Monday, November 9, 2020

Two Literary Adaptations: Martin Eden and Rebecca

Luca Marinelli in Martin Eden (2019).

Jack London’s 1909 novel Martin Eden is the story of a Bay Area sailor who falls in love with an aristocrat and, simultaneously, with the life of the mind that she and her family prize. Initially out of love, he sets out to educate himself and in the course of doing so he discovers a bent for political philosophy and a passion for writing – and he dedicates himself to the latter, though he nearly starves himself to keep at it. Though in the early stages Martin’s plunge into intellectual waters impresses Ruth, her family’s conservatism – both social and political – weighs on their romance. They’re appalled at his background, his lack of pragmatism (a poor wordsmith who gets published here and there isn’t their ideal of a match for Ruth) and his refusal to censor himself at social gatherings, starting arguments that brands him in their eyes as a dangerous radical. And though Ruth professes undying love for him, the same qualities that alienate her parents unsettle her. In fact, Martin doesn’t fit in anywhere. His sister’s working-class husband, a supercilious bully, thinks he’s worthless. (When he returns from sea, he boards with them and has to put up with his brother-in-law’s insults.) He forms a profound friendship with Russ Brissenden, an alcoholic, tubercular poet whose writing he reveres, but Martin is ill at ease in the world of bohemian socialists Brissenden introduces him to; his own individualistic vision rejects the contradictions and what appear to him to be the easy solutions of socialism.