Often defined as Austen’s dark, autumnal, and melancholic work, Persuasion is “atypical” in the Jane Austen canon (Dalsimer 114-15). It has been adapted to the screen on different occasions, the most recent being Roger Michell’s 1995 and Adrian Shergold’s 2007 dramatizations. Alejandro Agresti’s The Lake House (2006) is also a modern version of Persuasion.1 Austen’s novel serves as a template for this twenty-first-century romantic comedy, whose heroine is a fan of Jane Austen, particularly of Persuasion. Hero and heroine read and discuss the book, which both helps justify their relationship and situates the film within a romance genre partly established by Austen.
The acknowledged source for The Lake House is the South Korean film Il Mare (2000). Directed by Lee Hyun-Seung, it tells the story of a couple of characters who live two years apart from each other and communicate through a post box. Set in present-day Chicago, The Lake House is the story of Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock), a lonely doctor who, as the film opens, is leaving the lake house where she used to live. She is moving to the city and, for this reason, writes a letter providing her new address to the next tenant, architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves), so that he can forward her mail. They start a correspondence, and it is obvious after a while that they are falling in love. There is, however, one major problem: whereas for Alex it is the year 2004, Kate is living in 2006, and their only way of communicating is through the letters they leave at the lake house’s mailbox.
Kate and Alex only manage to see each other at two points of Kate’s past (Alex’s present): she remembers leaving her copy of Persuasion at a railway station in 2004 and asks Alex to go there and pick it up for her; they also see one another at Kate’s birthday party in the same year. Meanwhile some important events happen: Alex’s father, the famous architect Simon Wyler, with whom the hero has a problematic relationship, dies, and, in 2006, while having lunch with her mother at Daley Plaza, Kate witnesses an accident (in which Alex turns out to be involved). After some time, the protagonists decide to arrange a date to meet in 2006, but Alex will have to wait for two years. Nonetheless, this scheme fails because, for some reason, Alex does not show up. As a result, Kate decides to break off their “relationship” as well as all communication. Two years go by, and in 2008 Kate discovers that the man who died at the Daley Plaza accident was Alex, so she hurries to the lake house to write a letter warning him and asking him to wait for two more years to meet her not in 2006 but in 2008 at the lake house. Some minutes afterwards (for Kate), the hero shows up; he has waited, the heroine has saved his life, and they are happily reunited at the house of their dreams.
Kate and Alex, finally reunited, enter their dream house on Valentine’s Day, 2008
Although the similarities between The Lake House and Persuasion may not be at first sight striking, there are numerous parallels between them. The connections between characters, storyline and themes show the movie as a rewriting of Austen’s novel, which is set as a model to follow both by Kate and Alex in the shaping of their relationship and also by Alejandro Agresti in the design of his own film. The Lake House is a modernized, even feminist, rewriting of Persuasion, which recognizes both increasing male sensibility and contemporary women’s greater opportunities and more active role in society, but like Austen’s novel it also posits a world where the power of love over time still prevails.
I. Characters: Elliots and Wentworths meet Forsters and Wylers
The Lake House modernizes many of Austen’s characters, adapting them to a present-day world where women are granted more possibilities and men are more directly in contact with their feelings. Not only are Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth recreated in the movie’s protagonists, but some of Persuasion’s minor characters, such as Sir Walter Elliot, Louisa Musgrove, and Mr. Elliot, also find their modern counterparts in The Lake House.
