Sandy Welch’s North & South

By Elizabeth McAdams, University of Michigan

Promotional image from BBC Archive

From November to December of 2004, BBC One ran North & South, Sandy Welch’s serial adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel of the same name. Welch claimed fidelity to the text as her intention for the adaptation, making only those changes she felt Gaskell herself would have made “if she’d had the time.” [1] While she revered other Victorian and Romantic adaptations, Welch worried that her North & South might be lumped together with “coach-and-horses drama[s]” or “piece[s] about dresses and dances.” To that end, she repeatedly draws the viewer’s attention to the industrialization of northern Victorian England, using shots of Margaret’s reflection in the window of a moving railroad carriage and views of inside of the cotton factories that are so glaringly absent from much of the original text. In the first episode, Margaret finds herself briefly lost in the middle of the factory floor with the “fluff” of the cotton (that will later prove so fatal to Betsy Higgins) floating through the air like snow.

Welch’s emphasis on industrialization led her to insert a significant scene in the Great Exhibition of 1851, condensing into one moment many arguments about empire, class, and industrialization that Gaskell articulated over several scenes in the original text. For modern students of the Victorian era, the reality of the Great Exhibition can be hard to conceptualize. Thanks to Welch’s small divergence from Gaskell’s text, this moment offers a starting place for a conversation about intersectional issues of race, class, and culture (to name a few). The title of the event, “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations,” itself raises questions about industrialization and globalization, both topics mentioned throughout Gaskell’s novel but strikingly foregrounded by this new context. The film displays, rather than debates, England’s role in the global cotton industry.

Welch also diverges from the novel in her depiction of the Higgins family. Where Gaskell’s Betsy Higgins is narratively defined by the conflict between her own fervent devotion and her father’s lack of religious conviction, Welch’s Betsy Higgins functions as an intermediary between Margaret’s Southern gentility and her father’s proto-Marxism. She grounds debates about the relationship between “workers” and “masters” in logic, rather than the religious doctrine Gaskell employs. While this may strike devotees of Victorian culture as an anachronistic shift, it allows the adaptation to frame the debates in terms familiar to modern audiences. Rather than an historical artifact, the class debate becomes vividly modern. This adaptation can immerse students in Victorian realities, either delivered piecemeal in clips or, for the brave of heart, taken wholesale in all five hours.

Discussion Questions:

What do the pivotal scenes set in the factory and the Great Exhibition help us to understand about these historical events and settings? Which details does Welch emphasize or introduce?

Has Welch achieved her goal of differentiating her adaptation from “coach-and-horse drama[s]”? How so? What are the underlying factors of her concern? Why might she consider the comparison to be inaccurate or problematic?

How do the subtle modifications to the Higgins family and their rhetoric change our understanding of the class conflict between “workers” and “masters”? Does this help us to empathize or prevent us from accurately historicizing?

Further Reading:

Harris, Margaret. “Taking Bearings: Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South Televised.” Sydney Studies in English 32 (2006): 65-82.

Hale, David. “Map Of London 1851 – Cross’s London Guide.” Map Of London 1851 – Cross’s London Guide. Map and Plan Collection Online, 7 Mar. 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

Shannon, Sarah. “Love in a Cold Climate.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 10 Nov. 2004. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.



Clare B. Dunkle’s The House of Dead Maids

By Sonya Sawyer Fritz, University of Central Arkansas

Cover of House of Dead Maids, from Clare B. Dunkle’s website.

Cover of House of Dead Maids, from Clare B. Dunkle’s website.

One of the greatest mysteries of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) is the origin of Heathcliff. Plucked from the streets of Liverpool by the benevolent Mr. Earnshaw, Heathcliff is introduced as a strange, dark child who at first speaks nothing but “gibberish”

and who reveals over time an almost inhumanly cold and cruel nature; the narrator Nelly Dean speculates in the novel’s final chapter, “‘Is he a ghoul, or a vampire?….where did he come from, the little dark thing, harboured by a good man to his bane?’” (Brontë 313). Clare B. Dunkle’s The House of Dead Maids (2010) does not fully address these questions, but it does speculate on the situations and events that formed this orphan boy into the terrible yet compelling anti-hero he would become as Brontë’s Heathcliff.

