Etan Cohen’s Holmes & Watson

James Hynes, Lancaster University

The figures of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have seeped into popular consciousness since their creation at the end of the Victorian era, and with 21stcentury adaptations such as Guy Ritchie’s films (2009, 2011) and Steven Moffat’s BBC series (2010-17), the Great Detective is arguably more prevalent in popular culture than ever before. For Holmes, mass popularity has always invoked satirical reinterpretation. The first Holmes adaptation is Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900), a short film in which the detective is outsmarted by a thief who can appear and disappear at will. More recently, Etan Cohen’s Holmes & Watson (2018) reimagines the adventures of the eponymous duo as a comedy, poking fun at their image and legacy. The movie follows Holmes (Will Ferrell) and Watson (John C. Reilly) as they attempt to prevent an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris) by a mysterious figure copying the murder style of Professor James Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes). It draws on several Arthur Conan Doyle stories, most notably The Adventure of the Final Problem (1893) and The Valley of Fear (1915), in which Moriarty poses an omnipresent threat. The star-studded comedy was a critical and commercial failure – with a budget of $42 million, it made only $41.9 million. However, the film contains a resonant exploration of Holmes as an adaptative icon, using a satirical slant to examine contemporary perceptions of the great detective.

A significant focus of Holmes & Watson is public image and the legacy that stems from it. Holmes is fixated on preserving the perception of the “great detective,” shunning Watson’s contributions publicly to further his own social standing and spending time choosing a hat for which people will remember him. This contrasts with Doyle’s Holmes, who avoids publicity and allows others to take credit, becoming famous only through Watson’s writings. Landlady Mrs. Hudson (Kelly Macdonald), reimagined here as the antagonistic daughter of Moriarty, also speaks of getting her family name in the history books so that people will forget Holmes. Themes of legacy become more potent when we consider how Sherlock, a fictional character, has remained a household name since his creation over a century ago. The film exhibits awareness of its origins in a literary text and probes how adaptations feed cultural legacy. For example, in Cohen’s adaptation Hudson forces Watson to write a slanderous account of Holmes, leveraging the power of Watson as narrator to create legacy. The implication is that Holmes’s popularity stems from how he is portrayed in the texts narrated by Watson and written by Doyle. Holmes & Watsontherefore compounds the character’s legacy to show how Holmes has transitioned from Conan Doyle’s character to a cultural icon.

As with most Holmes adaptations, the film dramatizes Watson’s writing. However, the film’s comedic tone adds a new dimension to the distancing created when Watson is removed as narrator. In Doyle’s stories, the reader views Holmes through Watson’s perspective; Watson has immense respect for the Great Detective and is in awe of his intellect. In the film, removing Watson’s homodiegetic narrative constructs a more narcissistic and fallible Holmes. He is almost late to Moriarty’s trial because he is practicing the perfect entrance. Similarly, Holmes trying to pick a hat for which people will remember him pokes fun at the superficiality of his public persona. While the deerstalker is an icon widely associated with Holmes, it never featured in Conan Doyle’s texts. Bosc-01.jpgThe same can be said for Holmes’ brash arrogance, as while he demonstrates a remarkable intellect, in Doyle’s stories he often lets others take the credit. In this adaptation, other characters’ awe at his intellect only fuels Holmes’ ego. Cohen spotlights not only the inherent bias in Watson’s writing, but also how adaptations over time add new dimensions to characters that were not specified in the original text. Holmes & Watson doesn’t only participate in the legacy of Conan Doyle’s stories; it also invokes their legacy to show how cultural icons evolve over time.  

Questions for Discussion

Holmes & Watson reimagines the detective story as a comedy. How is a text affected when its genre is changed? Imagine how the scene where Holmes and Watson discover a dead body in Queen Victoria’s cake would be portrayed in a different genre. What elements would change and what would remain the same?

Hassenger (2018) claims “[Will] Ferrell seems particularly drawn to buddy comedies.” How would you define “buddy comedy,” and to what extent can Conan Doyle’s stories be considered a “buddy comedy”? Compare them to other buddy comedies and discuss how representations of male companionship have changed since the Victorian era.

Sherlock is concerned with which hat will perpetuate his image and cult status. The deerstalker, seen in the image above, has its origin outside the literary text, first appearing in a Sidney Paget illustration for The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1891). What does this image’s legacy in popular culture say about the importance of visual representation outside of a literary text?

