15 Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, edited by Bernard Ajac, Flammarion, Paris, 1986, p. 61.
16 Stephen Heath, Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 1992, p. 112.
17 Murf, “Ryan’s Daughter”, Variety, 11 November 1970, p. 15.
18 Celestino Deleyto, “Focalisation in Film Narrative”, in Narratology: An Introduction, edited by Susana Onega and José Angel García Landa, Longman, London, 1996, p. 232, n. 3.
19 Edward Branigan, Point of View in the Cinema. A Theory of Narration and Subjectivity in Classical Film, Mouton, Berlin, 1984, p. 40.
20 Christian Metz, Essais sur la signification au cinéma, 2 vols, Klincksieck, Paris, 1971, I, p. 51; George Bluestone, op. cit., p. 203.
21 Celestino Deleyto, op. cit., p. 220.
22 The terms in italics are theorized in landmark books on narratology, such as Mieke Bal, Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, translated by Christine van Boheemen, Toronto UP, Toronto, 1985.
23 The British Film Institute holds valuable records of Lean archives: “File containing drafts for Ryan’s Daughter, donated by Kevin Brownlow: i) Coming of Age shooting script of Robert Bolt’s film script, nd. ii) Michael’s Day film script by Robert Bolt, nd”. Available online. www.bfi.org.uk/lean. [Accessed 4th December 2013]. We may furthermore notice that the name of Michael is covertly mentioned in Flaubert’s novel, as hinted in Margaret Lowe, Towards the Real Flaubert: A Study of ‘Madame Bovary’, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1984, p. 97: “In one instance, that of Charles’s proposal to Emma, the season is specifically referred to as ‘l’époque de la Saint-Michel’ [the time of Saint Michael’s day], a notation confirming my overall view of the significance for Emma of the men who enter her life. St Michael, says Maury [i.e. Louis-Ferdinand Alfred Maury (1817-1892)], seems proved to have been Hermes Psychopompus, introduced into Christian dogmas under his name, his attributes including the weighing-scales […]”. The scales allegory would express, according to this critic, the gauging of good and wrong actions in Emma’s destiny.
24 Particularly illuminating, as regards Michael’s persona, is the study by Max Aprile, where the beggar is alternatively for Emma conscience, double and reminiscence, as if “déjà in nuce dans le roman”, “L’Aveugle et sa signification dans Madame Bovary”, Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France, 76, 3, 1976, p. 389. See also Murray Sachs, who deconstructs the alleged meanings of the beggar and offers possible latitude for my premise: “The blind beggar has thus proved to be for the reader a revealing touchstone of character and destiny. Fittingly, he will preside over the ultimate fate of each before the novel ends”, “The Role of the Blind Beggar in Madame Bovary”, Symposium, 22, 1, 1968, p. 78.
25 For example, one reads in Flaubert: “Rodolphe avait mis de longues bottes molles, se disant que sans doute elle n’en avait jamais vu de pareilles; en effet, Emma fut charmée de sa tournure”, Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 224.
26 Jean-Pierre Richard, Littérature et sensation. Stendhal, Flaubert, Seuil, Paris, 1990, p. 121.
28 Gustave Flaubert, Correspondance, op. cit. II, p. 483. Letter to Louise Colet (23 December 1853).
29 Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 226.
31 Ibid., p. 228.
33 Michael Anderegg, David Lean, Twayne, Boston, 1984, p. 137.
34 See Dorrit Cohn’s chapter on “Narrated Monologue”, in Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction, Princeton UP, Princeton, NJ, 1978, and Dominick LaCapra’s chapter on “Narrative Practice and Free Indirect Style”, in Madame Bovary on Trial, Cornell UP, Ithaca, NY, 1982. For visual relevance, see also Ken Hillis, “From Description to Depiction: Free Indirect Discourse and Online Graphical Chat”, Culture, Theory, and Critique, 44, 1, 2003, p. 73-89.
35 Keith Cohen, op. cit., p. 141.
36 This is particularly relevant to Flaubert’s style. Alan Spiegel notes: “Flaubert’s description begins to take on a motionless, tableaulike self-sufficiency, and the depiction of object and locale proceed to function in a new way in relation to the narrative context”, Fiction and the Camera Eye, op. cit., p. 91 (upon referring to Georg Lukács, “Narrate or Describe?”, in Writer and Critic and Other Essays, translated and edited by Arthur Kahn, Merlin, London, 1970, p. 115-116). Flaubert was indeed no stranger to this kind of pictorial expression when he wrote: “le paysage tout entier avait l’air immobile comme une peinture”, Madame Bovary, op. cit., p. 335; as in many seaport landscapes by Claude Lorrain, e.g. Seaport at Sunset (1639), “les navires à l’ancre se tassaient dans le coin” (ibid.).
37 Intriguingly, over forty years later, Mieke Bal has utilized a similar visual expedient in her project Madame B., as explained in her article “Raconter en images: Flaubert aujourd’hui”, op. cit., p. 73; see note 9.
38 Celestino Deleyto, op. cit., p. 226. Besides, Gérard Genette reports a dream scene in Madame Bovary (p. 264-265 in our edition of reference) with the coalescence of reality: “le retour à la réalité n’est marqué par aucune rupture temporelle, ce qui est […] une façon de faire ce rêve aussi présent que les bruits de la chambre”, Figures, essais, Seuil, Paris, 1966, p. 224.
39 Alan Spiegel, op. cit., p. 30-31.
40 Béla Balázs, Theory of the Film: Character and Growth of a New Art, Dover, New York, 1970, p. 89; cited in Spiegel, ibid. On the productive contribution of Balázs’s theory, in a phenomenological reading of film along with my consideration of Flaubert’s visual writing, see Izabella Füzi, “The Face of the Landscape in Béla Balázs’s Film Theory”, Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies, 5, 2012, p. 73-86.
41 Celestino Deleyto, op. cit., p. 224.
42 Murf, “Ryan’s Daughter”, Variety, 11 November 1970, p. 15.
43 Sandra Holtz, Interview, “The Making of Ryan’s Daughter”, in David Lean, Ryan’s Daughter, 2 discs, Warner Home Video, Burbank, CA, 2006, II.
44 Mary Donaldson-Evans, “A Medium of Exchange”, op. cit., p. 30.
45 In a reworking of former published material, Robert Stam suggests other techniques used by Chabrol (1991) for the treatment of Flaubert’s style, in “Adaptation and the French New Wave: A Study in Ambivalence”, Interfaces, 34, 2012-2013, p. 90-93.
46 Stephen Silverman, op. cit., p. 171. Murf’s early film review is symptomatic of this misfortune: “The spirit of Thomas Hardy pervades the film […] the film seems too much of a British story”, op. cit.
47 Evidence of this letter is given through various accounts in Stephen Silverman, ibid., p. 169; Kevin Brownlow, op. cit., p. 553; and Adrian Turner, Robert Bolt: Scenes from Two Lives, Hutchinson, London, 1998, p. 298. This letter and the unpublished script would be invaluable tools to monitor the exact magnitude of the novel’s adaptation. Unfortunately, as of now, there is no traceable indication of a first script planned after Madame Bovary.
48 Robert Stam, op. cit., p. 548.Haut de page
Pour citer cet article
Franck Dalmas, « A Madame Bovary’s Daughter: David Lean’s Visual Transliteration of Flaubert », Flaubert [En ligne], Traductions/Adaptations, mis en ligne le 05 novembre 2014, consulté le 30 mars 2017. URL : http://flaubert.revues.org/2335Haut de page
Haut de page
Flaubert est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.