Have you seen “The Mona Lisa Smile?” I loved it. Not only was it at my beloved Alma Mater, the most beautiful campus in the U.S., but showed it when I was there. Long, long ago. Not everyone loved the film. My classmates are planning to sue the producers for devaluing their education. But it was accurate in spirit if not in detail.
The plot turned on the teaching of modern art. A phony issue. We were up to date on art and everything else. Intellectually, the college was strong and brave. In my freshman year, we read “The Communist Manifesto” in three classes at the height of the McCarthy era. Our professors were learned and dedicated, if desicated, married to their disciplines.
Socially, the film was fairly accurate, although made to look pretty silly. We never had classes on poise or setting the table, but we had weekly tea and wore skirts for dinner. Hours for male guests were strictly limited. It was the same at Harvard and everywhere else. The faculty did not tell us to get married; our president demanded that we do something significant, but marriage was certainly in the air. Few students had career plans. I was married after my junior year. I graduated with my class, but could not imagine that anyone would ever hire me or admit me to graduate school.
The strangest aspect of the film was the heroine. There was no one then like her. No glamourous, adventurous, free-wheeling doctoral students. The jobs for beauties were as airline stewardesses and guides at the UN, certainly not in academics. Roberts was a time traveler. The film is an example of how hard it is to get it right, particularly if you want to tell a story as well as project an ambience. I give this one a B+. I still loved it.