This young adult novel follows Tabby Akroyd, an eleven-year-old orphan living at a charity school in eighteenth-century England, as she is hired by a mysterious lady to serve as nanny and playmate to a young child at a strange and gloomy estate called Seldom House. Tabby soon realizes that the house and its inhabitants are in no way ordinary or benign, and that she and her young charge—a wild and fearless boy with no name and no clear origins whom Tabby eventually just calls “Himself’—are in great danger. It is not until the end of the story that the novel’s connections to Wuthering Heights and the Brontës are revealed: Tabby grows up to become the Brontë family’s housekeeper, the real-life Tabitha Akroyd, who thrills her employer’s children with tales of her terrifying childhood experience at Seldom House. The last time she sees the child Himself is when a gentleman in Liverpool takes pity on him and decides to carry him home to a place called Wuthering Heights. But the Gothic elements that characterized much of the Brontës’ work are explicitly woven into Dunkle’s text from the beginning, reflected in the ghosts that terrorize the residents of Seldom House and the ancient, evil power the estate holds, as well as in the grotesque parody of family created by the house’s residents: the disingenuous Mr. Ketch, his prickly consort Miss Winter, and the two children Tabby and Himself/Heathcliff.

Overall, the novel is clearly inspired by its inter-text Wuthering Heights, but the scope of its relationship with the Brontës extends beyond that: by linking the fictional Heathcliff to the real-life Tabitha Akroyd, Dunkle seeks to provide a backstory not only for Emily Brontë’s most famous character but for the genre and tone of the Brontë sisters’ oeuvre itself, creating metafictional connections between what the Brontës created as writers and what shaped them as writers. As a result, while The House of Dead Maids works as a standalone novel, the book becomes its most interesting when read alongside Wuthering Heights and other Brontë novels or within the larger context of the Gothic tradition, making it a great work to include in a course on Victorian British literature or on Gothic literature through the ages.

Questions for Discussion:

Dunkle represents herself as having “done what every published literary critic does: I’ve used my book to call attention to the elements of Wuthering Heights that most interest me,” which includes first and foremost the character of Heathcliff. How might Dunkle’s novel change our interpretation or understanding of Heathcliff as Brontë originally represented him? In what ways is Dunkle’s portrayal of the character in dialogue or even contention with Brontë’s?

Aside from Heathcliff, how might other characters in the novel be interpreted as mirroring or speaking to the characters of Wuthering Heights in some way? Can we find echoes of Brontë’s original characters in Tabby, Miss Winter, Mr. Ketch, Mrs. Sexton, or Arnby?

One key element of the Gothic narrative is the way in which it builds psychological terror. What aspects of The House of Dead Maids might be considered particularly psychologically disturbing, especially when it comes to the novel’s representation of children and how they are treated by adults?

Through connecting a real-life figure, Tabitha Akroyd, to a fictional figure, Heathcliff, Dunkle’s novel blurs the line between fiction and reality, encouraging readers to interrogate the relationship between the two. How might this metafictional move affect readers’ perceptions of or attitudes toward Wuthering Heights as a work of fiction? What added meaning or significance might it lend to Brontë’s original novel?

Further reading:

Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Signet Classic, 1959.

Hoeveler, Diane Long. Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1998.

Jackson, Anna, Roderick McGillis, and Karen Coats. The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Kohlke, Marie-Luise, and Christian Gutleben, eds. Neo-Victorian Families: Gender, Sexual, and Cultural Politics. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011.

Stoneman, Patsy, ed. Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights. New York: Columbia UP, 1998.

April Lindner’s YA Bronte Novels

by Sara K. Day, Southern Arkansas University

Charlotte Brontё’s Jane Eyre and Emily Brontё’s Wuthering Heights, both originally published in 1847, offer readers strong-willed heroines, moody romantic heroes, and memorable settings. They Jane coverhave also become touchstones of the Victorian era for many readers, due at least in part to their frequent appearances on high school and college reading lists. April Lindner’s two recent young adult novels Jane (2010) and Catherine (2013) capitalize on the existing link between the Brontё sisters’ novels and adolescent readers by retelling these works set in modern-day America.

