The Wives of Bath (1993) by Susan Swan
Lost and Delirious (2001) by Léa Pool
I love films but, incidentally, literature has always been my more cherished first love. If there is a way to combine these two passions of mine, I am always already hooked to the idea. I am not sure when I first saw Lost and Delirious. Have I read about it somewhere and ordered the dvd hoping it was good? Have I accidently come across it on tv? Was it something somebody told me to watch? I don’t remember but I certainly do remember that the first time I watched it I read that it was based on the book The Wives of Bath – and yes, I am one of those weird people that read the credits, opening and closing. And I am saying “based on” here because the film says it is “based on” not “inspired by,” which would probably have been the better description. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
(that is the German dvd-cover, by the way, I like it)
I love the movie. Yes, I know it is not so easy to work through like a good lesbian comedy, but I still think it is worth our while. It tells the story of a shakespearean love, passionate love, a love lost becomes delirious. Strangely enought the narrator of the story is not one of the two lovers. It is Mouse Bedford (Mischa Barton), who has been shipped off to boarding school by her evil step-mother and rooms with Paulie (Piper Parabo) and Tori (Jessica Paré). Paulie and Tori are in love (they are not lesbians, they just love each other).
When some younger students, among them Tori’s little sister, surprise Tori and Paulie in bed with each other, Tori tells her sister that Paulie slipped into bed with her without her knowing and that Paulie has a crush on her but that she herself is totally into guys. She breaks up with Paulie and Paulie snaps. In the end we have another dead lesbian and the dignity of outrageous rightousness on our side, a bitter sweet ending that once again confirms that life is not fair.
(there is actually a different book by the same title out there, so make sure you get a copy of the book by Susan Swan)
The book is another matter. Mouse Bradford (yes, the movie makers changed the last names of the three main characters, although the German dvd-cover actually says Mary Bradford, not Bedford – probably just to say that we also know the book and not just the movie, we are snobbish that way) is shipped off to boarding school by her step-mother, but she is not evil, nor is her father quite the touchy kind that he is in the movie. And it is mostly her relationship to her father – or lack thereof – we are told of (the movie puts more emphasize on the mother-daughter relationship of both Mouse and Paulie). Morley is a doctor who works too much and Mouse worries about him but not enough as it turns out that Morley later dies of a heart attack.
Although Paulie and Tori do have a relationship, Paulie disguizes herself as Paulie’s brother Lewis to be with her beloved and it is not quite clear if Tori knows that Paulie and Lewis are the same person (I would argue that she knew but that it really did not matter to her much). The case of Paulie is more complicated as Paulie sees herself as a boy – and the fact that Lewis is working on the school’s premises as a caretaker proves that she is very good at passing. Tori’s brother Rick raises suspicion that Lewis might not be a boy and in order to prove that he is, Paulie kills the caretaker Sergeant to get his genitals. She is declared insane in court.
Although the names of the characters are quite consistent, the book and the film tell two completely different stories. The characters themselves are very different. Mary “Mouse,” for example, has a hump in the book, while Mary “Mouse” in the film is merely a little younger and very shy. The imagery is also completely different. While movie maker Léa Pool works with images of Shakespearean gallantry and nativism, which finally reasolves in Paulie’s rebirth as animal/bird, the book’s central image is the mighty “King Kong” and Tori substitutes for the white woman. Susan Swan paints the picture of a transgendered FTM, and in Mouse’s flashbacks to the trial she defies Freudian theory of penis envy and declares that one does not have to have a penis to make a woman happy, that only man think one has to have one. Swan does not merely draw a picture of a lesbian love that cannot survive heteronormative conventions but a picture of plurality within “lesbian” experience – or maybe “queer” would be the better word here.
The times the stories play out in are also completely different. The book takes place around the event of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, while the film seems to be located cosily in the 1990s. The disparity is great. But both book and movie are worth reading and re-reading, watching and re-watching.