Further Reading

Conan Doyle, A. “The Adventure of the Final Problem”. The Gunston Trust, Baltimore, Maryland, 2018.

—— “The Valley of Fear”. William Collins, London, 2016.

Hassenger, J. “Holmes & Watson’s failure shows how the world is changing for cinematic comedy” The Verge. Accessed 7thAugust 2019.

Leitch, T. Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind To Passion of the Christ. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2009, pp. 207-235.

Meslow, S. “Film’s 111-Year Obsession with Sherlock Holmes”. The Atlantic. Accessed 9thAugust 2019.

Nicol, B. “Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multi Media Afterlives”. Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, 2013, pp. 124-139.

The BBC’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Katie Farr, Lancaster University

Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) addresses the issue of women’s freedom more directly than any of her more-famous sisters’ novels, making it worthy of being adapted, studied and remembered. May Sinclair said that “the slamming of Helen’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England” (Gérin, 7). However, in 1848 the book was criticised for its structure and its subject matter, with its unflinching depiction of alcoholism, and a heroine who criticises the marriage laws of the time. Even Charlotte Brontë said that “the choice of subject was an entire mistake” (Brontë, lxi). This criticism has resulted in a huge gap in popularity between Anne’s major work and those of her sisters. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre enjoyed both critical acclaim and popular success and has remained popular ever since, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights became increasingly admired by critics from the late nineteenth century and experienced a meteoric rise in sales sparked by the 1939 film version. But Anne’s work remains underappreciated despite the appeal of its feminist message to a modern audience.

The difference is clear when comparing how often the sisters’ works have been adapted. The 1996 Mike Barker BBC television adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of very few adaptations made of Anne Brontë’s fiction, compared to the countless adaptations inspired by her sisters’ novels, Emily’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (1847). The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) lists thirteen film and eleven television titles of Wuthering Heights, and twelve film and thirteen television adaptations of Jane Eyre, and many more shorts and works inspired by the texts, including adaptations under different titles. In contrast, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has just two listings, a television series from 1968 being its only other adaptation. 

Barker’s adaptation deals well with the criticism of the structure of Brontë’s novel, which is told through Gilbert’s letters and Helen’s diary. The critic George Moore complains, “the diary broke the story in halves” (Gérin, 14). The adaptation maintains the use of Gilbert’s perspective for the first episode, without resorting to the book’s contrived framing device of Gilbert’s letters to his brother-in-law. The second episode is from Helen’s perspective, with the use of flashbacks in the first episode creating a seamless transition to the extended sequence of Helen’s history, giving the audience previews of Helen’s past before it is fully revealed.

These flashbacks are one of several methods used to represent the psychological realism of the novel. They occur at times of stress for Helen, such as when Gilbert rescues Arthur from a tree, which triggers the flashback of the child Arthur surrounded by drunk, leering faces. The flashbacks are partial and symbolic: a wine glass dropped by an unseen hand, a dead bird held aloft. They are accompanied by music which interrupts the silent background of the surrounding scenes. Richard G. Mitchell’s score conveys character emotion rather than establishing the historical period of the narrative. Haunting women’s voices link Helen’s story to the sadness and struggle of oppressed women, reminding the audience that she represents generations of women subjected to the same laws and social expectations. These audio-visual methods represent Helen’s past trauma and internal emotions, which are directly narrated in the book.

The settings also carry symbolic resonances. Wildfell Hall is old and filled with dust, but as Helen rips a curtain from the window, she laughs, “At least the light is good”. Although it is a decrepit place compared to the grand setting of Grassdale Manor (shown in the second episode), Wildfell Hall is filled with natural light, while Grassdale Manor, from which she fled her abusive marriage, is mostly shown dimly lit with candles. Whilst the light in itself conveys happiness and escape from the darkness of her marriage, it also has a material purpose in giving Helen a space in which she can paint, allowing her financial independence. We see her walking and painting in the moors, which Carmen Pérez Ríu describes as the “characteristically Brontëan space for women’s self-disclosure and freedom” (56).

The adaptation’s use of flashbacks and the perspectives of both Gilbert and Helen creates a compelling drama whilst maintaining Anne’s realist style. Anne shares the use of gothic mansions and the wild moors as settings with her sisters, but there are no ghostly apparitions like in Wuthering Heights or voices calling mystically from afar as in Jane Eyre. Anne says, “the truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it” (29). In this way, the realism of the novel is designed to faithfully show the abuse and hardship faced by Victorian women, and appeal for their freedom.

