Posted: 10/26/2008


Affairs of the Heart


by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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Acorn Media Group recently offered a classic anthology of romantic tales based on the fiction of Henry James.

The television series Affairs of the Heart aired in the United States on CBS in the early 1980s, and now those intrigued with Victorian high society can glance into the secret love lives of Catherine, Adela, Miss Tita, Grace, Milly, Flora, and Mary and Louisa, in tales of love lost and found again.

Two DVDs cover seven episodes, with settings in country houses in England to drawing rooms in New York or art studios in London. “Scoundrels and schemers collide with ingénues and admirers in the terribly intricate affairs of the heart.”
In one episode, Catherine Sloper is hard pressed to please her stern father and be all that her late mother was. Catherine is a shy, awkward sort who is smitten by newcomer Morris Townsend. But Catherine’s father, Austin, is guarding her inheritance, and he feels that Morris is just out to use his daughter and ultimately send her to the poorhouse.

Catherine is due a $10,000 annual trust fund, but that triples to $30,000 upon her father’s death. But she’s willing to forgo her father’s portion to run off to marry the “fortune hunter,” as Morris has been described.

“He’s a man of swift deceptions and bold decisions,” Catherine’s father tells her. “There’s a smug greed in his face whenever he eyes my possessions as though they were the window to my daughter.”

Morris tries to defend himself, saying that while he has squandered any money that he had, he didn’t owe anyone. He resents Austin and views him as an obstacle that he must scale in order to come into new money. “He taunted me with my poverty,” he said.

But Catherine is madly in love, since no man has ever shown her much attention. “I have only known it a moment, but it seems as if I could never do without it,” she explains her feelings.

Morris is just as excited, and doesn’t think his feelings for Catherine are too exaggerated. “For those two weeks, I have been on fire.” He tries to assure Catherine that he loves her and any man would be glad to have her as a bride. “You know how little there is in me to be proud of,” Catherine says, displaying such low self esteem.

Morris is adamant in trying to convince Catherine to persuade her father to relent and award her what he’s promised.

In a desperate attempt to have Catherine forget about Morris, her father takes her abroad for six months, during which time he figures the couple would have forgotten each other. But during the voyage, Catherine discerns that her father doesn’t care much for her, after he takes many opportunities to discuss her shortcomings.

These sentiments serve to only push Catherine further away, and she’s just as committed after her trip; and Morris is anxiously awaiting her return. But he soon discovers that Catherine’s father hasn’t changed his mind. And when he learns that Catherine is poised to abandon the family home and would rather be estranged from her father with a little bit of money, Morris panics.

After telling Catherine to dress up in her best clothes, so they can proceed with a civil ceremony, Morris leaves her waiting all night. And as the night grows long, Catherine has to tolerate her father’s admonitions. “True love runs more smoothly on gold wheels,” he says.

In the meantime, Catherine’s father dies, and she, in fact, inherits all his riches. Consequently Morris returns, pretending he was out making a living and preparing a household for him and Catherine. But Catherine has a worldly demeanor about her now, after having lived independently since her father’s death. She only agrees to marry Morris, if she’s in total control of the finances, estate, investments, etc. In the end, she muses that she wasn’t so unlike her father, after all—manipulating and controlling.

In another episode, titled “Milly,” a newly engaged fiancé tries to charm a severely ill heiress, so that she’ll leave him and his future wife a fortune. But as the tide turns, dire consequences befall the scandalous couple.

In yet another episode, a promising bride tries to keep her bad eyesight away from her betrothed, only to gain acceptance from another suitor. As the story unfolds in “Flora,” things get a bit sticky for all concerned.

Affairs of the Heart, starring esteemed British actors Diana Rigg, Patricia Routledge and Jeremy Brett, among others, is available on DVD from the Acorn Media Group October 28, 2008.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a veteran public relations and journalism professional and former journalism professor. She’s publicist for her daughter, Hip-Hop artist Psalm One. A native Chicago South Sider, Elaine was a recent University of Maryland Bio Ethics, Health Disparities & Clinical Trials Fellow and winner of a Black Press Messenger Award.

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