One major benefit of going back through every post while updating the site — other than, you know, updating the site! — was getting reacquainted with past posts. And I took note when I wrote that I wanted to follow up on some thing, to close the loop on specific questions or ideas. This post is one of those threads I wanted to follow up.
From clergyman to librarian:
Back in Feb. 2014, I analyzed the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice, in which the character of the “odious Mr. Collins” was changed from a clergyman in Jane Austen’s original novel to a librarian. And not just any librarian! Lady Catherine de Burgh’s personal librarian.
Here’s how he introduces himself in the 1940 film version (and how I reacted):
Back then, I researched a couple of theories about why his character was changed, which included both the height of the “screwball comedy” genre in cinema at the time, as well as the influence of the “Hays Code” that forbid “ridicule of the clergy.”
I also took note back then of the screenwriters and their source material:
[T]he film’s writing credits are lengthy: Aldous Huxley (!) and Jane Murfin are credited as co-authors of the screenplay, which also borrowed heavily from Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization of the play entitled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts. I haven’t obtained a copy of the play — and only bits of it are available to read for free online — to check if the character of Mr. Collins was turned into a librarian in Jerome’s version. I doubt it, but it would be nice to close that loop.
When I revisited that original 2014 post during my “revisiting favorite posts” series in Summer 2016, I continued to note that:
Rereading this post made me remember that I still need to get a copy of Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization of the play entitled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts, in order to close the loop on whether or not Collins’s profession is changed in the play this film is based on.
So. I finally requested a copy of Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization, Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts, through my college library’s InterLibrary Loan (ILL) service.
I now have my answer:
No doubt about it, Mr. Collins is a clergyman in this play.
Clergyman clues in the play:
Here’s how he is introduced, when Mr. Bennet breaks the news that Mr. Collins is coming to visit, in Act I:
ELIZABETH [to her father, Mr. Bennet]: Can he [Mr. Collins] be a sensible man, sir?
LYDIA: He sounds to me a bit of an ass.
MRS. BENNET: Now, Lydia, my love, is that a nice way to speak of a clergyman?
LYDIA: I thought I heard you refer to him as an odious creature a few minutes ago, Mama?
And moments later, Mr. Collins arrives:
MR. BENNET: Mrs. Bennet, let me present the Reverend Mr. Collins, our esteemed cousin.
Act II drops in bits about Mr. Collins’s professional duties as a clergyman. For instance, Mrs. Bennet mentions that:
I suppose our dear cousin Collins is preparing his sermon for Sunday.
And right before he proposes to Elizabeth, Collins confirms that:
I had two sermons to prepare in readiness for my return to my parish.
It only took 5 years to get around to answering that question… but better late than never, right? 😉
Given the fact that this 1934 dramatization, which, along with the source novel, provided the foundation for the 1940 film version — and that this play still highlighted Mr. Collins as a man of the cloth — I think it makes sense that the screenwriters changed (or were forced to change?) Mr. Collins’s profession due to the main reasons I outlined previously. I think it likely that the Hays Code played a more prominent role in this character switch. As I noted back in 2014:
The occupational change seems to serve the absurd and ridiculous qualities of Mr. Collins — we do not pause and wonder at a bumbling librarian, whereas we might be offended at a bumbling clergyman.
Mentions of libraries in the play:
While I had the play on hand, I noted when/if libraries were mentioned at all, as Mr. Bennet uses his own private library as a retreat of sorts — from his wife, assuredly, but also probably from the world? — in the novel. And yes, both Mr. Bennet’s private library AND Lady Catherine de Burgh’s private library are mentioned.
In Act I, Scene I, right at the beginning of the play:
MR. BENNET: Hill! [a manservant] Take this book to the library! I don’t want Miss Lydia to read it.
In Act II, Scene I, Mr. Bennet’s library is also used as a retreat for Elizabeth, during Mr. Collins’s marriage proposal to her:
ELIZABETH: No, Mr. Collins, I will as plainly as possible say no. (She crosses to library door. He tries to get to door. She brushes him aside.) And you need not try to scamper in front of me again. This time I am going out by this door. (Exits R.)
Later, in Act II, Scene III, we get the only mention of Lady Catherine’s private library, during this brief exchange with Elizabeth:
LADY CATHERINE: Ah, you are writing letters, I see, Miss Bennet.
ELIZABETH: I was.
LADY CATHERINE: But why in this rom. We always write our letters in the library.
ELIZABETH: Yes, I know, Lady Catherine — But the library does not possess such a view — and I write with so much more inspiration when looking out on green trees and flowers.
In Act III, Scene I, the library is mentioned in the stage directions, when Lady Catherine is visiting Longbourn to try and intimidate Elizabeth before leaving in a huff:
LADY CATHERINE: I take no leave of you. I send no farewell message to your mother! Miss Bennet, I am seriously displeased.
(Mrs. Bennet comes in quickly from the library R. where she has probably tried to eavesdrop. Looking around room for Lady Catherine.)
Finally, in Act III, Scene II, Mr. Bennet’s library is again mentioned in stage directions, as Darcy makes his move (again) for Elizabeth’s hand. He knocks at the library door, which Elizabeth answers. She comes out of the library, and they sit on the sofa for the final proposal scene.
And last but not least, props! I really enjoyed that the play included lists of costumes and props at the end.
I’m assuming the following were included as props for the library:
1 hanging shelf (in two sections) is listed in the “Bric a brac, etc.” heading
70 leather bound books are listed in the “Small properties” heading
Did you enjoy this trip down memory lane? Have you seen the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice and ever wondered why Mr. Collins was a bumbling librarian, rather than this usual bumbling clergyman self? Please leave a comment and share!
Jerome, Helen. Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts. Samuel French, 1934.
“My name’s Jonathan Harker. I’m the new librarian.”
As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll, this week I am analyzing Horror of Dracula (1958)! The first in the series of Hammer horror films starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, Horror of Draculawas a critical and commercial success when it was first released in 1958, and it has remained a go-to classic ever since. The film was directed by Terence Fisher and clocks in at a brisk 82 minutes long.
This film adaptation differs in several ways from Bram Stoker’s original and groundbreaking source novel. I will not take time out here to enumerate those differences; for a list of them, visit the film’s IMDb.com trivia page. The broad strokes of the main storyline remain relatively intact, however, so I will not go into detail about the plot. Finally, I am also assuming that the reader is familiar with the basic storyline of Dracula and characters like Harker, Lucy, Van Helsing, and Arthur Holmwood.
***SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT***
Meet Jonathan Harker, librarian (?)
John Van Eyssen, a South African actor who later became a literary agent-turned-movie producer, plays Jonathan Harker. Although he only earned seventh billing in the film’s credits, he essentially opens the film, narrating from his diary upon arrival at Count Dracula’s castle in Klausenburg. (Note that the entire film takes place in Germany.)
His first words:
The Diary of Jonathan Harker. The 3rd of May, 1885. At last, my long journey is drawing to its close. What the eventual end, I cannot foresee. But whatever may happen, I may rest secure that I have done all in my power to achieve success. […] I deemed myself lucky to have secured this post and did not intend to falter in my purpose.
Right away, it’s clear that Harker is on a mission.
While Harker eats dinner in the castle and waits for Dracula, he takes out a couple of books from his case. The slim volume with the red cover is Harker’s diary — we will see that volume several times throughout the film. In fact, that diary is so important and onscreen so frequently it’s a wonder the film wasn’t retitled The Diary of Jonathan Harker!
A beautiful but mysterious woman enters the room. Harker hastens to introduce himself.
My name’s Jonathan Harker. I’m the new librarian.
This is the first mention of Harker being a librarian. And tellingly, the word “new” in that introduction indicates there has been a prior librarian. This thread is never followed, but it’s an interesting idea to think about. (The fan fiction practically writes itself, right?! “To all the librarians I’ve loved and lost, XOXO Dracula” ♥ )
His next words are also interesting:
How can I help you?
What I found intriguing about this line is that this is TOTALLY what a (real) librarian *would* say, but Harker says this line in a completely different context than how a librarian would mean it while at, say, a reference desk. Harker says this in response to the lady’s distress, who is insistent that she is being kept in the castle against her will.
She runs away, and then we get our first glimpse of Christopher Lee’s iconic portrayal of Dracula, as he pauses for full dramatic effect at the top of the stairs. (My husband mused at this point, “Why did capes EVER go out of style?!” 😉 )
Dracula and Harker then “meet cute,” and Harker puts away his diary.
They continue talking as Dracula shows him up the stairs to his room, when Dracula references his private library collection.
Harker: How soon may I start work, sir?
Dracula: As soon as you wish. There are a very large number of volumes to be indexed.
When they get into his room, Dracula reveals Harker’s qualifications to be engaged as his private librarian.
Dracula: I consider myself fortunate to have found such a distinguished scholar to act as my librarian.
Harker: I like quiet and seclusion. This house, I think, offers that.
Dracula: Then we are both satisfied. An admirable arrangement.
Dracula then leaves. But after Harker unpacks a few things, Dracula comes back into the room and gives him a key.
Dracula: As I shall be away so long, I think it’s better that you have a key to the library, Mr. Harker. You will find the library to the left of the hall.
Dracula then leaves for the night, and he utters the last words we will hear him speak onscreen, “Sleep well, Mr. Harker.” (Dracula only speaks 13 lines in the entire film, all to Harker!)
Harker then sits down to write in his diary, and he reveals to the audience the specifics of his mission — and his subterfuge!
At last, I have met Count Dracula. He accepts me as a man who has agreed to work among his books, as I intended. It only remains for me now to await the daylight hours, when with God’s help, I will forever end this man’s reign of terror.
Ending at less than 15 minutes, this is quite an efficient opening sequence.
First fight in the castle library:
Harker dozes off in a chair by the fire and awakes when he hears his door knob start to turn. He goes downstairs and into the library, the room opposite the main dining hall. It’s our first peek at the library, and considering what we had heard Dracula say before (“There are a very large number of volumes to be indexed“), the first impression is… underwhelming. There seem to be only a few rows of bookshelves along the back wall. I think the fireplace in this set may be larger than Dracula’s private library!
As Harker enters the room, he is startled to find the mysterious woman behind him.
Once again, she pleads with him to help her escape Dracula… and of course she turns out to be a vampire! (The three brides of Dracula in the novel are condensed into this sole role.) After she bites his neck, Harker pushes her away as Dracula rushes in through a door in the middle of the bookshelves. Harker attempts to stop Dracula from hurting the woman, but Dracula pushes him away and then grabs his bride and takes her through the door in the library.
Harker then wakes up on his bed, still fully clothed, and realizes that he has been bitten. He takes out his diary again and writes:
I have become a victim of Dracula and a woman in his power. It may be that I am doomed to be one of them; if that is so, I can only pray that whoever finds my body will possess the knowledge to do what is necessary, to release my soul. I have lost a day. Soon it will be dark. While my senses are still my own, I must do what I set out to do. I must find the resting place of Dracula and there, end his existence forever.
He then hides his diary in a boulder outside the house. This detail will be important later!
Harker then discovers a door to an underground lair, where he finds caskets for both Dracula and his bride. He has a wooden stake and hammer, yet his instincts are not as sharp as his stake. Instead of fulfilling his stated mission — “I will forever end this man’s reign of terror” — he starts by staking the woman.
Dracula wakes up, and OF COURSE night then falls, right on cue. Harker’s brain starts to work again, as he realizes the mistake he’s made when he finds Dracula’s casket empty. But it’s too late, and it’s (literally) lights out for Harker.
And I know what y’all must be thinking right now… will Dracula’s books NEVER get indexed?! 😉
The diary of Jonathan Harker:
But never fear, at least ONE book doesn’t get forgotten: Harker’s diary!
The next scene takes us into the village, where Dr. Van Helsing, played by top-billed Peter Cushing, enters a local inn. Van Helsing starts immediately asking questions about his friend, but the innkeeper is reticent to tell him any information. Inga, the innkeeper’s daughter, lets slip that she remembers Harker and a letter he had her post.
The innkeeper and Van Helsing continue talking, and Van Helsing reveals more information about why and how he and Harker were working together.
Innkeeper: Look, sir, you’re a stranger here in Klausenburg. Some things are best left alone, such as interfering in things which are beyond our powers.
Van Helsing: Please don’t misunderstand me. This is more than a superstition, I know. The danger is very real. If the investigation that Mr. Harker and I are engaged upon is successful, then not only you, but the whole world will benefit.
The innkeeper’s daughter then comes back to serve Van Helsing dinner, with a little extra on the side.
Inga: This was found at the crossroads near that place. He told me to burn it. But your friend was such a nice gentleman, I couldn’t.
This then leads Van Helsing to Dracula’s castle, where he finds the underground lair… and his friend, Harker.
As a distraught Van Helsing takes up the stake and hammer Harker had left on the floor, the camera fades.
The next scene reveals Van Helsing informing Arthur Holmwood and his wife, Mina, about Harker’s death. In this film, Arthur is the brother of Lucy, Harker’s fiancée. In this short scene, when learn that Arthur is suspicious of Harker’s death; that Harker died 10 days ago; that Harker was cremated (“As his friend and colleague, he told me some time ago that he would wish it“); that Arthur and his wife will tell Lucy the news; and that Lucy is ill. This film is certainly efficient in its storytelling, isn’t it?!
Thirty-five minutes into the film, Van Helsing reviews Harker’s diary while a recording plays on a gramophone. The recording is Van Helsing’s own voice, detailing the dangers and signs of vampires. Again, a clever way to include a lot of expository details in a short amount of time!
Van Helsing then starts recording himself, likening vampirism to drug addiction. He also invokes the death of Harker as an additional reason to kill Dracula:
Since the death of Jonathan Harker, Count Dracula, the propagator of this unspeakable evil, has disappeared. He must be found and destroyed.
So although Harker is no longer physically part of the film, he and his diary remain central to the film and propel the plot forward. This time, it’s personal!
The last mention of Harker’s diary occurs at 47 minutes into the film, when Arthur is upset at Van Helsing and blames him for (SPOILER!) Lucy’s death. Van Helsing gives Jonathan’s diary to Arthur, stating:
I cannot expect you to believe me, but you will I know believe Jonathan. Here are his last words, his diary. When you have read it, you will understand.
Final fight in the castle library:
The final scene and showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula occurs five minutes before the end of the film.
As Van Helsing follows Dracula to this castle, they meet up in the library — where else?! — and Van Helsing spies sunlight peeking in through the heavy curtains at one end of a large table scattered with piles of books. Van Helsing dashes across the table and throws upon the curtains. Van Helsing leaps back upon the table — scattering books in his wake, and the librarian in me could not help but exclaim, “Don’t take it out on the books!” — and grabs candlesticks to form a cross and force Dracula into the sunlight. Dracula then starts crumbling to ash in the sunlight.
Why a librarian?
Harker is clearly posing as a librarian, as the line in the opening sequence that Dracula “accepts [Harker] as a man who has agreed to work among his books, as [Harker] intended” reveals. It does stand to reason, therefore, that Harker is a scholar of some merit. It would be too easy to check otherwise, especially as the action takes place in such a limited geographic area. And Van Helsing is a scientist, so it is plausible that he and Harker met because of common scientific, or psychiatric, interests.
The idea that Jonathan is a scholar does provide some kind of plausibility about him being able to pass himself off as a librarian — or rather a freelance kind of indexer or cataloger — for Count Dracula’s private library.
I also wonder if the screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster, chose “librarian” for Harker’s reason for being at Dracula’s castle (rather than as a solicitor arranging real estate transactions for Dracula, as in the source novel) as a way for Harker to throw Dracula off the scent; i.e. that posing as a librarian would not arouse suspicion in Dracula, as librarians are (stereotypically) seen as mild-mannered. Of course, that reasoning only works when Harker goes in knowing about Dracula to begin with, as is obvious from the beginning narration of this film.
Ultimately, although Harker has quite a significant role in this film, his attempts at being a reel librarian really only amount to that of being an Information Provider. He is there to provide context for thwarting Dracula, and his diary provides clues along the way for Van Helsing, as well as for the audience.
Although we don’t really learn much about Harker on a personal level, I was greatly amused by the variety of facial expressions John Van Eyssen packed into his role.
Although Harker’s change of occupation did not get mentioned on the VHS copy I have of this film, I was amused to discover that the first library scene DID make the side cover!
Past classification struggles:
I first saw this film years ago — clearly, when VHS tapes were commonplace! — and I have to admit, that I have found it difficult to classify this film within my usual “Reel Substance” categories.
I first classified this film under the Class V category, films in which there are no actual librarians, because Harker is posing as a librarian in this film. But that never felt quite right, so I eventually decided to reclassify the film under the Class I category, because the fact that he’s posing as a librarian serves as the catalyst for the rest of the film’s plot as well as Van Helsing’s (re)commitment to destroying Dracula.
What are your thoughts on this? I’d love for you to leave a comment and share your thoughts on this or other aspects of Horror of Dracula.
And thanks to everyone who voted for Horror of Dracula! It was fun to revisit this horror classic.
Horror of Dracula. Dir. Terence Fisher. Perf. Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Melissa Stribling, John Van Eyssen. Universal, 1958.
I have watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade many times over the years, and goodness, how this film holds up! It’s just a really solid — and really re-watchable — action adventure movie with romance and comedy perfectly mixed in. It’s the third film in the series, and in this installment, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) sets off to find the Holy Grail… and his missing father (Sean Connery), who is also a professor and historian. Such good casting!
Here’s a quick trailer for the film:
Facts, libraries, and research:
Before we get to the library scene, we first have to visit a pivotal scene that occurs 14 minutes into the film. After the introductory scenes of “Young Indy” and a glimpse of Indiana Jones in full adventurer mode at sea, we swing back to spy on Indiana Jones in the classroom. Instead of wearing a fedora and leather jacket, Indiana is in full professor mode in a three-piece tweedy suit, bow tie, and round glasses. (Put a pin in that, as we will revisit that costume.)
He writes “FACT” on the chalkboard, underlines the word, and then states what is arguably the most important speech in the entire film:
“Archeology is the search for FACT, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.”
Why is this speech so important?
Not just because of the focus on the library, researching, and reading — that’s all gravy! — but because this character is setting up the rest of the film’s plot for us. Even though he’s in denial, we viewers know we’re set for lost cities, exotic travel, maps to buried treasure… and libraries!
The library scene:
Flash forward 10 minutes, almost to the half-hour mark of the film, to when Indiana Jones goes to Venice to meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Allison Doody). She takes him to where his father was last seen, a local library.
Elsa Schneider: I have something to show you. I left your father working in the library. He sent me to the map section to fetch an ancient plan of the city. When I got back to his table, he’d gone, with all his papers, except for that scrap, which I found near his chair. Here is the library.
Indiana Jones: That doesn’t look much like a library.
Marcus Brody: Looks like a converted church.
Elsa Schneider: In this case, it’s the literal truth.
Trivia alert: The exterior is St. Barnaba church in Venice, but it’s actually still a regular church, not a library. (Bummer, right?!) The interiors were filmed elsewhere.
Below, watch a video of the entire library scene, which lasts about four minutes in total:
I love the “X marks the spot” reveal in this scene — harkening back to that pivotal speech in the classroom.
The reel librarian:
And of course the BEST PART of this scene is the reel librarian stamping his books, which exactly syncs up when Indiana Jones hits the floor tiles with the end of a metal post. (Suspension of disbelief? Yep.) It only takes three hits to crack the tile, and the closeups of the reel librarian’s face after each stamp are priceless. He never says a word, yet says SO MUCH through his facial expressions.
My favorite moment of this scene is when the reel librarian — an older man, dressed in a suit, formal collar, and bow tie — stares at the stamp in his hands, then puts the stamp atop the last book softly, in a daze, like he can’t fathom the power he just unleashed. Thus is the power of the library stamp! 😉
Reel librarian as comic relief:
This reel librarian is onscreen for a maximum of 30 seconds in a 4-minute scene (thus landing the film in the Class IV category), and the actor goes unidentified in the film’s credits. Yet he makes such an impact! Literally. 😉
This reel librarian is a prime example of the Comic Relief character type. The purpose of this character type is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, to entertain, but the reel librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.
They are also the most extreme physically — note how the reel librarian in this film is rail-thin, which is emphasized by the slightly oversize nature of his suit. And these physical characteristics are part of the humor; marveling at this heretofore unseen and unknown strength (!), this reel librarian could not fathom that something other than his stamp could be making noise in the library.
Now for a few additional things I noted while rewatching this film…
First up, I enjoyed the peek at the signs at the end of each bookcase, which give hints about the organization and classification system for this part of the library collection. They’re obviously in the Arts & Literature section of the library, including literature, dramatic arts, and music.
Reel library goof:
I watched this film on Amazon Prime, which also provides trivia and goofs. I had never noticed this goof before, that when Indiana Jones gets to the top of the spiral staircase, you can tell the backdrop is made up of book spines glued on a black background, rather than real books. Wow!
You can click the screenshot below to view a larger image of it in a new tab. Tip: Look for the shadows on the shelf behind Indiana’s elbow, which reveal that the books are really just book spines.
A tale of two personal libraries:
The two Dr. Joneses like to think they’re so different — yet they’re so alike! And this goes to the state of their personal spaces, as well.
For example, here’s a screenshot of Dr. Jones, Sr., in his personal library at home, in the film’s introductory scenes. The room is lined with bookcases, but none of the items in the bookshelves — books, artifacts, scrolls — look to be very well organized or neatly arranged. Quite disheveled! And the father is dismissive of his own son.
But the younger Dr. Jones is equally dismissive of his own students — he escapes by his office window! — plus his own office, full of bookcases and artifacts, is equally messy.
Attention to detail:
I also appreciate the attention to detail in this film. In that same scene I mentioned above, when Young Indy tries to enlist his father’s help, we see a closeup of his father’s hands sketching a stained glass window in a small book.
We see that drawing again in the library scene, when Indiana Jones takes out his dad’s diary and flips to the page with the stained glass drawing.
A tale of two suits:
And here’s one final thing I noted this time around while rewatching this film. Remember when I said put a pin in the costume Indiana Jones wore while teaching? Let’s revisit that. And I used the word “costume” very deliberately, as Indiana Jones only looks truly comfortable when he’s in his leather jacket and fedora. His entire being — posture, manner, etc. — gets stiff when he’s wearing the three-piece suit and bow tie.
And notice just how similar that costume is to what the reel librarian is wearing:
Both of them are wearing a three-piece suit, a bow tie, and round eyeglasses. There are differences, of course: Indiana Jones’s suit is lighter in color, and a different texture, while the librarian’s suit looks shabbier, and his collar is more old-fashioned. Both bow ties have polka dot patterns, however, and it’s the same outfit formula. It’s like they’re wearing a uniform to do research!
Every novel and every adaptation of a novel set in a big house in England will, at some point, feature a library. This is a rule. Every novel and every adaptation of a novel where any of the characters are at university will feature a scene where a character is studying in the university library. These are the rules!
This is so true! I primarily focus on the portrayals of librarians, rather than just libraries, but I have also often written about onscreen libraries, especially in film analysis posts of Class V films. I have thought about writing a post about private libraries, like the ones seen in films or series set in a big house in England (have you found your Gutenberg Bible, yet, Lord Grantham of Downtown Abbey?!)
What is the purpose of private libraries onscreen?
I am primarily interested in the purpose of librarians onscreen, but it’s an interesting exercise to extend that question to thinking about the purpose of showing private libraries onscreen. As I went through my own lists and prior posts that mentioned private libraries, I noted a few recurrent themes about what purposes private libraries served when seen onscreen:
Private libraries are used to reflect personal OR work collections of books or materials
Private libraries often help establish setting, particularly of characters in upper social classes (like those seen in English country homes) and/or characters whose occupations are in academia or education.
Private libraries can be used to reflect the level of education or culture for a character, even if that character is seen as coming from a lower social class
Private libraries can be used to contrast with a public or college library setting — a smaller, personal collection versus a larger, more impersonal collection
Private libraries can sometime serve as the setting for a main action in the film, providing a contrast to heighten the plot and provide interest (such as a brutal murder taking place against the relatively sedate backdrop of a private collection of books)
The collection or items within a private library can serve as the reason or impetus for the main plot, like a rare book or artifact that someone would steal or kill for.
List of notable private libraries/librarians onscreen:
Below are a list of films, organized alphabetically by title, that I’ve analyzed thus far on this site that feature notable personal libraries or personal librarians and their purpose in their respective films. It is not an exhaustive list, but rather I tried to spotlight films in which private libraries serve one, or more, of the purposes I outlined above.
College senior Katie (Katie Holmes) deals with exams, finishing her thesis, job interviews, and a cop (Benjamin Bratt) investigating the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam). Then Katie starts seeing her boyfriend again around campus—is she hallucinating, or is he stalking her? A few scenes highlight the socially awkward Mousy Julie, a student library assistant at the college library.
When I analyzed this low-key horror film, I noticed that in addition to several scenes set in the college library, there were also quite a few private library collections featured in the film, including rows of books and bookshelves in:
the thesis advisor’s office
the counselor’s office
the cop’s home
Katie’s dorm room
Embry’s dorm room
and… you could argue the thesis-related collection Katie builds in her private study cubicle in the college library serves as a miniature version of a personal library collection!
This comedic mystery revolves around a stolen manuscript and the rare books business. A personal library in a private home serves as the main setting for the film — and the library’s collection serves as the main motive for the murder mystery!
Joel Sloane (Robert Montgomery), a rare books dealer, takes a commission to buy a Shakespeare manuscript from a personal collection and private library. Joel meets up with his protégé, Phil Seargent (Anthony Allan), who is currently working as private librarian and secretary. The plot quickly spirals into murder. As Joel says early on, “something funny is going on at that library.”
Here’s an original trailer for Fast and Loose, which includes footage of a private office library starting at the 1:37 mark, as well as a larger country home’s private library at the very end of the trailer, at the 2:16 mark:
From a Whisper to a Scream, aka The Offspring (1987):
In this film, a private library serves as the main setting and structure for the plot — a collection of “short stories,” so to speak.
In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local private librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his later roles) retells four horror stories — stories about the town’s “long history of violence” — to a nosy reporter (Susan Tyrrell). White and the stories from his library serve as a framework for the film, but none of the stories he retells involve a library or librarian.
The historian’s private library is set in his private home, and the reporter walks through decaying, crumbling hallways until she stumbles upon the equally decaying, crumbling library. The room is filled with books, antique furniture, books piled over a big desk, and red velvet curtains. The librarian/historian sits in a red leather chair, his own personal throne amidst a crumbling empire.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973):
Two siblings, Claudia and her brother, Jamie, run away from home to stay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They try to solve the mystery of the new angel statue, rumored to be the work of Michelangelo, which leads them to the statue’s donor and famous recluse, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (played by Ingrid Bergman).
At the end of the film, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler takes Claudia to her private library to find a particular file. Her private library and filing cabinets are organized from floor to ceiling. I love that in this film, the personal library — or rather, the files within them — serve almost as title characters! 😉 It also shows a bit of diversity in what constitutes a private library collection, as her library is a collection of files more so than books.
In this recent remake of the 1984 original Ghostbusters with female leads, the personal library in a private home has become part of a museum — and it is the main setting for the opening scene, which puts into motion the rest of the film.
The film begins in a library, a private library in a house museum called the Aldridge Mansion Museum. The ghost in the opening scenes is not a reel librarian, however, but rather the ghost of an Aldridge family member. (Definitely not as memorable as the original film’s opening scene in the New York Public Library, which I analyzed in-depth in this post.)
It is an impressive private library, although the word “library” is not mentioned at all during the tour. However, there is an “Announcements” sign by the guest book that includes “library hours,” as well as a large sign beside the velvet ropes in the atrium, which reads, “Aldridge Family Library, circa 1830.”
The Aldridge Mansion Museum’s historian, Ed Mulgrave (played by Ed Begley Jr.), then seeks out help from scientist Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), because of a book she wrote years ago, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal.
In the first five minutes of the film, we are introduced to a private library, as well as a book called Unsolved Murders that becomes central to the “locked room” mystery plot. Another private library that serves as the main setting and impetus for the film’s plot!
The private library in question belongs to Brisbane Coe (Frank Conroy), who employs a private secretary, Raymond Wrede (Ralph Morgan). Five minutes into the film, we are treated to a classic cinematic shot of a bookshelf, revealing a close-up of Brisbane’s face. The bookshelves serve as a natural framing device. Brisbane grabs a book entitled Unsolved Murders, places it in an overnight bag, and prepares to leave on a trip.
A little over a half-hour into the film, Philo Vance (William Powell) leads the detectives to Grand Central Station, where they locate Brisbane’s bag. Philo takes out the Unsolved Murders book, which has a bookmark opening up to a chapter that includes a description just like the murder scene of his brother. The plot thickens from there!
The 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice changes the already humorous character of Mr. Collins from a clergyman in Jane Austen’s original novel to a personal librarian for Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The occupational change seems to serve the absurd and ridiculous qualities of Mr. Collins — we do not pause and wonder at a bumbling librarian, whereas we might be offended at a bumbling clergyman.
It is also interesting to note that we, the audience, never actually get to see the inside of the library that Collins curates for Lady Catherine; his profession is mentioned once at the beginning and never referred to again. And it is quite revealing on retrospect that Mr. Bennet, who has his own personal library which serves as an important personal retreat, does not mention libraries or books at all with Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet does not take the opportunity of using an apparently mutual love of libraries to bond with his cousin and heir.
Another major character who serves as a private librarian! Edward G. Robinson, in his final film role, plays Sol Roth, and we meet him within the first five minutes of the film. He’s described in the trailer as:
Sol Roth, Thorn’s private library. A Living Book in a world without books.
This futuristic world has stopped printing books for almost 20 years. The word “Book” now refers to people, to former scholars and librarians who serve as personal researchers for others. Sol is a self-described “Police Book,” assigned to Detective Sergeant Thorn (Charlton Heston), and there is a “Supreme Exchange” where he goes almost daily for information and to talk to other Books.
Real books are treasures to be hoarded in this overcrowded, dirty, violent nightmare of a future, and Thorn and Sol live together in comparative luxury, in an apartment filled with bookcases. You could argue that they live inside their own private library.
Before wrapping up this post, I had to mention Casanova, the famous lover — who in real life ended up a private librarian on a private estate. However, in the 2005 film version of his adventures in Venice, in which Heath Ledger plays the title role, libraries and librarians are never mentioned in this film. There is, however, a literary angle explored in the film, and a young lady, Francesca Bruni (played by Sienna Miller), visits a libreria, which is Italian for bookstore. There are a few scenes throughout the film set in this bookstore.
And a final note about private libraries, you can tell a lot about a person’s interests by looking at their personal collection of books. Private libraries are therefore quite personal, in both real and reel life. As Douglas Groothius stated in this blog post, “Thoughts on Your Personal Library” from his personal blog and website:
If your collection of books crosses the mystical threshold and becomes a library, then you should curate it well. It is both a reflection of you and you are reflection of it.
What does your own private library reveal about you? Is there a notable private library in a film that I have not included in this post? Please leave a comment — or two! — and share.
Abandon. Dir. Stephen Gaghan. Perf. Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel. Buena Vista, 2002.
Casanova. Dir. Lasse Hallström. Perf. Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Lena Olin, Charlie Cox. Buena Vista Pictures, 2005.
From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring). Dir. Jeff Burr. Perf. Vincent Price, Susan Tyrrell, Rosalind Cash. Conquest Productions, 1987.
However, there are some interesting library-related bits of trivia still to explore in this remake. Buckle up!
Opening scene in a library:
The opening scene in the remake begins at a mansion, the “Aldridge Mansion Museum.” (Definitely not as memorable as the original film’s opening scene in the New York Public Library, which I analyzed in-depth in this post.) A tour guide is leading a group of people through the first level of the mansion, which he describes as “the only 19th century home in New York City preserved both inside and out.”
He leads the group into a center atrium, surrounded on all sides by bookcases and iron railings on the second level. He then relates the story of the resident ghost, Gertrude Aldridge, who allegedly stabbed all the house’s servants one night. (Her character was based on the real-life Lizzie Borden.)
It is an impressive private library, although the word “library” is not mentioned at all during the tour. However, there is an “Announcements” sign by the guest book that includes “library hours,” as well as a large sign beside the velvet ropes in the atrium, which reads, “Aldridge Family Library, circa 1830.”
The “Aldridge Mansion” filming location looks to be the Ames Mansion at Borderland State Park, especially when you compare the photo above to this interior photo of the Ames Mansion library. The idea of the “Aldridge Mansion” being the “only 19th century home in New York City preserved both inside and out” is loosely based on the Merchant’s House Museum in Manhattan, which is open to the public. The IMDB.com Trivia page for this film also suggests that “Aldridge Mansion” may be named for the original film’s costume designer, Theoni V. Aldredge.
The Aldridge Mansion’s historian, Ed Mulgrave (played by Ed Begley Jr.) seeks out help from Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), because of a book she wrote years ago, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal.
However, Erin is not pleased to see him and is astounded that he has a copy of her book. (She thought she burned “both copies” years ago!) She is trying to earn tenure as a physics professor at a serious academic institution and does not want to be discredited by her background in the paranormal. In an effort to get her book off of Amazon, she visits her former friend and book’s co-author, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who agrees to take the book down in exchange for an introduction to Mulgrave. This brings us back to the Aldridge Mansion… and back to the library ghost!
As Erin, Abby, and Abby’s fellow scientist, Jillian Holtzmann (played with kooky relish by Kate McKinnon), walk into the center atrium and library, we get to see more of the space, which is filled with mannequins dressed in old costumes, antique furniture, red velvet ropes, old lamps, and more.
The three scientists realize they are about to witness a real-life apparition, er, ghost. And out of the basement floats a spooky figure, dressed in a striped Victorian dress. She looks just like the portrait hanging on the second-floor railing of the library, so this ghost is very clearly the spirit of the daughter Gertrude. She’s definitely NOT a librarian — although based on her hairstyle and clothing, she does look like a younger version of the librarian ghost from the original, doesn’t she? Gertrude the Ghost does make a return in the final battle showdown, and she is also featured in the credits.
As Erin tries to communicate with her, the ghost projects green goo all over Erin. The ghost then flies out of the house, with the three scientists rushing out to try and track her movements. Abby has been filming this entire scene, and the video clip of Erin screaming, “We saw a ghost!” makes it to YouTube and Reddit… ending with Erin getting fired from her teaching position.
That, of course, leads to the formation of the Ghostbusters, with Erin, Abby, and Jillian joining forces with public transportation worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones)!
Additional library sightings:
More “library” sightings in the film include:
One early call leads them to a hotel and rock concert. When they arrive, a man is being led out on a stretcher and mumbling in Spanish. Erin attempts to translate what the man is saying and ends up (mis)translating, “There’s a chicken frying itself in the library.” Patty has no problem correcting her, “That is NOT what he said.”
When the Ghostbusters are driving to the rock concert, they pass by the New York Public Library, where the original film opens.
During the title sequence, there is a brief ghost of Columbia University Library. A few scenes of the original Ghostbusters (1984) were filmed at Columbia University — although Columbia made a deal back then to keep their name out of the film!
Additional book-related trivia:
There are also a couple more interesting trivia bits concerning books and research tied to the film:
A little over an hour into the film, Jillian brings out a research atlas with a map of ley lines in New York City. This is relevant to the film’s plot and the Ghostbusters trying to figure out where all the paranormal activity is originating from.
The book that Abby and Erin co-wrote, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal, was published for real as a movie tie-in book!
What are your thoughts?
Have you seen the Ghostbusters original and remake? Were you also disappointed that there was no additional librarian ghost in the remake? Please leave a comment and share.
Ghostbusters. Dir. Paul Feig. Perf. Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones. Columbia Pictures, 2016.