Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Identikits and Imagination: How Do You Imagine Emma Bovary and Mr. Rochester?

The Atlantic has an interesting feature about using Identikits, those visual aids used by police to figure out who might have done it, to draw portraits of characters from fiction.

Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre and Emma Bovary from Madame Bovary are two, who come out looking like nothing I ever imagined. But then it's rare that a film version shows a character as I imagine either. Certainly Mr. Rochester played by Toby Stephens is much better looking than the description: "I knew my traveller with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair.

I recognised his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils, denoting, I thought, choler; his grim mouth, chin, and jaw–yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake. "
(See here for more.)

Only Isabelle Huppert playing Emma looks both like the description and the police portrait: "She was pale all over, white as a sheet; the skin of her nose was drawn at the nostrils, her eyes looked at you vaguely. After discovering three grey hairs on her temples, she talked much of her old age…Her eyelids seemed chiseled expressly for her long amorous looks in which the pupil disappeared, while a strong inspiration expanded her delicate nostrils and raised the fleshy corner of her lips, shaded in the light by a little black down.

As for me, I've always thought Emma looked like something from a Renoir painting--maybe pale but a lot more voluptuous than Huppert. And Rochester: well, I see a dour someone from a Victorian photograph.

But that of course is part of the pleasure of reading: you fill in the gaps, you're there in a way that you can't be in a movie. Whatever you imagine is going to be a lot more alive than an Identikit portrait, too.

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