Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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Adaptation Theories

We have just been presented a rich and long-lasting interaction between literature and film. This interaction has been accompanied with theories originating in literary, film and social studies. Let us mention some of the concepts that will be dealt with in the case study of this thesis.

First of all, let us distinguish adaptation from other films by quoting Dudley Andrew:

The celluloid of an adaptation resembles that of other films: meaning rises from images and sounds inscribed on its surface. However, the value of an adaptation’s meaning…depends on an additional dimension, the dimension of depth provided by the substrate text that supports what is on the celluloid. A palimpsest, we might say, but a peculiar one, in that the surface layer engages, rather than replaces, a previous inscription.” (qtd. in Geraghty 195)

A pioneer of studies of relation between the novel and the film was George Bluestone with his text Novels into Film (1957). His observation that “changes are inevitable the moment one abandons the linguistic for the visual medium” (qtd. in Leitch 3), will be crucial for our case study. He bases his book on a notion that “the end products of novel and film represent different aesthetic genera, as different from each other as ballet is from architecture” (qtd. in Naremore 6).

Adaptations have been usually considered as inferior to their originals. Robert Stam summarizes eight stereotypes ruling the relationship between literature and film. The first prejudice, ‘historical anteriority and seniority,’ praises literature as the older art consequently superior to literature. The second bias originates from the long lasting rivalry between film and literature. The third source of prejudice is ‘iconophobia.’ It is simply prejudice against visual arts that naturally results into the next prejudice, ‘valorisation of the verbal.’ The fact that film employs more senses and even bodies, is considered obscene and it gives ground to the fifth source of hostility – ‘anti-corporeality.’ The sixth prejudice is, what Stam calls, ‘the myth of facility.’ It assumes that film production is an easy task as well as film watching. “It takes no brains to sit down and watch a film” (Stam 7). Another source of hostility to film and adaptation derives from division of culture according to social classes. The cinema is wrongly connected with low-class. Adaptations are accused of vulgarization of literature. The last bias considers adaptations being parasitical on literature.

The most discussed and controversial issue is the question of fidelity. Every adaptation was, and always will be, at some point compared to its original in terms of its faithfulness. However, it is not clear what it should be faithful to. According to Dudley Andrew, cinema or other sign system are already a representation of our reception of the world around us, thus any adaptation is based on an original representation. The only difference is that adaptation acknowledges its relation to the prior representation (29). To what representation – to the reception of whom – should the adaptation be faithful to? That is a question that adaptation theorists have been trying to answer from the very beginning of the film-literature discourse. Andrew presents two notions of fidelity, which are often employed in adaptation criticism – fidelity to the “letter” and to the “spirit” of the text (31). Fidelity to the ‘letter’ includes literary structure, which it is easy to transfer into a film; such as “the characters and their interrelation; the geographical, sociological, and cultural information providing the fiction’s context; and the basic narrational aspects that determine the point of view of the narrator” (Andrew 31, 32). Fidelity to the “spirit” can be less easily represented, because it includes “the original’s tone, values, imagery, and rhythm” (Andrew 32). In our case study, we will operate with Corrigan’s determination of fidelity:

(1) To what extent are the details of the settings and plot accurately retained or recreated? (2) To what extent do the nuance and complexity of the characters survive the adaptation? (3) To what extent has a different historical or cultural context altered the original? (5) To what extent has the change in the material or mode of communication changed the meaning of the work for a reader or viewer? (Corrigan 20)

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