N°2 | “History was in the making all around us”: Writing and Screening a Changing South in Rich in Love (Josephine Humphreys, 1987; Bruce Beresford, 1993)

Gérald Préher


Abstract :

Rich in Love is the only Humphreys novel that has been adapted for the screen. The book was well received when it came out in 1987 and the movie was also generally well-reviewed even though commentators were not always as laudatory as those dealing with the novel. Still, the film captures the southern flavor of the book and makes the landscape of South Carolina a central character. The region’s history as well as that of the characters constantly intermingle making place and self inseparable.

Résumé :

Rich in Love est le seul roman de Humphreys a avoir été adapté à l’écran. Le livre a été bien accueilli lorsqu’il est sorti en 1987 et le film a également été généralement bien reçu, même si les commentateurs n’ont pas toujours été aussi élogieux que ceux qui traitent du roman. Pourtant, le film capture la saveur du livre et fait du paysage de la Caroline du Sud un personnage à part entière. L’histoire de la région ainsi que celle des personnages s’entremêlent constamment, rendant le lieu et ses habitants inséparables.


“[T]heir voices, their lives and words and stories are so clear, so familiar as if there have been no changes at all.”
Jill McCorkle, Tending to Virginia

        Far from being as productive as fellow writers Kaye Gibbons or Jill McCorkle, Josephine Humphreys has published four novels; the latest, Nowhere Else on Earth, came out in 2000. Still, as Joan Wylie Hall observes, she “is one of the South’s most respected novelists at the start of the twenty-first century” (174). Humphreys has won several awards and grants: the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for Dreams of Sleep, her debut novel, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation grant, which she used while writing Rich in Love, a novel, which, in turn, led to Humphreys being awarded the Lyndhurst Foundation Award. Nowhere Else on Earth won the Southern Book Award. The limited number of books she has written in the thirty years following Dreams of Sleep might be justified by a comment she made in a 1991 interview: “What I like best about being a writer is writing; and the hardest part of being a writer is writing” (Magee 802).

        Rich in Love is the only Humphreys novel to have been adapted for the screen. It focuses on Lucille Odom, a seventeen-year-old girl, who has to cope with a domestic crisis when her mother suddenly disappears. As the narrative unfolds, Lucille becomes more and more active in keeping what is left of her family together for, unlike her mother, she is not looking for a “second life”, but for the comfort only the past can bring. When her sister, Rae, comes back from the North, pregnant and accompanied by a husband no one had heard about, things do change: Lucille’s attraction to him grows more and more each day and the two of them ultimately make love. This event coincides with Rae’s giving birth to her child and, as the novel comes to a close, husband and wife reunite, leaving Lucille on her own again. With many references to the changing South, Rich in Love speaks for the region from which it originates: “Humphreys’s characters are the place they live. Or better, their place is so much a part of them that their identity depends on the relation, whether it is the identity, present or past, of individual, family, community, city, state, or region” (Gretlund 225). The book was well received when it came out in 1987 and has been reprinted in at least four different editions since its original publication.[1] Fellow Duke Alumni Fred Chappell concludes his New York Times book review saying that it is “hard to resist a young girl who talks, who thinks, like [Lucille Odom].” Echoing a reference Lucille makes in the course of the action, Jim Stover, writing for the English Journal, feels that Humphreys’s main character “is at least as vividly portrayed as Huck [Finn]” (83) and Suzanne Rowen, writing in Commonweal, notes that “Lucille’s initiation story is powerful because we are drawn into the subjectivity of her perspective . . . and are forced to go back and rethink her perspective on her family’s own individual journeys” (188). Although Rowen is not convinced by the depiction of “the racial presence in [the characters’ lives]” and is critical of the way men are portrayed (188), she believes that “Humphreys has crafted a very tight novel: every character has a purpose; every observation folds into a later discovery; every action intentionally shapes the outcome of characters” (188).

