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Novel to Film

The American
Newman and Claire's Romance

Presenting the love story

This section again includes James's 1890 dramatization of The American for the English stage. Each version of The American turns on the development of the love story between Newman and Claire. How is their relationship presented in the novel, and how has it been adapted, first by James for his play and then by screenwriter Michael Hastings?

Read all three texts, then view the video clip.
  1. Why is Claire attracted to Newman? Cite lines in each version that show how Claire feels. What does Newman say that draws Claire toward him? Which version does a better job of showing you why they love each other? Explain.

  2. Compare the dialogue in James's novel and in his play. What changes did James make for his stage version? Point to a specific contrast and speculate why James made the change. Now generalize: What do you think James felt he had to do to make The American a success on stage?

  3. Compare the dialogue in the screenplay to James's novel and script. What do you think Michael Hastings was trying to do? Why didn't he simply make a film using the script from Henry James's play?

  4. When Hastings was working in his screenplay, do you think he had a copy of the novel and the play open on his desk? Support your answer with evidence drawn from all three sources. Do you think Hastings should have followed the novel and the play more closely than he did for this love scene? Why or why not?

  5. Play with the challenge of adaptation.
    • Imagine you are writing a new version of The American set in 2001 instead of 1877. Write a page of dialogue for a scene between Newman and Claire.

    • You are a screenwriter who believes film adaptations should follow the original work as closely as possible. Rewrite a page of dialogue for this scene more faithful to the novel than Michael Hastings's version.

  6. In the novel and in the play, Newman and Claire never meet in an outdoor setting like the one in this scene from the film (the comparable scenes take place inside Claire's home). Why do you think the filmmakers made this choice? What was your reaction to this scene, and how did the visual aspects of the scene (the setting, the costuming, the props) shape your response to it?

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