The two heroines are connected in several ways. Their physical appearance coincides in an elementary link: at the beginning of Persuasion Anne is said to possess “delicate features and mild dark eyes” (6), and Alex describes Kate as having “long brown hair; gentle unguarded eyes.” More crucially, the two are related by their affinity for caring for others. While Kate Forster is a doctor working at Chicago City Hospital, the heroine of Persuasion nurses several characters throughout the novel: her sister Mary, who is often “indisposed,” “unwell,” or “out of spirits” (33, 37); little Charles; and Louisa Musgrove. In the cases of young Charles and Louisa, Anne is the person in charge of organizing the necessary medical care. The boy, who is referred to as Anne’s patient, is left entirely under her care while his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Musgrove, attend a dinner party. Louisa suffers a terrible fall in Lyme which sinks everyone into a chaotic state. At this point, only the heroine can react properly, ordering Captain Benwick: “‘Rub her hands, rub her temples; here are salts,—take them, take them’” (110). Everyone waits for her directions, and she finally commands one of the men to fetch the surgeon. The Lake House similarly shows Kate Forster tending a little girl during her night shift and, another time, an elderly man, whose stretcher she pushes on her first day at Chicago City Hospital. For all these reasons, it is very appropriate that a present-day Anne Elliot should be a doctor, this being but the natural development on transferring a nineteenth-century heroine to the year 2006, that is, to a feminist, or post-feminist, era where women are allowed to take medical degrees and follow their chosen profession.
Anne and Kate also share their tendency to loneliness and their love for books. Austen’s heroine frequently retires, looking for solitude in order to reflect. She is an outsider, not fully belonging to any of the various groups that inhabit Persuasion: she is integrated neither with the Elliots, who overlook her, nor the Musgroves, nor the Crofts, who will finally adopt her. Dr. Forster is an outsider too. She is habitually on her own at the hospital where she has just begun working; as her friend and colleague Dr. Klyczynski tells her, “You keep a lot to yourself.” Associated with their loneliness is the heroines’ love for literature, a symptom of their intelligence that distinguishes them from the heroes’ less brilliant candidates for relationship, Louisa Musgrove and Mona. If Anne reads Scott and Byron and has literary talks with Captain Benwick, Kate enjoys Dostoyevsky, which she reads to her dog Jack, and, of course, Jane Austen.
The two heroines are not only emotionally but also physically displaced. Just as Anne leaves Kellynch Hall when the novel opens, Kate moves out of the lake house into Chicago. Both feel miserable about leaving their respective homes: “now Anne’s heart must be in Kellynch again. A beloved home made over to others; all the precious rooms and furniture, groves, and prospects, beginning to own other eyes and other limbs!” (47-48). In Persuasion, the Crofts, and by extension Captain Wentworth, become Kellynch’s new residents; when Kate leaves the lake house, Alex Wyler appears as the new tenant. While in Michell’s film version Anne Elliot (played by Amanda Root) melancholically looks at the trees of Kellynch Hall as she is driven out of the estate to Uppercross, so Kate Forster laments to Alex: “But my heart still misses the lake house and its trees. I miss those trees so much.” This abandonment of their cherished homes contributes to the heroines’ isolation and displacement, representing the break of the few links they had established with anyone or anything.
The Lake House
Alex Wyler is a special adaptation of Captain Wentworth. Both heroes are adventurous and have taken risks in their professions: Frederick Wentworth, after being rejected by Anne, went to sea and devoted himself to his career. Alex left Chicago because of his problems with his father. Rather than following his progenitor’s footsteps, Alex wanted to find his own path. Nevertheless, the existing differences between both heroes point to some changes in our society, as far as masculine models are concerned. Keanu Reeves lacks Wentworth’s implied virility and physically powerful appearance as well as his character as a weather-beaten sailor who has struggled with human and natural forces alike. Ciarán Hinds, the actor playing Wentworth in Michell’s 1995 adaptation, conforms to this image of a masculine and physically potent sailor. In contrast, Alex Wyler is a more “feminized” and sentimental character, a “new” man, who is even shown crying bitterly over the death of his father. Such a change reveals an evolution in contemporary masculine stereotypes. Whereas Captain Wentworth (especially Michell’s version of him) tends to hide his sensibility beneath a veneer of masculinity, shrinking from revealing his true feelings till the final part of the novel, Alex presents a new model of sensitive man, one who is deeply in contact with his own feelings. This is a hero who tells his brother when discussing his relationship with Kate, “While it lasted it was more real to me than all that stuff [sex]. She was more real than anything I’ve ever known. I saw her. I kissed her. I love her. And now she’s gone. She’s gone.”