Jane opens on the struggles of college student Jane Moore as she struggles to regain her footing after the sudden death of her financially secure but emotionally bankrupt parents. Already distanced from her two older siblings—who stand in for the cruel cousins of Brontё’s tale—she must leave school and secure employment. She quickly finds herself employed as a governess by Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star. Though Jane considers herself plain and unlovable, Nico engages her in a whirlwind romance that soon culminates in a proposal, a series of tragic revelations, and an eventual happy ending.

Like Jane, Lindner’s Catherine puts a rock and roll spin on its Victorian source material: in this case, the title character grows up not in Wuthering Heights but in an apartment above The Underground, the famous rock club her father owns. Decades later, her teen daughter Chelsea travels to The Underground to search for her long-missing mother and finds Hence, a one-time rock star who had also been Catherine’s first and enduring love. In a narrative that pairs Chelsea’s modern-day story with diary entries from her mother’s adolescence, Lindner slowly unravels the mystery of Catherine’s disappearance.

Because many adolescent readers will encounter the original Brontё novels (either as class assignments or through other cultural references, such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga), Lindner’s works can act as accessible ways to engage with some of the major themes and conflicts of the source material. Notably, though, some of the most important discussions that might emerge from comparisons of these novels to the Brontёs’ texts should involve the portrayal of gender roles and attitudes towards romance, passion, and marriage, since Lindner’s modern adaptations might in many ways be understood as more “conventional” than their Victorian roots. These texts may also be a useful starting point for the differences between adaptation and fanfiction, as some readers have raised questions and debates about how Lindner’s novels might blur those boundaries.

Questions for Discussion:

The English moors in which both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are set have become important elements of the ongoing critical conversations about both novels. How does relocating these tales to modern-day America affect other textual elements such as mood, atmosphere, and characterization? Can New York City, in particular, be understood as an analog to the English moors?

The Brontёs’ novels begin with extended descriptions of their main characters’ early lives, from Jane’s time in the home of her uncaring aunt and as a student at Lowood to Catherine and Heathcliff’s wild childhoods on the moors. In her retellings, Lindner offers only a very brief consideration of her protagonists’ experiences as children; indeed, Catherine and Hence do not even meet until late adolescence. Why would Lindner omit or abridge her protagonists’ childhoods, and what impact does this have on our understanding of Jane, Catherine, and their respective romantic partners?

The Brontё sisters—including Anne, whose Tenant of Wildfell Hall has not (yet) inspired a retelling by Lindner—have all been credited with expressing protofeminist ideas in their personal and fictional writings. How do these YA retellings engage with the potential feminism of the original Jane and Catherine?

Both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights feature famous Byronic heroes in the form of Rochester and Heathcliff. How is the figure of the Byronic hero portrayed in Lindner’s novels, and how does their status as YA literature shape these portrayals?

Further Readings:

Franklin, Caroline. The Female Romantics: Nineteenth-Century Women Novelists and Byronism. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Kapurch, Katie. “‘Unconditionally and Irrevocably’: Theorizing the Melodramatic Impulse in Young Adult Literature through the Twilight Saga and Jane Eyre.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 37.2 (2012): 164-87. Print.

Rubik, Margarete, and Elke Mettinger-Schartmann. A Breath of Fresh Eyre: Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre. New York: Rodopi, 2007. Print.

Stein, Atara. The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2004. Print.

Stoneman, Patsy. Brontё Transformations: The Cultural Dissemination of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. New York: Prentice Hall, 1996. Print.

The Ending of David Lean’s Great Expectations

By Joshua Gooch, D’Youville College

Great expectations.jpg

“Great expectations” poster. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

For all its critical plaudits, David Lean’s adaptation of Great Expectations ends on what can at best be called a ludicrous note for readers focused on an adaptation’s fidelity to its text.[i] In its published ending, the novel concludes years later with a mature and chastened Pip encountering a similarly mature and chastened Estella in the open ruins of what was once Satis House. Estella has endured a brutal marriage to the now-deceased Drummle, and Pip a life of clerical work in the east in Clarriker’s house. Estella describes her altered perception of life with phrases that Dickens retained in the published ending from his draft—“suffering had been stronger than all other [in draft: Miss Havisham’s] teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be” (3.20, 484). It is the conjunction of time, suffering, and reflection that connects these characters in the published ending’s rising mists of a new day.

