Mature Lust

old-acquaintance-2by C. Margery Kempe

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?

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  • Kemberlee Shortland
    April 12, 2013 at 7:16 am

    Do you think it’s really about older woman and younger man, or that love and lust don’t see age as a boundary to fulfillment?

    • cmkempe
      April 12, 2013 at 8:09 am

      Love and lust don’t, but our culture seems to be horrified by the idea that women continue to have desire when society thinks thy are irrelevant sexually. I just saw an article about how the oldest a model could expect to be working is now 28. After that she’s ‘too old’ to be desireable.

      • Kemberlee Shortland
        April 12, 2013 at 8:46 am

        Do you find it’s an American phenomenon? I’ve found European culture a little more forgiving. Or maybe it’s the older man/younger woman thing that’s more forgiving?

        Did you follow any of the drama over actress Junie Huong who sued IMDb over disclosing her true age? She’s been an active actress in Hollywood, supposedly trading on being 7 years younger than she really is. She sued IMDb saying it will now keep her from getting work. Hmm . . . lots of over 40 actresses out there doing quite well. I think it comes down to acting ability and the roles one will take. She’s using the age card to pad her bank account.

        Personally, I don’t care how old a person is as long as they can do the job . . . whatever it is. As long as he’s of legal age 😉

  • cmkempe
    April 12, 2013 at 9:13 am

    I missed that story but it’s certainly true. ‘Lots’ of over 40s? I would say we notice every one of them, so it’s actually a tiny number — especially in the face of the hordes of (increasingly and often surgically bland) young women used as eye candy filler everywhere who will never get a meaty role. But yeah, better outside the States, though sadly the UK is assimilating a lot of the worst of it.

    • Kemberlee Shortland
      April 12, 2013 at 10:10 am

      Popular actresses today over 40 —

      Halle Berry is 46 (older than Huong), Thandie Newton is 41 (same age as Huong), Paget Brewster is 41, Marg Helgenberger is 54, Kirsten Vangsness is 41 AND overweight and working, etc.

      I think there’s a lot of Americanization in the UK and Ireland. It’s all about youth and beauty. In Ireland, don’t know if you noticed, most women on TV here all have huge mouths and big hair. Really weird.

      I do appreciate that, overall, commercials and tv programming don’t always include people with perfect figures. Nice change from the US.

  • madelineiva
    April 13, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Sometimes I have to wonder if the writers (permissive hollywood types) were doing a covert good deed in trying to push an audience’s boundaries with movies like these.

    Sure the good guys all “play by the rules” by the end of the film–and that’s depressing to contemplate. But in the meantime, the audience’s strongest emotional engagement probably came from the interaction with the forbidden fantasy.

    I see it as a subversive act to be involved in a movie like this. You’re introducing a taboo topic, and showing someone playing with the temptation of going against society’s rules. It probably helps to desensitize a society from their automatic negative judgements. By acting out an appealing “what if” scenario, the movie begins to encourage people (at least in their fantasies) to question their conventional judgements. “What if she HAD said yes to the younger man? Would it have been so wrong?”

    As for older women and younger men, thankfully that hidden door is finally wide open and can’t be closed again. I’m sure as time goes on we’ll become much more like France in more openly acknowledging the attractions of mature women. Eventually the U.S. media will catch up.

    • cmkempe
      April 14, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      I like the way you think.

  • cmkempe
    April 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Reblogged this on C. Margery Kempe and commented:

    Last week’s post


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