Among the minor characters rewritten in The Lake House is Sir Walter Elliot, recreated as Simon Wyler, the hero’s father. Both characters have a special bond with their respective houses, which become, besides, related to their marital lives. For Sir Walter, Kellynch is important as an embodiment of his family’s history and social importance. Lady Elliot had attempted to improve Sir Walter at Kellynch and restrain her spendthrift husband with no success; she finally left her family through her early death. Simon Wyler built the lake house as a present for his wife, and, like Kellynch, it seems an emblem of patriarchy. Alex asserts that the lake house is about his father’s ownership and control; it is, besides, incomplete since there is a deck or port missing. Like Lady Elliot at Kellynch, Alex’s mother tried to make her marriage work in the lake house yet did not succeed because, in the hero’s words, his father “knew how to build a house but not a home”; Alex’s mother similarly abandoned her family, dying shortly afterwards.
Sir Walter Elliot and Simon Wyler are equally narcissistic, a trait which is very much reflected in their writing activities. Sir Walter’s additions to the Baronetage parallel Simon Wyler’s writing his memoirs. Both see these books as extensions of themselves, accounts of their own importance. Just as Sir Walter has recorded his wife’s death, Mary’s marriage, and, finally, Anne’s in the Baronetage, so has Simon Wyler registered his sons in his memoirs. Both texts are signs of these characters’ narcissism, mirrors in which they can reflect themselves. There, like Sir Walter, Alex’s father “could read his own history with an interest which never failed” (3). In both texts, glass and mirrors are an additional symptom of their narcissism: for if Sir Walter’s dressing room was so full of mirrors that “‘there was no getting away from oneself’” (128), the lake house, a reflection of the architect’s own self, is totally made of glass. Moreover, like Anne’s father, Simon Wyler fits the image of the dandy. Although not so openly concerned with his physical appearance as the nobleman, Simon Wyler is always perfectly dressed in a suit and bow tie, a physical trait that both reinforces the connection between the architect and the aristocrat and also alienates them from their children.
The two fathers’ personalities are thus very much alike. Both are careless parents who neglect, and have neglected, their own children. Sir Walter pays no attention whatsoever to Anne, clearly preferring Elizabeth to her. But Simon Wyler is no better: besides his predilection for his second son, the one following his footsteps, he does not even stop to talk to Alex after a separation of several years. Just as the aristocrat only cares about rank, about his own importance in Bath as Lady Dalrymple’s cousin, the famous architect only worries about his job, and, as Alex says, “the more successful he became, the more impossible it was to live with him.” Moving the family drama from Anne’s background to Alex’s, The Lake House contributes a more psychological, even Freudian, portrait of the hero as a modern man involved in a permanent fight with his powerful and influential father.
Sir Walter is not the only secondary character in Persuasion with a twenty-first-century counterpart. Mr. Elliot and Louisa Musgrove become respectively Morgan and Mona, the two inadequate partners of the heroine and hero. Morgan is a modern Mr. Elliot, quite curiously fitting the prototype of the dandy as well. Mr. Elliot is, according to Sir Walter’s own account, a gentleman with an air of elegance and fashion, a well-shaped face, and a sensible eye. In the same way, Morgan, played by Dylan Walsh, is quite attractive and, like a dandy, always neatly dressed in a suit, even on informal occasions. By contrast, the hero wears jeans, checked shirts, and boots. This contrast reflects the opposition in Austen’s novel between Mr. Elliot and Captain Wentworth. While Captain Wentworth is more honest, open, and direct than the duplicitous Mr. Elliot, so Alex, dressed in sports clothes, seems more natural than Morgan, with his artificial style.
