I had an unexpected moment of connection in teaching this week. In the medieval course, we were talking about the Wife of Bath and watching the BBC modernised version of the tale and prologue with Julie Walters. In the writers-on-film course, we were watching the Better Davis film, Old Acquaintance. Both deal with older women lusting after younger men. Walters’ embodiment of the bawdy wife is markedly different than the genteel lit’ry author Davis plays, but the tension around their desires is palpable.
Chaucer’s medieval icon has had five husbands, the last two considerably younger than she; in the adaptation, Walters plays her as a much married-soap star who falls for her decades younger co-star. Her fame only increases as the program’s audience seems to think she’s pulling off quite a feat, but her young lover’s star falls precipitously because people can’t imagine him falling for a much older woman.
Davis’ film follows the friendship of two women, Davis’ Kit Marlowe (though my first inspiration for my other romance nom de plume was largely the Elizabethan playwright, it’s also for this film) and Miriam Hopkins’ Millie Drake. When Kit first makes a splash as a controversial literary author, the envious Millie decides to pen a novel, too. Of course she writes a romance — and then another and another and before you know it she’s rich and successful while Kit struggles with her follow up.
The wrinkle is that Millie’s neglected husband falls in love with Kit who spends more time with him and Millie’s daughter. Being a good friend, Kit won’t let anything happen, but she suffers. Millie makes her suffer more when her husband leaves, though she’s as oblivious to his love for her friend as she is to pretty much everything that is shiny stuff for herself. She’s so incredibly callous that she deserves the famous shake when Kit’s armour of self-sacrifice finally cracks a little.
This happens in the last half of the film where it’s clear Kit is “old” — she has s stripe of white hair to prove it! Her 10 year younger beau pines after her, trying to persuade her to marry him, but she find it too absurd to consider, although she wants to very much. Everyone agrees it’s absurd. When she decided to say yes anyway — well, you can guess things don’t go well.
I suppose I’m sensitive to the issue because I’ve mostly always been with younger men. I did have one boyfriend who was a week older. It didn’t work out. 😉 So am I being ridiculous?