        The movie was also generally well-reviewed even though the voices were not always as laudatory as those commenting on the novel. John Harkness exemplifies the negative views as he wonders, “What on earth possessed Bruce Beresford to make the film . . .?” (56). Harkness’s point is that Beresford and the author of the screenplay “manage to make every key dramatic sequence happen off-screen. Anything that might upset an audience on the conservative side of Queen Victoria has been trimmed away” (56).[2] The reviewer also complains about the cast, though “all fine actors . . . create one of those strange movie families in which nobody has the same accent”: their “sound . . . offends anyone who takes pleasure in the specific sounds of America’s various accents” (56). Unlike Harkness, Janet Maslin, in her New York Times review, is quite enthusiastic about the actors’ performances, especially Albert Finney’s as Warren Odom, Lucille’s father. Maslin’s only objection is that the film does not follow Humphreys’s novel very closely and pictures Lucille in a way that makes her “impervious to the story’s painful possibilities” (C8). It is obvious from the various opinions recapitulated here that the movie was not as highly acclaimed as the novel. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to call the adaptation a bad film since it does capture the southern flavor of the novel and makes the landscape of South Carolina one of the central characters. The whole performance certainly has a southern feel to it even though the actors do not necessarily speak with a southern drawl; when they do, it seems they are mocking the South for being backward in the way marital issues are perceived but, after all, this is also the point Humphreys was trying to make.

        The film opens with a view of a marsh with birds tweeting; the camera then takes the viewer to a window and then inside a house with shots of ordinary items: a lamp, empty glass bottles on a window sill, a laundry basket, figurines on a cupboard, a child’s bedroom and then, supposedly, that of the parents with a close-up on the bed. While these shots appear consecutively on the screen, the voice of one of the characters, Lucille, can be heard: “One afternoon last May, my life veered from its day-in-day-out course and became for a short while the kind of life that can be told as a story—one of us betrayed the rest and set off a series of events worth telling.” This sentence constitutes a summary of the first section of the first chapter in the novel, which also serves to introduce other central characters: Lucille’s mother, Helen; her father, Warren; her sister; Rae; and Lucille’s boyfriend, Wayne. The initial focus on the marsh and on the house points out the importance of the setting, as well as that of the domestic sphere—trademarks in Humphreys’s fiction. The progression from the outside to the inside of a house that looks abandoned makes it clear that a vital element is no longer there when the movie opens. Likewise, the movement from one room to another is suggestive of what is really at stake: Lucille is forced to become “the angel in the house” when she realizes that her mother has left her father. Unlike the opening sentence of the novel, which has Lucille tell the reader that the events “appear to have meaning” (1), the screenplay, written by Alfred Uhry,[3] makes it clear that they do—a choice that catches the viewer’s attention from the outset.

        Throughout the novel, Humphreys is critical of the development of the South and she uses Lucille’s voice to indict various forms of progress that have changed her region’s identity. Quite early, Lucille complains, “Originally we had the city of Charleston, the town of Mount Pleasant, and then the country, but now they were jumbled, haphazard as a frontier settlement. This new section of highway had been laid out with no regard to preexisting roads, and some of the old roads came up to the highway and dead-ended in striped barricades” (3). This particular comment echoes Humphreys’ concerns in her essay “A Disappearing Subject Called the South,” in which she urges southern writers to “continue to write about development. We must prevent it. Writers in particular have a duty to prevent it, because for us what’s at stake is lifeblood” (297). Lucille notes that it is “as if new places had been slapped down over the old ones, but some of the old was still showing through” (3)—traces of the past remain in spite of developers’ attempts to erase it completely.

        Unlike her creator, Lucille is not discussing “visible ruin”—“the destruction of our places,” to quote from Humphreys’ essay (297); she is looking at a new form of ruin, reminiscent of the fake ruins that inspired the gothic trend in British literature[4]: she is staring at what she calls “dream house[s],” places “that somebody started but never finished. They were scattered through the woods like ruins of a defunct civilization, but they were only the ruins of defunct families” (3). Lucille’s observations mirror her primary concerns: the fragmentation of her own family. Indeed, if the movie begins with a reference to what happened “last May,” the novel’s chronology is slightly different: everything happened two years before Lucille decided to tell her story—the narrating-I, which is only present through the use of voice-over at the beginning and the end of the film, is essential to the novel as it helps understand the character’s identity changes. Lucille’s considerations about place are also missing at the beginning of the movie: instead of hearing her voice telling the viewer about her South, she is only seen riding her bike from school to home. Humphreys feels that “Ultimately, the biggest change from book to movie was the loss of the first person narrative, which I think makes it quite a different thing. On the other hand, the movie provides a visual beauty that the book never could. I considered it a fair trade-off!” (Letter to author, January 10, 2014). The architecture and the vegetation clearly help identify the region and when Lucille reaches the family house, the southern backdrop is made even more obvious: the background takes up most of the screen implying that the story is rooted in a specific location. Rich in Love thus illustrates Elinor Ann Walker’s idea that “in much contemporary fiction by women the question of space, whether it concerns a personal or historical dimension, has become more significant than the question of place” (312). Throughout the film and the novel, Lucille endeavors to place herself in a space that only she can define, be it her surroundings—Charleston—or within the family home.