Louisa Musgrove is similarly recreated in the character of Mona, both possible, albeit unsuitable, romantic candidates for the hero. As Louisa flutters her eyelashes at Captain Wentworth and explores the Navy list to learn the ships the hero has commanded, Mona is continually flirting with Alex and following his lead. She buys a pair of boots because Alex has told her to get some to replace her high heels at work. Mona is rather a female dandy, too much concerned with fashion and appearance and, therefore, not the right match for the sensible, and sensitive, Alex Wyler. Like Louisa, she is young and inexperienced and, although probably sincerely attached to the hero, does not realize that he is by far intellectually superior.
Thus, many of the characters in The Lake House are connected with Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Kate’s being a doctor is but the logical development of Anne’s nursing habits, and Alex’s sensitivity is only too natural a development of Wentworth’s more restrained feelings and emotions in present-day society. Sir Walter, Mr. Elliot, and Louisa are also rewritten as Simon Wyler, Morgan, and Mona in a way that reflects their definition in Austen’s novel. Yet Agresti’s movie reproduces all these characters with a difference; The Lake House portrays a modern world where men and women interact differently, illustrating some of the social changes—such as in gender roles—of the last two hundred years while simultaneously exposing how Jane Austen set a pattern for the genre of romantic comedies that is still satisfying.
II. Storyline: Writing love
The second set of intertextual connections involves the storyline, where writing is crucial to the plots of both Persuasion and The Lake House. The exchanging of letters by the protagonists links the two texts. In Persuasion, Anne and Wentworth have serious problems of communication. When Wentworth first comes to Uppercross Cottage, for instance, after their long separation, hero and heroine do not address each other at all. Despite all they are feeling at this point, “[h]er eye half met Captain Wentworth’s; a bow, a curtsey passed” (59). Besides their past love letters, the sailor does write the heroine one crucial epistle at the end of the novel, in which he declares his affection and intention of renewing his addresses after eight years. In The Lake House, Kate and Alex have similar problems of communication, for the only way to get through to each other is the mailbox. Handwritten letters appear in The Lake House’s credit sequence, suggesting their importance for the development of the plot. In both novel and film, then, letters are fundamental in bringing the lovers together. Just as Wentworth can only declare to Anne in a letter that “‘[y]ou pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope’” (237), Kate uses the same means to tell Alex that she loves him. As David Roche has noted about Joe Wright’s recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, letters become “the elements that make the narrative progress,” finally leading to the happy ending in Persuasion and The Lake House.
Such letters are, significantly, a very old-fashioned means of communication, more typical of the early nineteenth than the twenty-first century. In an era of technology, Kate and Alex use very rudimentary means of communication: they do not chat online, write e-mails, or talk through Skype, the software that allows users to make phone calls over the internet; instead, like Anne and Wentworth, the doctor and the architect use paper and black ink. More physical than a mobile-phone text message, a letter contains something of the person who has composed it. The handwriting of Kate’s and Alex’s letters seems tremendously old-fashioned, reminding us of Jane Austen’s own calligraphy as it appears in the cancelled chapters of Persuasion, reinforcing the connection between novel and film.
Writing, but particularly handwriting, is very much linked to subjectivity and creates a closer bond between the person who writes and the recipient. Handwritten letters, like those Kate and Alex exchange, are warmer than e-mails and create a sort of intimacy that technology seems to dispose of. Moreover, in Persuasion and The Lake House, they are used as a means of expressing love and underscore the romantic idea expressed by Kate’s mother of reading as a means to being where someone else has been before: “Holding his books, I feel he’s with me somehow. Knowing that he was once on the same pages reading the same words.” In other words, when someone reads a letter and moves from one sentence to another, he or she is where that person has been earlier, writing and probably reading as the writer revised the letter in question.
Curiously, the use of letters in The Lake House connects the movie not only with Austen’s text, but also with its 1995 BBC adaptation, creating a dual pattern of influence of the kind Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield have noted in their recent analysis of Kandukondain Kandukondain. In particular, Michell’s Persuasion includes one major scene involving Wentworth’s past letters to Anne. The heroine is shown in the attic of Kellynch Hall rereading their love letters, just as in The Lake House Alex keeps the letters in the house’s attic. Here Agresti partly reproduces Michell’s own dramatization, illustrating how different screen versions of one work inherit and encompass pre-existent ones.