Questions for Discussion:

In the novel, Helen’s story is related through her diary entries written at the time, whereas in the television adaptation, she is writing from memory years later. How does this change the way her story is presented? Take a look at the scenes where she discovers Arthur’s affair (Episode 2, 00:42:32-00:48:30), and compare them to the same events in Chapter 33 of the novel.

In 1848 writing about sex was strictly taboo, whereas sex scenes were commonplace on TV and in novels by the 1990s. The physical relationship between Arthur and Helen is made explicit in this adaptation, including both romantic scenes such as Arthur kissing Helen’s baby bump, and scenes of attempted rape. Is this imposing a contemporary perspective on a Victorian text, or more accurately portraying what Victorian life was like for women?

Some of the humour from the novel, such as Gilbert’s relationship with his brother Fergus (see Chapter 13), has been left out of the adaptation. What is the effect of the humour in the novel? Why might the writers have decided not to include it in the adaptation?

Helen says it is “better far that he [her son Arthur] should live in poverty and obscurity with a fugitive mother, than in luxury and affluence with such a father” (357). What do Helen’s disastrous first marriage to a wealthy man with a country seat, and her presumably happy second one to a yeoman farmer, indicate about class status? How might Victorian ideas of class inform contemporary discussions?

Further reading:

Birden, Lorene M. “Frank and Unconscious Humor and Narrative Structure in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, vol. 24, no. 3, 2011, pp.263-286.

Brontë, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, edited by G.D Hargreaves, Penguin Classics, 1988.

Brontë, Charlotte. “Biographical notice of Ellis and Acton Bell.” Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë, edited by Angeline Goreau, Penguin Classics, 1988, pp.lvii-lxiv.

Gérin, Winifred. “Introduction.” The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë, edited by G.D Hargreaves, Penguin Classics, 1988, pp.7-18.

Han, Catherine Paula. “The Myth of Anne Brontë.” Brontë Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2017, pp. 48–59.

Holland, Nick. In Search of Anne Brontë, The History Press, 2016.

James, Caryn. “Critic’s Notebook; As Cameras Whir, The BrontëNovels Come Into Focus.” The New York Times, 24 October 1997.

Pérez Ríu, Carmen. “‘Don’t Forget This Is How I Earn My Living’: Internal Focalization, Subjectivity and the Victorian Woman Artist in the Adaptation of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (BBC Miniseries, 1996).” Brontë Studies, Vol. 40, No.1, 2015, pp. 44-58.

Shaw, Marion. “Anne Brontë: A Quiet Feminist.” Brontë Studies, vol. 38, no. 4, 2013, pp. 330–338.

Thormählen, Marianne. “Standing Alone: Anne Brontë out of the Shadow.” Brontë Studies, vol. 39, no. 4, 2014, pp. 330–340.

Title Matching ‘Jane Eyre’, Feature Film/TV Movie/TV Series/TV Special/TV Mini-Series.” IMDb, Accessed 05 August 2019

Title Matching ‘the Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, Feature Film/TV Series/TV Mini-Series.” IMDb, Accessed 05 August 2019.

Title Matching ‘Wuthering Heights’, Feature Film/TV Movie/TV Series/TV Special/TV Mini-Series.” IMDb, Accessed 05 August 2019.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

Terrance Riley, Bloomsburg University

49. Alice in Wonderland - You're InvitedLewis Carroll’s Alice novels are rarely regarded as frightening, but they probably should be. Both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are virtual catalogues of nightmares that make their first appearance in childhood: falling into dark places, metamorphic bodies, anthropomorphic monsters, and homicidal mothers. One of Carroll’s motives was to teach children to be brave in the face of dangers, and his Alice is a model of poise and grace. But readers who return to the book as adults often find themselves recalling those early fears in vivid and unpleasant detail.

