Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Michiel Heyns's "The Typewriter's Tale"

Michiel Heyns is Professor Emeritus in English at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Author of numerous academic works and radio adaptations of Henry James's and Elizabeth Gaskell's novels, Heyns wrote the chapter on Henry James for the Cambridge Companion to English Novelists. He is winner of the Thomas Pringle Award for journalism 2007, and the Sol Plaatje Award for translation, 2008 and was winner of the Sunday Times Fiction Award 2012 for Lost Ground. The French translation of his novel The Typewriter's Tale was shortlisted for the Prix Femina Etranger, and won the Prix de l'Union Interalliee.

Here Heyns dreamcasts an adaptation of The Typewriter's Tale:
My central character, Frieda Wroth, is an intelligent if inexperienced young Englishwoman acting as typist (“typewriter”) to the great author Henry James, who falls under the charm of Morton Fullerton, a young friend of James’s (and, unbeknownst to Frieda, lover to the American novelist Edith Wharton). The ensuing drama is one of social decorum, constrained passion and ruthless intrigue.

Carey Mulligan seems perfect for the role of Frieda with her combination of English-Rose innocence and strong sexuality (I’m thinking in the first place of Mulligan’s transformation from demure schoolgirl to practised paramour in An Education). Against her, I would cast Viggo Mortensen as Morton Fullerton, the dashing cosmopolitan Parisian-American journalist and serial seducer of man, woman and dog. Mortensen’s barely-contained violence (think G.I Jane, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises), and smouldering sexuality would serve admirably to bring out the repressed sexuality in Frieda, and also to act as foil (and as unacknowledged love object) to the urbane Henry James.

James himself would be played by Anthony Hopkins – perhaps an odd choice, given that his best-known role is as Hannibal Lecter -- but of course Hopkins was also the dignified butler in Remains of the Day. Besides, Henry James, civilised as he was, was also capable of a quiet ferocity – not quite cannibalistic, and verbal rather than physical, but devastating enough.

And James’s great friend and Fullerton’s lover, Edith Wharton, could be vividly rendered by Anjelica Huston: again an actor better known for quite scary roles (The Addams Family, The Witches, The Dead), but very much suited to playing the sardonic, predatory (in my rendering of her) Mrs Wharton.

All in all, my cast has been chosen because they are all capable of playing to perfection both the civilised surface of Edwardian England, and the ferocity underlying the social comedy. These are social animals, their domestication only skin-deep.

Oh, and Ang Lee would be the perfect director, with his wide range of styles and periods, from the contained ‘period’ romanticism of Sense and Sensibility to the aching sexuality of Brokeback Mountain. And, of course, both these films were adaptations of literary works.
Learn more about the author and his work at Michiel Heyns' website.

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