III. Theme: Loving across time
The last set of connections between Austen’s novel and Agresti’s film concerns the theme of love. The Lake House depicts a twenty-first-century romantic involvement that follows the romantic pattern previously established by Austen. Central to that pattern are the two most important issues shared by the written and visual texts and reworked by screenwriter David Auburn and Agresti: love and time.
The film’s representation of love is in many ways similar to that of Austen’s Persuasion. The conversation between Alex and his brother quoted above parallels a tête-à-tête between Captain Wentworth and Anne where the former declares:
“A man like him [Captain Benwick], in his situation! With a heart pierced, wounded, almost broken! Fanny Harville was a very superior creature; and his attachment to her was indeed attachment. A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman!—He ought not—he does not. (183, my italics)
Although on a superficial level Wentworth is talking about the relationship between Captain Benwick and Fanny Harville and her replacement by Louisa Musgrove, it is evident that he is also talking about himself and the heroine. This speech is the means through which the hero declares his love for the heroine. The Lake House inherits the concept of enduring love outlined by Austen. Just as the sailor indirectly declares his love for Anne in this speech, so Alex Wyler confesses his feelings and “devotion of the heart” for Kate while talking to his brother. In fact, the similarities reach as far as the process of falling in love itself: in Persuasion, “[t]hey [Anne and Wentworth] were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love. It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other” (26); in the movie, Kate and Alex steadily and rapidly get to know each other through letters, following an analogous process of infatuation.
Novel and film address the issue of gender difference in love through the characters of Anne and Kate’s mother respectively. Persuasion explores how men and women love differently. The heroine declares, in a much quoted discussion with Captain Harville, that it is not in “‘the nature of any woman’” to forget the man she loves quickly or easily because, unlike men, women are secluded “‘at home,’” falling “‘prey’” to their feelings (232). Harville does not agree, asserting that men, sailors particularly, have a great capacity for love and suffer a great deal when separated from their families; to which Anne responds:
“No, I believe you capable of every thing great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as—if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.” (235, my italics)
In The Lake House, it is Kate’s mother who voices Anne’s ideas, speaking twin thoughts about eternal love, about loving even after death, when there is no hope. Her husband has been deceased for several years; yet when she lunches with her daughter at Daley Plaza, she declares that she is reading his books as a way of keeping in touch with her dead husband, of maintaining him alive: “When your father passed away, it was hard. It still is hard. Holding his books, I feel he’s with me somehow. Knowing that he was once on the same pages reading the same words.” This illustration of loving when there is no hope, of continuing to love someone after death is Anne’s statement taken to the extreme, to its last consequence. Interestingly, this speech is delivered at Daley Plaza moments before Alex dies in Kate’s arms—an ironic suggestion that the heroine, despite her voiced resistance to getting involved in a non-realistic relationship that can never materialize, will continue to love Alex even after deciding to end their affair.
Whereas novel and film agree in their representation of love, the treatment of time constitutes a special connection between Austen’s and Agresti’s works. If Persuasion is famous for its abundance of accidents, illnesses, loss of bloom, hope, and opportunity (Mooneyham 166-67), The Lake House shares this sense of missed opportunities and, particularly, the sense of time lost, time wasted. Hence, love and time link Austen’s and Agresti’s works; or, to put it differently, what makes Persuasion and The Lake House mirror texts is the theme of loving across time. In Persuasion, time is certainly important; Anne and Wentworth have been separated for eight years and are accidentally thrown together again after that period. In The Lake House, the two protagonists are living two years apart, so that at the beginning, Kate leaves her first note to Alex in the lake house’s mailbox in 2006, but he receives it in 2004. The Lake House represents the protagonists’ separation in a different way, as it alternates scenes from 2004 and 2006, depicting the same event but in different years: Valentine’s Day (in 2004, 2006 and finally in 2008), Kate’s birthday (2004 and 2006), and New Year’s Eve (2005 and 2007). Furthermore, the movie shows the characters’ “interaction,” presenting scenes where they are simultaneously in the same place although separated by this two-year gap. We see them, for instance, in the park, sitting on different benches and talking, without obviously being able to see each other, as the passersby walk on. This handling of time renders The Lake House unrealistic, a very nice piece of fantasy that attains more credibility by its use of Austen’s more naturalistic narrative as template. But, as in Persuasion, time is the major problem the lovers have to overcome, the obstacle that keeps them apart.
