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Novel to Film

The American
Newman meets the de Bellegardes

Presenting Character

In both the film and the novel, this is Christopher Newman's first meeting with Mme. de Bellegarde.

Read closely the paragraph beginning "Newman felt. . ."
  1. What physical details of Mme. de Bellegarde does Newman notice? Underline them. Find a simile or metaphor in this section that describes Mme. de Bellegarde. Find one that describes Claire. Explain in your own words the meaning of the comparisons.

  2. How does Newman contrast with the Bellegardes in speech, appearance, and manner? Where do you see the contrast most clearly, in the dialogue or in the narration? What do the Bellegardes think of Newman? How do you know?

  3. Henry James uses narration to present Newman's point of view in this scene. Imagine you are one of the creators of the film and wish to transfer Newman's thoughts and feelings to the screen. How can you do it? Offer some suggestions. Think about dialogue, costuming, use of the camera, scenery, voice-over narration.

Now view the scene on video.

  1. How do the filmmakers set up this scene visually? What does the camera show you before any lines are spoken? Find lines from the novel excerpt that correspond to what you see, hear, and feel while viewing the film clip. How do the filmmakers establish the contrast between Newman and the Bellegardes? Is the presentation of Mme. de Bellegarde similar or different?

  2. Newman moves around the room, shaking hands with each member of the family. How do the filmmakers use the handshake to show us something about each of the characters?

  3. Is this scene presented exclusively from Newman's point of view, as in the novel? What other perspectives are added, and how are they shown? As viewers, are we still able to "read" Newman's inner thoughts and feelings? How do you think Henry James would have felt about the filmmakers' presentation of character in this scene?

  4. There are more than 900 words in the excerpt from the novel. The film script for the scene, including dialogue and notes for direction, has less than 200. How does the film, with so few words, convey the same information as the prose in the novel?

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