By contrast, Lean’s film ends shortly after Magwitch’s death, with Pip’s discovery of Biddy’s marriage to Joe followed closely thereafter by his return to a still-standing Satis House. Inside, Estella sits in Miss Havisham’s vacant seat, abandoned at the altar by Drummle because of her low parentage—a fact never revealed to her in the novel—but newly enriched not only by Miss Havisham’s death but also by that of Magwitch, as the Crown has apportioned his property to her. Pip implores Estella to abandon her decision to embrace not only Miss Havisham’s ideology but also her position in Satis House, and pulls down the dusty drapes to let in the sunlight. This melodramatic turn has immediate effect: Estella embraces Pip, and the two depart Satis House to marry and enjoy Estella’s wealth.

A close reading of Lean’s ending can be particularly useful in teaching the novel. First and foremost, the divergence from the text—easily spotted by students—can be used to start a discussion about the novel’s central themes and values, most especially its focus on disinterest and selflessness (e.g., Pip’s request that Miss Havisham fund Herbert Pocket’s partnership and refusal of her offers of financial assistance) and its insistence on the power of suffering to build character over time. Some students will, of course, embrace Lean’s ending, and here too one can highlight what values and desires readers bring to texts, and the ways in which Dickens’s novel uses their desire to, in Peter Brooks’s language, read for the plot in order to manipulate their reactions.

Second, the Lean ending also reveals how authors and directors create a sense of unity and wholeness by returning to prior parts of a text. For Lean, the textual justification for his ending appears to be a line from Pip’s first encounter with Miss Havisham: “I have often thought since, that she must have looked as if the admission of the natural light of day would have struck her to dust” (1.8, 60). Pip’s shout to Estella in Lean’s film reiterates this idea (“I have come back Miss Havisham to let in the sunlight”),[ii] and the intrusion of sunlight in the frame signals a radical alteration of perspective from the film’s gray opening on the marshes.

Several scholars have discussed the endings to Great Expectations. Peter Brooks argues in favor of the draft ending while Hillary Schor reframes the apparent romance plot of the film adaptation by focusing on Pip’s desires. For discussions of the novel’s thematics, see Julian Moynahan, and F.R. and Q.D. Leavis. For discussions of Lean’s success as an adapter, see Brian McFarlane. In sum, an examination of divergences in the adaptation of the novel’s conclusion can underscore how Great Expectations reveals a key tension in the construction of any narrative conclusion between thematic consistency and aesthetic unity.

Discussion Questions

Dickens wrote two endings for the novel, the second at the urging of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. Read his draft and published endings (the Norton Critical and Broadview editions contain useful extracts from Dickens’s letters on the change). How do these endings highlight or downplay different themes? Which themes do Lean’s ending bring out? Which themes are underplayed?

In the published ending, Dickens returns to the image of rising mist. Examine the novel’s prior instances of this image (e.g., at the end of the first stage of Pip’s expectations [1.19, 160], during Pip’s discussion of Estella with Herbert [2.11, 250], and with the evaporation of his expectations [3.18, 470]). How does the published ending use this imagery? How does Lean’s ending respond to it?

In Reading for the Plot, Peter Brooks argues in favor of the draft ending because it shows Pip has overcome his attraction to Estella and his tendency to misread the world, while the published ending seems to restart Pip’s obsessions. Do you prefer one of the endings? Why? How do you want the novel to end? Do Dickens’s endings fulfill those desires? Does Lean’s? What do the different endings imply about what we as readers bring to a text? And what does the experience of reading multiple endings do to your interpretation of the novel?

Lean’s film was released in 1946, just after World War II. The German aerial bombardment of Britain led to the widespread use of blackout curtains to prevent night time lights from guiding planes to bomb targets. How might that historical context inform our interpretation of Lean’s choice of an ending?

Further Reading

Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. 1860-1. Ed. Charlotte Mitchell. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.

Great Expectations. Dir. David Lean. 1946. Criterion Collection, 1998.