        Noticing her mother’s van in the alley leading up to the house, Lucille hurries in and calls for her but, instead of finding her, she discovers a note, which she decides to rewrite. Critics have analyzed this scene from the novel extensively. Shelley M. Jackson makes a useful point that “rejecting her mother’s use of a word processor,” Lucille “believes she can rewrite . . . the story” (279), which also foreshadows her self-imposed responsibilities within the family. In the film, Lucille does not rewrite the note by hand but uses the word processor as well, which tones down her gesture—using the same instrument as her mother, part of her abilities are discarded and she does not prove to the viewer that she can forge more than her mother’s signature. In fact, as Barbara Bennett puts it, “Lucille’s attempts to maintain order actually create more chaos, leading to an ironic misunderstanding on her father’s part because he claims the tone of the note is wrong” (Bennett, Comic Visions 44). The first consequence of Lucille’s forged note is her father’s decision to go on a search for Helen. Although inconclusive, the way it is carried out makes Lucille’s symbolic desire to kill her mother—she compares their search to deer hunting (27)—and take her place even more blatant: since her father “lost his license after a number of speeding offenses” (9), Helen had been chauffeuring him around but now that she is gone, Lucille is the only one with that power. Helen’s departure thus makes the importance of women in Warren’s life even more obvious even if, as Jackson explains, “never once in the novel does he begin to understand why Helen left him” (285).

        Helen’s driving Warren everywhere does not appear on screen but is used as a reason for her decision to leave when, upon Lucille and her father’s return home, Helen calls and asks to talk to her daughter over the phone. In the novel, Lucille “tried to talk sense into her [mother]” (26), while in the film she basically listens. This additional scene partly restores to Lucille the credit that was taken away from her in the rewriting of the note: she is the one who reports to her father and thus rephrases her mother’s words, and she is also seen imitating her mother’s signature on checks, which puts her in charge of the household. In addition, a long scene that shows Lucille driving her father around town on the next day confirms that she is in control—Warren admits that “a man without a driver’s license is a miserable creature.” He only takes the wheel once after thinking he has spotted his wife on his way out from a bookstore: believing he might regain what he has lost, he pushes Lucille away from the driver’s seat and starts the car. Unfortunately, his frantic search does not lead anywhere—in fact, it forces him to see that he must move on with his life.

        Unable to assert his masculinity behind the wheel, Warren also feels at fault in his own house. In a distinctly southern way, he looks back at the past, remembering his parents: his mother, “a tragic figure,” and his father, who left the family. Taking the past into consideration, Warren tells Lucille, “I don’t see us as poor, I see us as rich in love,” proving that he has found a way to see the positive side of things. The film offers a much more condensed version of the story and several changes have been made regarding Warren’s family history. In the novel, his father did not leave the family and Warren explains that “he had quit trying to make money, but sat on the porch all day” (93). The addition made to the movie script is justified considering that all the details would make the film twice as long. It makes a short cut possible to explain Warren’s fast recovery from the loss of his wife.

        Warren finds a girlfriend, Vera Oxendine (renamed Delmage in the film), rather quickly and the two of them are seen together quite a lot, which contradicts the uninterrupted search described in the novel and Lucille’s comment that Warren “was addicted to the memory of [Helen], to the idea of her. He could not give her up” (185). Vera’s status within the family is thus more complicated in the novel as it is minimized because Lucille is the narrator. In both the film and the book, Lucille’s goal is eventually made clearer: she does not want her father to find another woman because she hopes the family will get back together. Although she hides his keys and tells him, “‘It’s too late to be starting life all over again. You’re married, you have children’” (254), Warren decides to go to Vera. The scene constitutes a variation on the events leading up to the first encounter between the two characters—Warren had been mowing the lawn before he went to the hairdresser’s—and it proves particularly interesting as it presents Warren as a new breed of gentlemen: “He sat tall, almost noble, riding his Snapper lawn mower into the dark of the oaks along Bennett Street” (256).