On the whole, this treatment of time makes The Lake House to some extent experimental, turning it into a postmodern, playful transformation of Persuasion. It assimilates the film at the level of artistry into the current era, creating a contemporary version of Austen’s classic, even as far as narrative techniques are concerned. Agresti’s experimental presentation of time is effected by two elements that bridge the time gap between hero and heroine. In the movie, the mailbox at the lake house, in which Kate and Alex leave their letters, and Kate’s dog connect the different worlds, past and present. There is even a scene where Kate and Alex are both standing by the mailbox in their respective years, writing to each other and moving the flag up and down as they put the letter inside or get it out.
Alex and Kate during their “conversation” by the lake house’s mailbox
In other words, they are having the closest thing to an ordinary conversation—where the answer of the other person is more or less immediate—that they can. But, of course, as in the other scenes mentioned above, they cannot see each other, despite being at the same place simultaneously. Kate’s dog Jack is another element of connection, for when Alex buys the lake house, it shows up and stays with him before it belongs to Kate. The protagonists have, then, the same dog, which leads the hero to meeting Morgan in 2004 and an invitation to Kate’s birthday party, where Alex and Kate eventually meet each other.
Agresti’s special handling of time, like the heroine’s profession or the hero’s sensibility, seems the natural twenty-first-century development of Austen’s presentation of time. As in Persuasion, time is the chief problem dividing the lovers. There is a sense of loss, of time wasted, that runs through film and novel alike. Just as Anne Elliot is finally given a second chance, making up for all the years wasted, Dr. Forster is allowed the possibility of changing the past. At the beginning of The Lake House, Kate watches an accident at Daley Plaza in which a man dies in her arms. By the end of the film, she realizes that that man was Alex and rushes back to the lake house to prevent him from going there. For her it is now February 14, 2008, and the same day for Alex in 2006, which means that the letter must arrive in time for the hero to read it before venturing to Daley Plaza. She succeeds in getting it to him, thereby changing the past and eventually saving the hero’s life. If the conclusion of Persuasion is a revision of its opening, with Anne’s acceptance of Wentworth’s originally refused proposal, The Lake House’s happy ending rewrites its opening sequence. Thus, despite the experimental handling of time, which ties The Lake House to the artistic moment of its production, this element still reinforces the link between both texts.
Finally, waiting, or being forced to wait, is common to novel and film alike. The final reward will be worthwhile, but it takes a long time to get there. Yet, whereas in Austen’s novel it is the heroine who awaits her lover and spends eight years in mourning, in The Lake House it is the hero who has to wait for four years in order to be united with his love. Kate and Alex agree to have their first date in 2006, which means that he has to wait for two years, but the plan fails because Alex dies in an accident that year, something Kate does not realize until 2008. Her revised plan means that he must wait for two more years—until 2008—to meet her by the lake house. Therefore, the hero spends the years between 2004 and 2008 waiting for the love of his life, while for the heroine satisfaction comes more quickly. It could be argued, then, that the film is a more feminist version of Persuasion in which, for once, the hero is the one who must wait for his beloved. Moreover, the fact that Kate, rather than Wentworth, is the author of the crucial letter gives the heroine the more active role in the film.
In addition to connections between characters, plot, and themes, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, in fact, has a fundamental role in The Lake House, bringing about the only two direct exchanges between Kate and Alex. It provokes the first (visual) contact between hero and heroine, when Kate asks Alex to retrieve the copy of Austen’s novel she forgot at a railway station two years ago. It is at this point that they actually see each other for the first time since, as Alex follows the train out of the station, he waves at Kate holding the novel in his hand.