American director Tim Burton has established a substantial and successful record in exploring the human psyche and engaging with its deepest fears: Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Nightmare Before Christmas (as writer, 1993), Sleepy Hollow (1999), The Corpse Bride (2005), and Sweeney Todd (2007) are saturated with images of deformed and violated bodies, re-animated corpses, and sudden malevolence, but rendered with a comic exaggeration that diffuses alarm – the very tactic that Carroll used. In 2010 Burton brought his peculiar gothic preoccupations to Carroll’s Alice, combining elements of both stories in an allegory of an adult returning to Carroll’s Wonderland and struggling with unresolved childhood anxieties. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton’s Alice is a privileged nineteen-year-old girl facing a marriage of convenience to a repulsive suitor. Alice has no love for the man, but neither does she have any prospects of her own, or even any hopes. In a moment of distraction and delay, she spots a rabbit in a blue vest and runs away from her engagement ceremony, chasing the rabbit into a hole under a tree (“escaping,” as she had years before, from the real world into a fantasy, just as a reader escapes by falling into the world of a book).

The adult familiar with the original texts will recognize Wonderland. Burton and Woolverton take many liberties with Carroll, but the setting, the iconic objects, and the central characters are inspired directly by John Tenniel’s original illustrations. Woolverton stages her most important textual intervention early on: as Alice and the reader are rediscovering Wonderland, the characters are debating whether this is the Alice they remember. Unaware she’s being observed, Alice speaks her signature line “Curiouser and curiouser.” The White Rabbit announces to the others, “I told you she’s the right Alice. . . . I’ve been up there for weeks trailing one Alice after the next” (“Alice in Wonderland (2010)/Script”). The “right Alice” is the only one (according to the Oraculum, the history of Wonderland’s past and future) who can end the Queen of Heart’s reign. In Woolverton’s allegory, the adult Alice is the only one who can conquer her own childhood fears.

Burton’s film includes most of the fears found in Carroll’s text and a few new ones (like the sexually predatory Knave of Hearts and the toothy, bearish Bandersnatch, mentioned but not represented in the novel). But the fears are chiefly collapsed into two menacing adults, the insane Queen and the Jabberwocky she uses to maintain her power. Burton highlights the Queen’s role as a monstrous mother: she adopts Alice during one of the latter’s giant (and consequently nude) phases, clothes her, and sets a place for her next to the throne. But she flies into a rage (“Off with her head!”) whenever her will is thwarted. Burton’s Jabberwocky is not human, but he walks more or less upright and speaks in the orotund tones of actor Christopher Lee, whose presence in the film evokes the horrific adult males Lee is known for onscreen. Tenniel’s illustration also suggests a dragon at least capable of bipedal motion, and possibly speech. The Jabberwocky could stand in for a dreadful grandfather, then, or the sinister neighbor down the street, but in any case a creature uttering nightmarish threats, like the Queen.

Alice slays the Jabberwocky. The playing card soldiers lay down their weapons, and the crown is returned to the White Queen, who sends the Red Queen and the Knave into exile. Alice has restored peace and order. Adult readers who return to the Wonderland of their childhoods can find there a place for confronting and overcoming the adult world’s insane and reckless violence, thus restoring internal peace and order. As in the original, Burton’s Alice decides not to stay in Wonderland, but to return to her world, knowing she has the courage to create a future for herself. The final scene shows her confident and purposeful, sailing off on a commercial expedition to China, another land of wonders, with the caterpillar Absolem, now a butterfly, perched on her shoulder, thus confirming Wonderland’s capacity for transformation.

Questions for Discussion:

Lewis Carroll’s Alice rarely seems afraid, despite all of the alarming situations she finds herself in. What kind(s) of courage does she display? Is “courage” the right word, or what alternatives might be better?

In the film, Alice continually insists that she is just dreaming. Berated by the other creatures for being the “wrong Alice,” she objects, “Wait, this is my dream. I’m going to wake up now and you’ll all disappear.” And facing an angry Bandersnatch, “It’s only a dream. Nothing can hurt me” (“Alice in Wonderland (2010)/Script”). Why do you think screenwriter Linda Woolverton includes these lines? What do we learn about Alice, if all of Wonderland really is her dream?

In Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat for directions:

“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round, “lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here.” (Carroll 49)

Where is “here”? That is, what place or condition is represented by Wonderland? Is it the same place in the film as in the book?

In an interview shortly after the film opened, Tim Burton said, “If you go back to Tenniel, so much of his work is what stays in your mind about Alice and about Wonderland. . . . Alice and the characters have been done so many times and in so many ways, but Tenniel’s art really lasts there in your memory” (Boucher, par. 3). Which features of Tenniel’s illustrations does Burton draw on most directly? What is useful or memorable about Tenniel’s visual conception of Carroll’s texts?