        The reader/viewer has already been made aware of the importance of honor for Warren—earlier, he claimed they did not need outside help when searching for Helen (28)—but this scene also elucidates Humphreys’ ideas on the spirit of the New South that she links to place: “it is not that we lost a war. It is that we lost our place” (298). This idea is taken up in the movie when, sitting outside on the porch with Vera, Lucille, and Billy, Rae’s husband. Warren reads an article on how the coastline of Charleston will look in 2041: “they did a scientific computer map of how the coast of South Carolina’s gonna look in fifty years’ time due to the greenhouse effect. The dock, the beach, the very spot where we’re all sitting—all blue, covered with water.” Humphreys had also included similar comments as part of the introductory chapter (8), but the movie makes the article more vivid to the viewer who can actually see what will disappear. Although it comes later in the film, Warren’s discovery of what the future holds in store for him seems to be linked to his desire to acquire books[5]—what he calls “permanent books” (92).

        The selection in the film is wide but it suggests an interest in referencing the region and reading the classics. Humphreys’s readers might also notice that a poster advertising her novel The Fireman’s Fair can be seen at the entrance of the local bookstore, a sign that it too might provide Warren with the knowledge he lacks about his region—the set designer was probably having some fun here, giving Humphreys additional publicity. The errand is followed by a view of Charleston’s recognizable sites (the market and the streets nearby), but what is striking is that the streets are empty as if the action were set in a ghost town. Such emptiness reflects the void inside Warren and soon after they get back home, he tells Lucille, “We need to move on.”

        The transition between the Old South and the New South, so important in the novel, is preserved in the film. As the New South imposed itself on the Old South, traditional values were updated to fit new requirements, but their meaning was lost in the process and came close to parody. This is particularly true of male characterization. For Michael Kreyling, “the males of Rich in Love are clearly prisoners of their expectations that a certain kind of action is called for when, in fact, it is not” (117). Wayne has old fashioned ideas about how a man should behave with a woman—Lucille compares his innocence to Huck Finn’s (146, 163)—but she has a mind of her own and is after her own pleasure, which Wayne fails to understand. For her, he is just a boy and it is a man she is looking for; realizing that “[b]oys have that extended phase of innocence” (146), she becomes more and more interested in her sister’s husband. The ideological gap between Lucille and Wayne is more obvious in the film since after a night together, Wayne tells her, “you have no idea what love is. . . . You just don’t want to be [the girl for me]. . . . Don’t call me,” and they never meet again, while in the novel Wayne is present from the beginning till the end in spite of the trials and tribulations.

        Lucille’s hopes that Billy could be the man for her do not materialize. His failure appears in his confession to Lucille that he sabotaged condoms to get Rae pregnant for fear that she might ultimately leave him. Humphreys has Lucille suspect Billy of being a fraud long before the cat is out of the bag[6]—“Maybe he had tricked her into it” (62)—but she soon forgets about her suspicions and fantasizes about him.[7] When things become critical between Rae and Billy, she is always there, hoping she will look like the perfect woman to him, illustrating what Barbara Bennett has called her “need for control and structure,” which “results from her fear of change and loss of control” (“Making Peace” 198). Lucille asserts her importance by reasoning with her sister when the latter starts talking about abortion or sending her child for adoption (“you’re keeping it and you’re raising it”), she scolds her father for seeing Vera and endangering the whole structure she keeps clinging to and, in some amusing instances, she sounds like a lady from another time,[8] something Rae has noticed for she tells Lucille “you are such an old lady.”

        Lucille devotes her time and energy to her father, leaving her studies behind. Her “doubt that parents have an inkling of how deep a child’s love goes” (29) and the sacrifices she is making driving around with her father, instead of studying appear in an early scene which takes place on graduation day. When Warren asks about her graduation she explains that she felt it was her duty to stay with her father (“did you think that I’d just go on with my normal life that I’d sit in some hot lunch room and tick off multiple choice answers while my family was falling apart?”[9]) and she reproaches him for not noticing that she has stopped going to school. Again, the situation emphasizes Warren’s narrow-mindedness and even though he apologizes (“Guess I haven’t been thinking properly”), he knows he depends on Lucille for transportation and that until he decides to stop looking for Helen, his daughter’s future will be compromised. Rae’s arrival with Billy changes everything in the novel,[10] as Lucille’s time becomes more clearly divided between family and studies. Rae tells Lucille “you’re the one that’s big on family, Lulu,” confirming her role as the keeper of the family unity. When Lucille understands that things cannot improve in the household if no one takes action, she ponders: “The time had come for me to do more than let life happen all around me. The time had come, because of my mother’s abdication and my sister’s carelessness, to take the reins of this family” (150). She hopes she can succeed where all the other women in the family have failed.

        After testing Billy for some time, Lucille begins to trust him and accepts his offer to help her with her studies, which brings them closer. His feelings about Charleston also influence her opinion of him. One night, the two of them are sitting on the dock and Billy compares the sight to Michigan while Lucille talks about her love of the place: “I love it here. I love the live oak trees, the sag and the veranda, pop’s lawnmower. I never want any of it to change” (also in the novel, 159). What brings Lucille and Billy together is their attempt to read everything through their own past experience—to a certain extent, they are both after permanence and stability. Despite its use of what one reviewer called a “seductive South Carolina setting” (Maslin), the film does not include historical references the way the novel does. As a consequence, Lucille’s interest in history disappears completely and Billy’s background and work as a history teacher is only evoked in passing. Wayne’s early comment to Lucille that she should “forget about Latin” and that she “ought to be dealing with something that’s alive” is a leitmotiv in the film as opposed to the novel, which has Lucille make numerous references to etymology in order to direct her understanding of the world around her. For example, when she uses the word “premonition,” she is calling the reader’s attention to its root, explaining that there is a hint “at what you are being warned against” (2). Of course, when she had the odd feeling that something was happening at home, she had no idea her mother had left and her knowledge of etymology was thus of no direct use with the ordeal. Likewise, when she reflects upon passion, she observes that it “means suffering, if you go back to Latin,” which she often does when she wants “to know what a word really means,” adding, “Love needs passion, but marriage needs the opposite—steady comfort” (19). Only at the end of the novel does Lucille realize that explaining everything by tracing its origin is not always helpful because “pure words” no longer stand for “single things” (260). Looking at only one facet is limiting, a sign of narrow-mindedness; however, as the novel progresses, Lucille learns new meanings and comes to terms with the changing reality of family life.

        It is not surprising that Humphreys’ Rich in Love has garnered many feminist readings for, apart from Lucille who clings to the past, her female characters are strong-willed and independent-minded. The film is disappointing as far as this aspect of the novel is concerned; Janet Maslin has noted in her review of the film that “as the long-missing Helen Odom, Jill Clayburgh [the actress] appears so briefly and late in the story that she seems to have straggled back from An Unmarried Woman” (C8).[11] In Humphreys’ novel, Helen is omnipresent through her phone calls and the memories of her that are shared among the characters. The most shocking revelation about her has to do with Lucille and has been kept in the film even though it is presented differently: “She never intended to have a second child”; she meant to “get the egg vacuumed out” (49), but it turned out that “there were two. Twins. It got one. [Lucille was] the other one. They did not know [she was] in there” (50), as Rae later tells Lucille.[12] In the film, the revelation is used to cut off Lucille’s “romanticizing” about her mother; it makes the story more dramatic and forces Lucille to perceive Helen as a kind of monster, which justifies the fact that the search for the mother is not so intense afterwards.[13]

        Another central element is Helen’s creation of a space of her own—in one of the “dream houses” Lucille is so intrigued about. Towards the end of the film, Lucille pays a visit to an African American family friend, Rhody, to tell her about Rae’s issues and how “ever since Mother left everything’s been crazy.” Rhody asks Lucille if she has ever thought “about getting a place of [her] own” and takes her to an unfinished house in the middle of the woods where, Lucille finally understands, her mother lives. Helen’s choice of a place is obvious in the film: she can start from scratch in a place that she can design herself. The natural world mirrors her desire to reunite with her nature as a woman and the surroundings offer peace and quietness. She can be herself, which is the reason why she tells Lucille she would not want Warren to change:

Helen: I don’t want him to change. I love him just the way he is.

Lucille: Then why did you leave?

Helen: Because it was so permanent. The house. The family. Everything. I’ve been in it for more than half my life. . . . Change wouldn’t hurt any of us. . . . We carried love to its conclusion.

        Helen only appears three times after this exchange: at the hospital after Rae has given birth to her daughter, Phoebe; once at the Odoms’ house where she has lunch with Billy, Lucille and Warren; and at the end of the film when it is time for everyone to part and move on. The film’s dénouement does not match the intricacies of Humphreys’ plot—Lucille does not find out that Helen has been seeing Rae without telling her, Rhody is not writing a book about racial relations in the South, and Lucille’s interest in her city never filters through. If, in the novel, Lucille’s search for her mother makes it possible for her to get “to know streets [she] had never seen before, parts of Charleston County [she] didn’t know existed” (27) and thus further her own knowledge of space, the film emphasizes other aspects: her discovery of love with her sister’s husband. It appears that the author of the screenplay and the director read the title from a very limited perspective, leaving aside Lucille’s love for her region—a love that Humphreys promoted in her essay “A Disappearing Subject Called the South.”

        Paradoxically, as noted by John Harkness, the sexual dimension of the novel has been toned down—it is suggested but never shown. Jim Stover’s concern that “probably some people will object to [Rich in Love, the novel] because of the sex in it” (83) is therefore solved in the screen adaptation. The best example is to be found when Warren visits Parnell, one of his former business partners and Helen’s third cousin. Upon arriving at Parnell’s workplace, Sharon, his secretary, comes out of his office, fixing her collar while he is re-arranging his clothes. Both of them look a bit awkward but no comment is made. The screenplay is faithful to the novel in its rewriting of Warren’s conversation with Parnell, but Lucille does not find out from Sharon anything about Helen’s coming there (182). Again, the script has been edited to make the inquiry less active. What the film adds to the book is Lucille’s seduction ritual to attract Billy’s attention—the way she looks at or out for him,[14] her awkwardness when he is around her—but it also presents a very different Lucille. In the novel, Lucille is more attracted to “behind-the-scenes passion” (47), which is exemplified in her subscribing to theories about Lincoln’s paternity of John C. Calhoun. As Elinor Ann Walker observes, “Lucille believes that Billy is the one who recognizes the very essence of her identity” (311). Billy tells her: “You have a lot of love,” which she feels defines her true self: “[T]hat was me; that was the me. I had been recognized” (160). The irony of Lucille’s statement is that she and Billy actually make love on Halloween[15]—when they are both dressed up and thus not exposed as their true selves[16]—, after an evening that has started with costume-crafting, scaring children and discussing the future. It is confirmed as a masquerade when, on the same evening, Rae gives birth to her daughter and Billy returns to her, forgetting all about splitting up with her and starting something new with Lucille.[17] In the film, the final confrontation between Lucille and Billy in the kitchen after Phoebe’s birth shows Lucille telling Billy that she had planned everything out and was satisfied with the outcome because she got what she aimed for—she thus becomes as much of a trickster as Billy who punched holes in the condoms he and Rae used so as to get her pregnant.[18] In the novel, Lucille simply promises never to mention their affair, claiming she “had forgotten what [they] did” (257) while in fact she rejoices in remembering everything (259).

        The last scene of the film has everyone reunited for a farewell. Warren is moving out of the house and in with Vera, Rae and Billy have probably found a house for themselves and the baby, Lucille is going to study at Duke; and Helen and Rhody have come to help. Having altered Rhody’s part quite a lot, the author of the screenplay gives her an important line as regards the changes that will be made on the house: “I hear the new owner’s gonna do over your whole house—total renovation: central air conditioning, automatic vacuuming. . .” The New South seems to have won. Shelley M. Jackson’s comment that “the ‘sense of place’ of the Southern Agrarians has never been the same since K-Mart came to town” (275) is confirmed and progress will soon take over the place: a sign announcing that the house has been sold can be seen as all the cars are leaving. Even Lucille has moved on from her “old maid” ideas, saying, “I think it’s time for a change,” before she hits the road. A new kind of family has emerged and Helen’s last call to Lucille sums it up nicely: “And call when you get there. With all these different houses somebody’s bound to be home.” Home can be more than one place as long as there is love.

        Despite the changes that have been made to the end of the novel, Lucille’s words towards the end of Humphreys’s book are used as a conclusion, bringing the story full circle by resorting to the narrator as was the case at the beginning of the film: “In the old days, ‘family’ meant people in a house together. But that was in a language so far back that all its words are gone, a language we can only imagine.” As Lucille drives away and crosses a bridge, the soundtrack confirms what the viewers have understood:

Days go by, nothing stays the same

As you and I move on, move on

Tonight is tomorrow’s memory

Who knows where we both may be by dawn (Caffey, Crewe, and Corbetta)

        As a film, Rich in Love succeeds in depicting the dysfunctional Odom family while charming the viewer with magnificent sights of Charleston. Apart from the ending, the story is generally in line with that of the novel, even though history does not play as important a part as it does in the novel. Humphreys observes that “Bruce Beresford, the director, told me that he was not fond of voiceovers, and I understood his reasons. But he did want to have two short voiceovers, one at the beginning and one at the end. […] I can see many differences between the film and the book, but it all balances out in the end” (Letter to author, January 19, 2014). The writer of the screenplay seems to have favored a personal interpretation of Lucille’s comment that in Charleston, history “was in the making all around us” (53). Humphreys’ novel also questions traditional gender roles, which the film only hints at briefly when Helen voices her complaints. It would have been impossible to do justice to all the meanings the expression “rich in love” covers in the novel, but the film does focus on one of them: family. Unlike Warren who believes that “the higher you go, the better it looks” (84), Lucille finally understands that “We ride farther and farther to get a view; we forget more and more what ought to be remembered” (261)—namely, the richness of love.

Works Cited

Bennett, Barbara. Comic Visions, Female Voices: Contemporary Women Novelists and Southern Humor. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Print.

—. “Making Peace with the (M)other.” The World is Our Home: Society and Culture in Contemporary Southern Writing. Eds. Jeffrey Folks and Nancy Summers Folks. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2000. 186-200. Print.

Caffey, Charlotte, Bob Crewe, and Jerry Corbetta. “Time Waits For No One.” Perfect View, performed by The Graces, A&M Records, 1989. Compact disc.

Chappell, Fred. “Good Girls Can Turn Out Well: Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys.” New York Times, September 13, 1987: 568. Print.

Gretlund, Jan Nordby. Frames of Southern Mind: Reflections on the Stoic, Bi-Racial and Existential South. Odense: Odense University Press, 1998. Print.

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Rich in Love. Dir. Bruce Beresford. 1992. MGM Home Entertainment, 2009. DVD.

The Author

Gerald Preher is a professor of American Studies at Lille Catholic University, France. He defended a doctoral dissertation on the timelessness of the past in works by Walker Percy, Peter Taylor, Shirley Ann Grau and Reynolds Price. He is the author of essays on southern literature, short fiction, and has co-edited several books on various aspects of American literature and culture. He is the editor of the Journal of the Short Story in English and is currently completing a monograph on Elizabeth Spencer.


[1] The Viking hardback edition was followed in 1988 by a paperback in the Penguin “Contemporary American Fiction” series. In 1992, a few months prior to the release of the film, Penguin produced a new edition with a cover promoting the film and, in 2000 upon the publication of Nowhere Else on Earth, Humphreys’ three previously published novels received new covers.

[2] Humphreys herself remembers meeting Bruce Beresford and “suggest[ing] that there were parts of the book that I didn’t think would be good for a film. He dismissed my doubts. He said he was always dedicated to the book, whenever he made a film based on one.” She also reflects upon Richard Zanuck, the producer: “He told me that his company ‘makes hand-made movies,’ meaning that he took on only one project at a time and gave it everything he had” (Josephine Humphreys, letter to author, January 10, 2014).

[3] Uhry is the author of the play Driving Miss Daisy for which he also wrote the screenplay. When promoting Rich in Love, MGM/United Artists used the success of Driving Miss Daisy as a teaser to attract potential viewers. On the poster, the book cover that was designed to promote the film, and the video tape that followed, it says “From the Oscar-Winning Team that Brought You Driving Miss Daisy” or “From the creators of Driving Miss Daisy.” Unfortunately, Rich in Love failed to achieve the same success even though the budget it had been allotted was rather generous compared to that of Driving Miss Daisy. For details on budget and box office see the Imdb website: http://www.imdb.com.

[4] Maurice Lévy has called attention to this in an article on the aesthetic and ideological dimension of ruins. He mentions how, as early as 1747, the architect Sanderson Miller was hired to build a reproduction of the ruins of a gothic castle for Sir Thomas Lyttleton’s garden (146). For Lévy, this endeavor has to do with people’s wish to buy a past for themselves they would not have access to otherwise (148).

[5] The link is confirmed by looking at the way Warren’s decision is presented in the novel: “I’m tired of magazines. I want books. Heavy hardback books” (88).

[6] It might also be the time distance in the narrative (the two years that have gone by) that makes Lucille pretend she felt there was something strange about Billy from the start.

[7] Chapter 7 is essential to understanding how fantasy takes over Lucille’s better judgment.

[8] For example, Lucille is suspicious of VCRs, thinking that people only use them to watch x-rated movies (103-04) and has a conversation about this with Rae when her father says he has planned to go to see Vera to watch some films. In the novel, Humphreys has prepared the reader for such comments by having Lucille reflect upon her spinsterish habits: “The old-maid way of life seemed like one that would suit me. I had it planned how to wear my chignon, I liked those shoes with wavy foam soles and stacked heels. . .” (32-33).

[9] In the novel, “everything that counted was falling apart” (29). The change confirms the film’s more limited scope.

[10] Rae’s announcement that she has just married leads Warren to say that “marriage is a wonderful institution” to which Lucille retorts: “How can you say that? It hasn’t been that wonderful to you!” (also in the novel, 34). Unlike Lucille, Warren sees marriage as a symbol of stability and happiness. Helen’s interpretation is significantly different: the problem for her was that everything was “permanent” (204), she felt trapped and felt the need “to live a completely different existence” (26).

[11] Paul Mazursky’s 1978 film An Unmarried Woman shows Clayburgh playing quite a different role: her husband suddenly decides he loves someone else and she spends most of the film trying to rebuild herself. In both films, though, she exemplifies feminine emancipation and strives to find love when everything around her is falling apart.

[12] Humphreys uses this information as a justification for Helen’s estrangement from Lucille which is presented at length in the novel (see 23-24) and only hinted at in the film.

[13] Rae suggests Lucille start “being a little bit pissed off,” as “she ditched us. You and I are abandoned children.”

[14] She is shown watching out to see if Billy is spying on them when she and Wayne are making love in the garden.

[15] It is not obvious that they have sex in the film since they hear Rae’s cries as soon as they enter the kitchen. Still, they are not wearing their Halloween costumes any longer and Lucille, who drinks alcohol for the first time, declares “I think it’s appropriate.”

[16] In a scene where they end up scaring little children, Billy tells Lucille that “they think you’re a real giant cat” to which she replies: “No, they think you’re a real bum”—an exchange that shows the importance of outsiders’ perception when it comes to judgment. Significantly, when Billy reveals his Halloween outfit, he exclaims: “My true self.” The evening does reveal his true self but it also has him make up with his wife the next day when Phoebe, the daughter of Billy and Rae, is born.

[17] Ann Henley sees a link between Lucille’s “transgression” and the grotesque, connecting Humphreys’ character to Madeline Usher from Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Caddy Compson from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (85).

[18] Rae finds out about it and “after the baby is born she wants [Billy] out.” In his confession to Lucille, Billy tries to appear as a wounded animal—a tactic to attract her. He tells her that “Rae]’s got a point hating [him].” In the film, the situation clearly leaves the door open for Lucille, but in the novel, Lucille also sees a repeat of her own “start in this life” (233), something which draws her to the baby when it born. According to Elinor Ann Walker, “Lucille has found a new sister [in her niece], who will hear her stories and recognize [her]. Lucille is not paralyzed by her past; she reconstructs her history . . .” (314).