If you’ve been on the internet recently, you might have heard about the new film by Robert Pattinson and Julianne Moore, titled Far From The Madding Crowd. Released in the US today, October 20th, the movie’s main focus is on the relationship between the famous British author and poet, Algernon Moncrieff (Pattinson), and his lover, the independent farmer’s daughter, Rosemary (Moore). The film adapts the classic 1864 novella, The Life and Loves of a She Devil, by Ellis Peters. If you’ve never heard of this book, don’t feel bad – it’s not widely known either. In fact, it’s rarely been reprinted since its original publication 70 years ago. So what is it about? Here’s a short summary.

The Story So Far

In October 1864, just before the start of World War I, a young bachelorette named Rosemary arrives in Notting Hill, a suburb of London, determined to find the man she’s going to marry. After being turned down by several respectable young men, she decides to take matters into her own hands and sets out to seduce and marry the first man she meets. During the next several days, she beds with five different men. While the men might not all be bad (one is certainly quite good-looking), she has no regard for their feelings and has sex with them freely. The men she beds with vary from the wealthy and handsome Sir Clifford to the dreary and unattractive Robert Brown. As the days pass and she continues to seek pleasure, Rosemary’s reckless behavior begins to take its toll. During one of her liaisons, she contracts a sexually transmitted disease which will eventually prove to be fatal. Before she dies, Rosemary looks back on her life and decides that her one great sin was that she led a hedonistic lifestyle. Before her untimely death, she makes a solemn promise to become a respectable married woman.

What’s New About This Version?

This new film version of The Life and Loves of a She Devil is very different from the original story, which was inspired by the paintings of J M W Turner. While Turner’s painting style might be considered kitschy, it was quite ahead of its time in portraying the steamy, lush English countryside in autumn. And what about that time? Well, England was on the cusp of a major change. Women were beginning to question their subjugation in the work place, as the right to vote was being granted to them. In fact, just a couple years earlier, British women had even fought and won the right to sport the new fashion silhouette, the ‘bloomer‘, named after the cartoon character, Victoria “Miss Vickie” Woodchuck. But back to the movie. While the costumes and sets are gorgeous, the most significant difference between this version and the book is that the men in the movie are much less honorable. Instead of sleeping with Rosemary because she’s beautiful and a decent woman, most of the men in the film are there for the easy lay – and they all treat her with nothing more than disdain. In one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes, a drunken Sir Clifford, unable to perform sexually, insults Rosemary in front of her peers. In the novel, Clifford apologizes for his behavior and the movie makes no mention of this event. Instead, the men in the film are shown as boors who don’t respect women.

Although the book was written in the early 20th century, much of it was set in the late 1800s and many of the characters are based on real-life figures and places. Some of the events and issues raised by the book are still relevant today. For example, while society might have accepted a man having sex with a woman he didn’t intend to marry, it was still considered highly improper for a man to have sex with more than one woman at the same time. In fact, many men and women of that era often engaged in unfaithful sex to avoid feeling that they were missing out on an intimate relationship. And although women were no longer expected to stay at home and be subservient to men, they often felt that they had to prove themselves by giving gifts to their husbands or lovers. This was especially the case with a woman like Rosemary, who was determined to defy her father and see London before she was married. So her search for pleasure was really a search for status – she just didn’t know it yet. Also, while the novel is classified as romantic comedy, many people, especially women, have complained that it’s not a very funny book. Luckily, that doesn’t seem to be the case with this version, which does manage to be quite entertaining – even if it is a bit salacious.

Why Is It Still Considered Important?

In a lot of ways, The Life and Loves of a She Devil is an English classic because it’s a realistic portrayal of life during that time. While there is some comedy in the book, it’s not something that would feel out of place in the pages of a Brontë or a Dickens novel. And that is probably why it still has such a strong following among readers and audiences. Anyone who’s ever read the book or seen the movie knows how the story ends. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have important lessons to teach us about ourselves and our own culture. As the 20th century progressed and women began to achieve more rights and freedoms, many people, especially those who were closer to the era the book is set in, began to see themselves in Rosemary. She might not have been a great person, but she was a real woman, which is arguably more important. Many people felt that the book and the characters it features provided them with a more realistic perspective on love and sex, which was certainly a step forward. And that’s why, even today, when we consider the book and the movie, we are often mindful of what is important to us in our own relationships. Because, ultimately, that is all that matters.

If you’re curious about this classic story, or if you’re just looking for something different to watch this Halloween season, check out Far From The Madding Crowd – it’s the perfect alternative if you don’t want something too heavy. It’s romantic, it’s fun, and there aren’t any scary monsters in sight!