Friday, February 22, 2013

Matthew Kadane's "The Watchful Clothier"

Matthew Kadane is an associate professor of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Watchful Clothier: The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Protestant Capitalist:
It's hard to imagine casting for a historical figure who you can't describe physically. The subject of my book, Joseph Ryder, was a prolific eighteenth-century diarist, but in the two and a half million words he wrote he never once said anything about the way he looked. Did he have a sturdy frame, if only from the physical demands of his work as a clothier? Or do his fairly regular complaints about unspecified illnesses suggest he was frail? Did he ever wear a wig, or did he feel the ambivalence about wigs that he felt about the social elites more likely to wear them? Did he wear eyeglasses, which might explain slightly smaller late-life handwriting? He does mention having a bad leg beginning in his 60s. Did he start walking with a cane, or did he limp around Leeds unassisted as his puritanical religion and ascetic worldliness fell out of step with a society visibly headed toward industrialization by the time he died in 1768. All I can say about the way Ryder looked with any certainty is that he was white and male, the prerequisites for so many of the cultural options British society offered him.

It is also in some ways liberating not to have to match the looks of an actor with a character. The more important thing about casting Ryder would in any case be to find someone who could capture his piety and his ambivalence about economic success. The actor's face would also have to be compelling enough to sustain interest during countless close-ups on Ryder as he writes in his diaryPaul Giamatti could be the guy. He can agonize, and he can convincingly transition from middle to late life. (Ryder wrote from his late 30s through to his early 70s, and so whoever plays him would have to get the various phases of life as right as Giamatti gets them in, for example, Barney's Version.) Sam Rockwell also comes to mind. He's a better physical match for someone who I imagine was neither too much this nor that. Rockwell also pulled off a compelling one man show in Moon. The Watchful Clothier the movie, like the book, would almost entirely be about Ryder. It's hard to imagine a scene without him somewhere in it.
Learn more about The Watchful Clothier at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue