It’s called Genius, and it stars Colin Firth, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. Due for release just before Christmas (and award season), the film, touted as “the bio-pic of the year,” is about a book editor. Yup. You read that correctly. An editor.
Colin Firth plays Charles Scribner’s Sons fiction editor Maxwell Perkins in a screenplay based on the biography by A. Scott Berg: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius.
Charles Scribner’s Sons was both a publisher and a bookseller, and when Perkins was hired it was his idea to supplement the company’s “popular” — and lucrative — fiction line with works by new, more literary voices.
Among the many writers Perkins worked with were Taylor Caldwell, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Thomas Wolfe. There are so many more, but it is Perkins’s relationship with Thomas Wolfe that has intrigued and mystified writing, editing and publishing scholars for decades (Berg’s biography and Perkins’s letters to Wolfe and Hemingway are on the reading lists of many publishing programs).
Perkins was known for being a substantive editor who believed the work belonged to the author. During the editing of The Beautiful and the Damned, Fitzgerald was doubtful of some editorial suggestions from Perkins. When Fitzgerald expressed these reservations in a letter, Perkins wrote back, angrily, that Fitzgerald was the writer:
“Don’t ever defer to my judgment!” he replied (qtd. in Berg, 44).
In Genius, Jude Law plays Thomas Wolfe and Nicole Kidman plays Aline Bernstein, Wolfe’s mistress, a married woman twice his age. The film deals with Perkins’s personal relationship with the couple and his professional one with Wolfe, which started out as mutual admiration, morphed into an almost father-son relationship and then ended so very, very badly.
Was it a personal quarrel? A professional one? Did Wolfe feel that Perkins had overstepped his bounds, no longer letting the work belong to the writer? Or did Perkins realize the darling writer he’d talked Scribner’s into publishing wasn’t the writer he thought he was?
It will be interesting to see what Genius, the movie, comes up with. If nothing else, it will be amazing to see a film about an editor.
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