Leavis, F.R., & Q.D. Leavis, Dickens: The Novelist. New York: Pantheon, 1970.

McFarlane, Brian. “David Lean’s Great Expectations—Meeting Two Challenges.” Literature and Film Quarterly 20.1 (1992): 68-76.

Moynahan, Julian. “The Hero’s Guilt: The Case of Great Expectations.” Essays in Criticism 10 (1960): 60-79.

Schor, Hillary. Dickens and the Daughter of the House. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

[i] The sequence occupies two chapters on the Criterion Collection DVD reissue of the film, and runs from 01:52:40-01:57:45. McFarlane offers a useful instance of the film’s critical celebration.

[ii] Great Expectations 01:56:15-20

Dickens World

By Patrick C. Fleming

Dickens World is a Charles Dickens-themed attraction located in Chatham, Kent, where Dickens lived as a young child. The area, and nearby Rochester, feature prominently in many of his novels. The site opened in 2007, and featured:

  • A Great Expectations-themed boat ride through a Victorian sewer. The ride features Magwitch and a host of other criminal characters from Dickens’s oeuvre;
  • A haunted house, initially advertised as Scrooge’s but changed, before opening, to “the haunted house of 1859.” The house features a “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion, a trick using mirrors that first debuted in a production of Dickens’s story, “The Haunted Man”;
  • A 4D movie at Peggotty’s boathouse, providing a brief biography of Dickens;
  • Dotheboys Schoolhouse, featuring an actor who plays a scolding schoolmaster and interactive screens with a test on Dickens’s life and works;
  • Fagin’s den, a play area for children;
  • A restaurant, The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters;
  • And a gift shop, The Olde Curiosity Shoppe.

Dickens World closed briefly in early 2013, reopening in March. The boat ride was removed, and the attraction now features “an interactive guided tour experience that takes visitors back in time to Victorian/Dickensian England” which the website bills as “a fun and educational experience for all ages.”

Scholars have written about Dickens World in relation to postmodernity, mass culture, literary tourism, and adaptation theory. Faculty who lead study abroad trips might consider a side trip to Chatham, or might include an article about Dickens World alongside a visit to more accessible Dickensian sites in London.

Questions for Discussion

As expressed in his letters, novels, and newspaper writings, what were Dickens’s views on popular entertainment, tourism, profit, and/or intellectual property? How would Dickens have reacted to Dickens World?

Compare Dickens World, as discussed in reviews and publicity materials, to Mr. Sleary’s insistence, in Hard Times, that “the people mutht be amuthed.”

Read the descriptions of the individual attractions in Dickens World. (You can supplement the short descriptions above with Marty Gould and Rebecca N. Mitchell’s “It Was the Worst of Times: A Visit to Dickens World”). Do the attractions change the way you think about Dickens’s novels or characters? What do these choices tell us about Dickens World’s vision? To whom are they intended to appeal?

If you were to design an attraction for Dickens World, what would you choose? How would your attraction develop an interpretation of Dickens and his works? Or, could you imagine a similar attraction for another Victorian writer? What might be featured at a “Bronte World” or “Browning World”?

Further Reading

Anderson, Sam. “The World of Charles Dickens, Complete with Pizza Hut.The New York Times, February 7th 2012.

Booth, Alison. “Time Travel in Dickens’ World.” Literary Tourism and Nineteenth-Century Culture. Nicola J. Watson, ed. Palgrave, 2009.

Easley, Alexis. Literary Celebrity, Gender, and Victorian Authorship, 1850-1914. University of Delaware, 2011.

Gould, Marty and Rebecca N. Mitchell. “It Was the Worst of Times: A Visit to Dickens World.” Victorian Literature and Culture 38 (2010), 287-318.

Gould, Marty and Rebecca N. Mitchell. “Understanding the Literary Theme Park: Dickens World as Adaptation.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3.2 (2010), pages 145-171.

Hughes, Kathryn. “Dickens World and Dickens’s World.” Journal of Victorian Culture 15.3 (December 2010), 388-393.

Huntley, Dana. “Visiting in Dickens World.” British Heritage 29.4 (Sep. 2008), pp. 42-5.

John, Juliet. Dickens and Mass Culture. Oxford University Press, 2010.