Friday, February 22, 2013

Matthew Kadane's "The Watchful Clothier," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: The Watchful Clothier: The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Protestant Capitalist by Matthew Kadane.

The entry begins:
It's hard to imagine casting for a historical figure who you can't describe physically. The subject of my book, Joseph Ryder, was a prolific eighteenth-century diarist, but in the two and a half million words he wrote he never once said anything about the way he looked. Did he have a sturdy frame, if only from the physical demands of his work as a clothier? Or do his fairly regular complaints about unspecified illnesses suggest he was frail? Did he ever wear a wig, or did he feel the ambivalence about wigs that he felt about the social elites more likely to wear them? Did he wear eyeglasses, which might explain slightly smaller late-life handwriting? He does mention having a bad leg beginning in his 60s. Did he start walking with a cane, or did he limp around Leeds unassisted as his puritanical religion and ascetic worldliness fell out of step with a society visibly headed toward industrialization by the time he died in 1768. All I can say about the way Ryder looked with any certainty is that he was white and male, the prerequisites for so many of the cultural options British society offered him.

It is also in some ways liberating not to have to match the looks of an actor with a character. The more important thing about casting Ryder would in any case be to find someone who could capture his piety and his ambivalence about economic success. The actor's face would also have to be compelling enough to sustain interest during countless close-ups on Ryder as he writes in his diaryPaul...[read on]
Learn more about The Watchful Clothier at the Yale University Press website.

Matthew Kadane is an associate professor of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

My Book, The Movie: The Watchful Clothier.

--Marshal Zeringue