Lynn Barber demonstrates life can provide the greatest instruction in her 2009 memoir An Education.
The 2010 film adaptation emphasizes the scandalous love affair Barber had during her youth with a man many years her senior. However, this episode of Barber’s life is the focus of only one chapter in the novel.
The film — which received several coveted Oscar nominations such as Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture — distorted the book’s details to create a forbidden romance rivaling those in “Lolita” and “The Graduate.” In reality, Barber’s memoir depicts the times as they were during the ‘60s and shows how much social norms have changed.
Barber’s account covers many aspects of her life, from her determination as a youth to attend Oxford University, her bittersweet affair with a man roughly 20 years her senior and married, her life as a journalist working her way up from the ranks of Penthouse magazine to more reputable publication. It also depicts later episodes in her life such as her marriage and success she eventually attained as a journalist.
Barber’s tale differs from works such as The Reader and depicts a story of one gaining a footing in the world throughout the various stages in a person’s life — school, work and marriage. It is inspiring and encouraging for youth who view the world as a formidable adversary.
The film adaptation demonstrates how Hollywood adulterates reality to create its next blockbuster. For example, the movie falsely portrays Barber’s parents forbidding her relationship with the much older Simon. According to the memoir, her parents encouraged the union. Barber’s parents did not push their daughter to remain in school despite the attraction she felt toward the glamorous life Simon and his older friends offered and instead encouraged her to drop her dream of attending college. It is Barber who chose to remain true to herself and pursue her education. Her determination to succeed academically and in her career that permeates the memoir is lost in it’s on-screen translation; it misrepresents the award-winning journalist as a girl willing to throw everything away for love.
The film’s focus on Simon is confusing because Barber only mentions him one time outside the chapter devoted to their affair. Barber spends many more pages in her memoir detailing her education at Oxford, job at Penthouse when it’s staff numbered a half dozen operating out of a squalor home, how she met and fell in love with her husband during her last term in college and the flurry of publications Barber worked on to become a famous English journalist.
However, Simon’s one mention outside the chapter entitled “An Education” — the novel and book’s title — is in the last sentence of the novel when she states that later in life when she encountered a jarring secret of her husband’s. She is reminded about the lesson she learned from Simon all those years before: you cannot ever know another person fully.
Perhaps Simon’s presence in Barber’s adolescent development constitutes the importance Hollywood attributes him in the film adaptation. It is also possible that the novel is about growing up too fast, struggling in the real world, and coming to some major realizations about life and one’s place in it that all adults can identify with. Academia is only a part of life’s experiences. Barber’s memoir is not a story about pedophilia; rather it is a story of maturity, from her experience with Simon and also from everything else that happened in the course of her life.
Christina Lavingia is a second year Political Science major and online editor at the Daily Nexus.