Pictures of Polite Society: Henry James at the Movies

“I glory in the piling up of complications of every sort,” declared novelist Henry James. He was speaking to his niece about his prose style, but he could easily have been acknowledging his sure hand at plotting out crossroads, conundrums, and class conflicts for his characters. James wrote his observational fiction from experience: reared in New York State—both in Albany and in Manhattan—he became highly attuned to the mores he absorbed from his family’s lofty perch on the social ladder. An adolescence spent in Europe would affirm his interest in cross-cultural currents on both sides of the pond, and this American abroad would ultimately make his home in England. His novels have attracted filmmakers and actors ever since his passing a century ago; they offer cinematic enticements that might begin with ornate costuming and settings drawing the eye but then veering towards the heart as people wrestle with matters of love and propriety. On the occasion of The Aspern Papers, the latest in a rich history of James adaptations executive-produced by James Ivory and opening January 11, the Quad presents a range of interpretations of James’ highly subjective marrying of internal struggles and external forces.

Past Screenings