Further Reading:

“Alice in Wonderland (2010)/Script.”  Alice in Wonderland Wiki, Accessed

26 July, 2018.

Boucher, Geoff. “John Tenniel and the Persistence of ‘Wonderland.’” Los Angeles Times, 1

March, 2010, Accessed 24 July, 2018.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Edited by Donald J. Gray, Norton, 2013.

Falconer, Rachel. “Underworld Portmanteaux: Dante’s Hell and Carroll’s Wonderland in Women’s Memoirs of Mental Illness.” Alice beyond Wonderland: Essays for the Twenty-  First Century, edited by Christopher Hollingsworth, U of Iowa P, 2009, 3-22.

Moawad, Heidi. “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.” Neurology Times. 10 August, 2016. Accessed 26 July, 2018.

Newman, Kim and Mark Sinker. “Go Ask Alice.” Sight & Sound, vol. 20, no. 4, Apr. 2010, pp. 32-34.

Susina, Jan. “Alice in Wonderland.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 25, no. 1, May 2011, pp. 181-183.

South Park’s “Pip”

By Robert Sirabian, University of Wisconsin Stevens Point[1]

In a central scene in South Park’s “Pip” episode (2000), when Pip asks Miss Havisham why she makes Estella “hurt people,” she tells Pip, “Wuh-hy? Well that’s simple. Because I need the tears of broken-hearted men to use in my Genesis device. You see, my foolish child, I am growing very old. But tonight, I will fuse my soul into Estella’s once and for all. And then I can go on breaking men’s hearts for another generation.”

Miss Havisham plans, in essence, to adapt herself. She will exist in Estella, even though she will not be recognizable in her original form, while Estella will look the same but house Miss Havisham, who will ostensibly motivate Estella’s impulses, thoughts, and feelings. Miss Havisham’s Genesis device denotes both origin and generation, signaling that adaptations do not focus on a final product.

In parallel fashion, “Pip” houses Charles’s Dickens’s Great Expectations but in a provocative twist becomes a metatextual commentary on adaptation as it highlights the interdependency of multiple adapted texts and the novel. As Phyllis Frus and Christy Williams explain, “An adaptation is a text that has been changed to suit a new purpose or environment.” They add that “the new text is recognizable as a relation of the earlier text” (3; my emphasis). As a relation of Dickens’s Great Expectations (1860-61), South Park’s “Pip” reveals an astute understanding of Great Expectation’s structure and content as well as the intellectual and commercial stakes when adapting great books.

Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park is an animated sitcom that follows the shenanigans of four fourth-grade boys: Stan Marsh, Eric Cartman, Kyle Broflovski, and Kenny McCormick. Like The Simpsons, it is fueled by adolescent humor and social satire, often addressing contemporary issues. Pip is a character who makes brief appearances in South Park, relating the Great Expectations adaptation to other South Park episodes. Yet “Pip” is far from being a simplistic, crude parody of classic literature aimed at adolescent boys who do not like to read long, boring books. What makes this episode an engaging adaptation is that it lampoons itself and the process of adaptation. This metatextual commentary effectively makes references to contemporary and popular culture, satirizing Great Expectations along with a highbrow culture that idolizes classic literature. In fact, the episode’s intertexuality creates its humor. Yet as a relation of Great Expectations, it acknowledges universal themes in its creative, streamlined, humorous retelling of the story.

While poking fun at itself, “Pip” lampoons the process of adaptation, particularly literary adaptations that aim for fidelity and authenticity. The narrator (Malcolm McDowell) announces, against a background of classical music, à la Masterpiece Theater’s Alistair Cooke, “Hello, I’m a British person,” and then he claims, “Indeed, after watching this show, you’ll know the timeless classic as if you’d . . . read the Cliff Notes themselves.” In addition, the narrator’s jibes at Britishness, Dickens, and the literati signify the problem with adaptation as a form of commercial reproduction promoted, the current Masterpiece advertising campaign reminds us, as food for the mind.

