A few years back, one of my oldest childhood friends killed himself by jumping off an overpass. There was nothing beautiful about it.
Granted he wasn’t at the center of an Edwardian love triangle as far as I know, but since ‘Summer in February’ is all over my Downton Abbey Google Alerts I’ve been following the press with some interest. I read the novel last year and while I enjoyed the writing itself (and was looking forward to the film until I soured on its producer), it seems I came away with a rather different impression of the story than did the film’s cheerleaders.
During the publicity onslaught for ‘Summer in February’, folks attached to the film have consistently referred to the story as “tender” and “beautiful.” I cannot help but wonder what story they read. The novel I read involved a deeply depressed woman who ends up successfully killing herself after at least one failed attempt. If the account is to be believed, Florence Carter-Wood was the victim (or near victim) of marital rape and was eventually abandoned by a man who loved her enough to sleep with her, but not enough to remain near her. (His “honor” was more important than her happiness…gee that sounds familiar…)
A few reviews of the film have pointed out that the Florence character is so flat as to be not much more than a plot device to explore the mangst of the male romantic leads—and mainly Gilbert at that. What is so distressing about this is that Florence’s “fridging” isn’t just the boorish result of a writer arbitrarily killing a fully fictional character in order to mine her death for plot, but rather that Florence was a real woman whose death is treated as an inevitable necessity for the self-aggrandizing angst of two men who both treated her rather horribly.
Neither Smith nor Stevens can be blamed for the “fridging” of Florence. It is most likely the result of basing a narrative largely on the diaries of the man whom Florence initially seemed to reject—a man who seems to have had a major case of what we might now call a “nice guy complex.” Gilbert’s Florence seems to be barely a person, even to him. I haven’t seen Captain Evans’s diaries myself so I’m in no position to judge the source material on its own, but if the book is even remotely true to the diaries then I think we can say that Captain Evans “fridged” Florence in his memory and the book & film have exacerbated that. Florence was a real woman who was deeply depressed, but she seems to have been treated as not much more than a rope for a tug-of-war between two men, both in real life and in pseudo-fiction.
Unlike Munnings and Evans, Florence appears to have had no descendants or family to weigh in on her portrayal. No one even remotely related to her was able to be her proxy in the creation of either the book or film as far as I know. Munnings himself was famous enough that it must have been relatively simple for Smith to draw him, and of course Evans’s diaries are the basis of the film and his son was deeply involved in both the book and film. Florence, on the other hand, exists as nothing more than an extension of Gilbert’s memory, with no one to speak for her but him. One might argue that this is a potent illustration of just how non-existent woman often were in the early years of the 20th century, but we’re in 2013 now and we ought to be a bit more responsible with our storytelling—or at the very least, how we talk about our stories. There’s nothing morally abhorrent about telling the story of an ill-fated love affair from only one person’s point of view, but it is a bit problematic to consistently refer to what is ultimately the story of a troubled woman’s very real suicide as “tender” or “beautiful.”
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- willidocarson said: i mean, if he’s going to talk about why not describe how deeply tragic it is, you know? rather than talk about this haunting, beautiful woman these two men loved…talk about how she died tragically and nothing lovely about that.
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- maestroannie said: everything about this
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- formerlyconnietough said: U r great
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