Alex chasing Kate’s train in 2004 with her copy of Persuasion
When the protagonists meet at Kate’s birthday party, Persuasion is again involved. Sitting alone together in the garden, Alex asks Kate if she has read the novel. Kate says that Persuasion is wonderful. When Alex asks her what it is about, Kate answers:
It’s about . . . about waiting. These two people, they almost fall in love but the timing isn’t right. They have to part and then . . . years later they meet again. They get another chance, you know, but they don’t know if too much time has passed, if they waited too long, if it’s not, you know, too late to make it work.
Kate’s summary, or interpretation, of the novel’s plot is certainly most interesting. As seen from this perspective, Persuasion is no longer a novel about the conflict between a narcissistic and conceited baronet and good, honest, hard-working sailors, as critics like Sales have claimed, but primarily a story about waiting. Kate summarizes the novel in a way that fits her own story which—since it is 2004 and she does not yet know the Alex who writes her love letters—reveals a certain predisposition towards romance and, probably, an early absorption of Jane Austen’s text. Thus, Persuasion is present as hero and heroine have more direct, even physical, contact as after the talk, they dance and kiss each other, only to be interrupted by Morgan and Mona. Consequently, these explicit references to Persuasion in The Lake House contribute to the connection between Kate and Alex, as the novel justifies their relationship.
The patterns of similarity—the characters, the importance of letter-writing, and the emphasis on love, time, waiting—between Persuasion and The Lake House become important in yet another way. These links to Persuasion help legitimize Kate and Alex’s relationship, developing into a source of hope for the lovers. When Kate decides to break off their relationship after the failed date, Alex claims Austen’s novel as precedent: “What about Persuasion? You told me. They wait. They meet again. They have another chance.” Austen’s Persuasion becomes a pattern to imitate: if Anne and Wentworth were able to make it, why not us? The novel acquires a new, twenty-first century function: it provides the movie’s characters with an example to follow, a romance on which they can model theirs.
Thus, The Lake House stands as an unacknowledged, covert rewriting of Persuasion, as the parallels drawn between characters, storylines and themes reveal. This new reinvention of the old text has a double function. On the one hand, Persuasion possesses a role within the movie, providing Kate and Alex with hope and an example to follow. The allusions to the novel link both texts and validate the romance between the doctor and the architect. On the other hand, at a higher level, Agresti’s appropriation of the novel illustrates that, in Persuasion, Jane Austen provides a model for modern romantic comedy that The Lake House adapts. Just as Persuasion influences Kate and Alex’s relationship, Austen’s oeuvre affects, and has affected, the genre of romantic comedy as a whole. To put it differently, if Kate and Alex model their love affair on that of Anne and Captain Wentworth, Agresti models his own text on Austen’s. The changes he makes, such as the feminization of the hero and the more experimental treatment of time, however, bespeak some of the transformations society has undergone in two hundred years. As Jocelyn Harris has noted, “our delight lies in seeing the old from a new perspective, in viewing it in a new context that opens up possibilities previously overlooked” (52). Indeed, The Lake House opens Persuasion to the twenty-first century. Yet despite contemporary alterations and modernizations of the old novel, one idea remains constant: that of loving beyond hope, beyond time, and even beyond death.
1. I am grateful to my sister Victoria, who first pointed out The Lake House to me.
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Agresti, Alejandro, dir. The Lake House. Writ. David Auburn. Perf. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Warner Bros Pictures, 2006.
Hyun-Seung, Lee, dir. Il Mare. Writ. Eun-Jeong Kim and Ji-na Yeo. Perf. Gianna Jun and Jung-Jae Lee. Sidus Pictures, 2000.
Michell, Roger, dir. Persuasion. Writ. Nick Dear. Perf. Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root. BBC, 1995.
Shergold, Adrian, dir. Persuasion. Writ. Simon Burke. Perf. Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Clerkenwell Films, 2007.