Rather than aiming for fidelity to Great Expectations, “Pip” self-consciously plays with its differences from Dickens’s novel, for example its narrative, plot structure, tone, and characterization, creating an “original” show that twenty-first century viewers can relate to while they remain cognizant of the novel and its historical and cultural context. Its anachronistic and ill-informed references (e.g., Tony Blair is the king of England) as well as its bathroom humor comment on and spoof Victorian propriety and manners as well as our own cultural crassness. The use of animation, which makes London look like a Dickens village found on mantle pieces during Christmas, and recognizable cartoon characters freed from realism suggest that we should think of adaptation as biological mutation in a cultural context.

Sounding like an impromptu book report given by a high school student who never finished Great Expectations, “Pip” returns viewers to other texts it references as well as to the novel. Jeffrey Scone notes that “[s]trangely, beneath the satire, sarcasm, calculated anachronisms, and random potshots at the Brits, there is in ‘Pip’ a rather sincere attempt to come to terms with the ‘spirit’ of the novel” (185). In a pivotal, early scene from “Pip,” which introduces the themes of play, class consciousness, and romantic desire and love, Pip first visits the jilted Miss Havisham, who seeks revenge by raising Estella to break men’s hearts. She states, almost verbatim from the novel, “I sometimes have sick fancies. And I have a fancy I should like to see someone play. So, play. Play.” In Great Expectations, Pip’s confusion results because he is not given any structure for play, which he also desires in his life and finds more readily in a competitive Victorian sports culture as well as through social codes and conventions that falsely define what it means to be a gentleman. Self-conscious and disoriented by Estella, Miss Havisham’s strange appearance, and his strange surroundings, Pip plays poorly.

The South Park episode recreates this play scene as a source of humor through intertextual references that reinforce Pip as a clueless sap abused by Estella and Miss Havisham, but it also reveals important, universal themes: abuse of various kinds, social class, childhood innocence, and relationships and love. Estella suggests that she and Pip play smack-the-blond-boy-in-the-head-with-a-large-log, which he plays with his sister, a humorous substitute for the novel’s more sedate, symbolically class-based game beggar-thy-neighbor, the only card game Pip knows. The recipient of physical and verbal abuse, South Park’s Pip plays too readily, particularly evident from the looks of disbelief from Miss Havisham and Estella. Rather than acknowledging shame and guilt in a retrospective narrative, the cartoon Pip, invoking MTV’s Jackass series (2000-2002), receives physical pain without injury in a reckless attempt to achieve identity and control. Because he is used to abuse and wants what he cannot have, he is still attracted to a girl who dislikes him, a phenomenon teen viewers will understand. This phenomenon, however, also presents the novel’s linkage of abuse, pain, and love. Miss Havisham, explaining her own pain and humiliation, tells Pip, again verbatim from the novel, that true love is “blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world.” This scene, through ironic distance, reflects Victorian and contemporary sensibilities.

As Miss Havisham tells South Park’s Pip, “Things are not always what they seem,” whether they concern love or one’s great expectations, but she also gives readers a key insight into adaptation as “(re)interpretation and then (re)creation” (Hutcheon 8). In the episode’s penultimate scene, which viewers familiar with the novel will particularly appreciate since it relies on numerous intertextual connections, Pip wakes up at the forge after barely escaping Miss Havisham’s robot monkeys. He finally realizes Miss Havisham is not his benefactor and that Estella does not love him. From Joe’s example he learns a basic lesson removed from novel’s more complexly interconnected issues—that being a gentleman means being a gentle man. But determined to stop Miss Havisham, contemporary movie action hero Pip then announces, “Let’s go KICK HER ARSE!” Pip, Joe, Pocket, and Magwitch (who is killed) defeat the diabolical Miss Havisham and her robot monkeys before she can complete her transformation, a leveling of classic literature invoking The Wizard of Oz and Frankenstein as well as other Gothic, horror, action-adventure, and sci-fi films, reminding us Dickens too was aware of readers’ cultural knowledge and expectations.

Even though it was the lowest-rated South Park episode, “Pip’s” success results not only because it prevents a Victorian novel from aging but also because it showcases the genesis of adaptation. We can laugh at Miss Havisham’s plan to adapt herself—what the episode does to the novel—while appreciating that adaptation’s intertextual features are “about understanding relationships and their effects—how they work together and why they differ when they do” (Frus and Williams 12).

Discussion Questions

If you had to write a twenty-two-minute adaptation of Great Expectations (or of another Dickens novel), what scenes would you choose to adapt? Explain your choices, including the similarities to and differences from scenes in Dickens’s Great Expectations as well as in South Park’s “Pip.”

Discuss the narrator’s roles in “Pip” of telling the story while poking fun at British culture, classic literature, and the process of adaptation. How does this change the first-person narration of the novel?

South Park’s “Pip” highlights two key themes or issues that are central in Great Expectations: Miss Havisham’s pain and desire for revenge after being jilted and Pip’s class consciousness. How are gender and social class represented in the nineteenth century and today?

Discuss the role of humor in “Pip” and Great Expectations.

Further Reading

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. 1860-61. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.

Bluestone, George. Novels into Film: The Metamorphosis of Fiction into Cinema. 1957. Berkeley: U of California P, 1971. Print.

Frus, Phyllis, and Christy Williams, eds. Beyond Adaptation: Essays on Radical Transformations of Original Works. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda (with Siobhan O’Flynn). A Theory of Adaptation. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Parker, Trey. “Pip.” South Park. Season 4, Episode 14. Television.
Sconce, Jeffrey. “Dickens, Selznick, and Southpark.” Dickens on Screen. Ed. John Glavin. Cambridge, 2003. 171-87. Print.

[1] I would like to thank my colleagues who participated in the 2007 NEH Summer Seminar: “Adaptation and Revision: The Example of Great Expectations” (Directors Paul K. Saint-Amour and Hilary Schor) for the wonderful discussions that helped shaped my thinking about adaptation.

ABC’s A Christmas Carol

By Andre DeCuir, Muskingum University

Animation ultimately is the best method in conveying the importance of change in A Christmas Carol because animation, in a sense, occurs in the text itself. For example, when the young Scrooge reads alone in the schoolroom, the “exotic characters from that reading troop into the barren room and enact their familiar adventures” (Stone 15-16). Vibrant, colorful figures move about in an otherwise still room, having a “softening influence” on Scrooge. The vision gives “a freer passage to his tears” (72). An animated version of A Christmas Carol that aired on the ABC Television Network on December 21, 1971 acknowledges major themes such as the powerful flux of memory and emotion in creating flexibility necessary for significant change. The pulsating animation style of the characters and backgrounds create a world never static, always on the verge of change. Here, Scrooge can eventually pass through his crusty oyster shell into this world, diffusing kindness and generosity.

Stylistically, the film resembles John Leech’s 1843 illustrations for A Christmas Carol. The lines in the animators’ drawings, however, were not “cleaned up”; in other words, lines in the hair, faces, and clothing of the characters and in the backgrounds were not completely erased. When the drawings were filmed one by one and set in motion, lines of differing lengths and thicknesses gave another dimension of movement to the characters. A character might be standing still, but the lines within the character’s outline shift slightly, giving the character a “shimmering” appearance. In a close-up of Scrooge, the individual hairs of his eyebrows wave, and the curls of one of the gentlemen collecting for charity appear to have a life of their own.

John Leech’s illustration, “Scrooge Extinguishes the First of the Three Spirits”

This technique is most appropriate in the animation of the scenes involving the Ghost of Christmas Past, a figure Leech did not draw, perhaps due to the complexity of Dickens’s description. The ghost’s head and limbs vibrate and then divide like cells into multiple appendages, faithful to Dickens’s description: “now a thing with one arm, now one leg, now with twenty legs” (68). In addition, the features dissolve from those of a youth to those of an old man and back again. We see Scrooge quickly “morph” like the ghost, frame by frame, from a youth and adolescent in the schoolroom to a young apprentice at his desk at Fezziwig’s.

The style continues with the next two ghosts. At warp speed, the Ghost of Christmas Present whisks Scrooge to the Cratchits’ home, to the hut of miners, to a lighthouse, and to the deck of a ship on a stormy sea. Even the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come takes Scrooge and the viewer on a dizzying, zigzag route from the chamber housing the sheet-covered body to the Cratchits’ house where Bob Cratchit kneels at the bedside of Tiny Tim, muttering, “’My little child!’” (Dickens 122).

The rapid movement of the scenes, writes Sammon, “suggests the flow of time” (134). The fluid animation of the characters, coupled with the speed of the scenes, creates a malleable world where barriers will be short lived. In such a setting, significant change such as Scrooge becoming a better man overnight is inevitable.

Questions for Discussion:

Williams’s animated version only runs 26 minutes. Discuss an omission or omissions that you believe are needed in this version. Does the film make up for the omissions in other ways?

Reread Dickens’s description of the Ghost of Christmas Past. The original illustrator, John Leech, did not contribute illustrations of this ghost. Why not? What ideas about memory and change could Dickens have possibly attempted to convey through the ghost’s strange appearance? How does the animated version convey those ideas?

Harry Stone acknowledges that in the text itself, there are “rapid shifts from scene to scene, . . . telescoping, blurring” (16). The scenes in the animated feature flow quickly, almost too quickly. Discuss the significance of this flow, perhaps linking it to the flux of memory and emotion and its role in the conversion of Scrooge.

Further Reading:

Buckwald, Craig. “Stalking the Figurative Oyster: The Excursive Ideal in A Christmas Carol.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 27, no. 1, 1990, pp. 1-14.

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. The Christmas Books, Volume One. Penguin, 1985.

Guida, Fred. A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations: Dickens’s Story on Screen and Television. McFarland, 2000.

Sammon, Paul. The Christmas Carol Trivia Book: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Every Version of The Dickens Classic. Citadel, 1994.

Stone, Harry. Dickens and the Invisible World: Fairytales, Fantasy, and Novel-Making. Macmillan, 1980.

Albert Lewin’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

By Jeffrey C. Kessler, Indiana University

If Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray distilled an aesthetic attitude of the 1890s, the 1945 adaptation of the novel aspired to capture its own aesthetic of the silver-screen. According to The New York Times, that aspiration failed. At times the film feels rather melodramatic with heavy orchestral music guiding viewers’ emotions, and a narrator diminishing most of the film’s subtelty. Some of the silver screen’s classic actors are featured in Dorian Gray, including George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton, Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane, Peter Lawford as Basil Hallward, and Donna Reed as Hallward’s niece Gladys. Despite what The New York Times reviewer called the film’s “mawkish pomposity,” the film adaptation merits further attention on both aesthetic and historical grounds.

Directed by Albert Lewin, the film translates much of the original novel, though incorporating a more orientalist tone and adding a second love interest for Dorian. Reed’s character deviates from the original plot. She embodies an angel-in-the-house-like purity absent from the novel. Gladys begins the film as a child in Basil’s studio and remains in the background of the film until she grows up to be of marriageable age during the time when Dorian has become most dissolute. Towards the end of the film Dorian enters into a triangulated romantic competition between Gladys and her suitor. In fact, at the end of the film, Dorian considers repentance for the sake of Gladys in order to restore him into her graces and redeem his soul.

By including Gladys as a romantic interest for Dorian, the film washes over much of the homoeroticism of Wilde’s original novel. Instead of changing some of the suggestive dialogue or attempting to portray the sexually suggestive passages of the novel, the film affirms heterosexual norms with this change in the plot. Dorian loves not just one woman, but a second one. Even when his soul is most corrupted, he finds the possibility of redemption through heterosexual marriage.

The film may be best remembered for commissioning two original paintings to represent Dorian’s transformation: the portrait by Henrique Medina (1908-1988) showing Dorian’s original beauty and the portrait by Ivan Albright (1897-1983) showing Dorian’s corrupted soul. The film recreates the fateful painting of Dorian with particular cinematic effect. The painting appears in full Technicolor in an otherwise black-and-white film, overwhelming the viewer and literally coloring Dorian’s key moments of realization into aesthetic brilliance. One can’t help but hear Lord Henry’s words: “Sin is the only real color-element left in modern life” (31).

The paintings provide both the film’s grandest cinematic effect and its highest aesthetic ambition. While Medina’s portrait of the handsome Dorian is a remarkable work, I’ll focus on Albright’s painting of Dorian’s corrupted soul, which is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago with a number of other Albright paintings. In the film, the painting comes as a shock to the viewer with its iridescent and swirling colors infecting both Dorian’s dress and the entire painting’s atmosphere. Dorian’s dissolution manifests itself not only in his physical decrepitude but also throughout the painting’s background. Albright places on the table in the painting the knife Dorian used to kill Basil, the same knife that Dorian uses at the end of the film to destroy the painting, and, as a result, himself.

While Albright’s painting is an original twentieth-century work of art, Lewin fills the film with allusions to the nineteenth century. In the film, Dorian quotes Wilde’s poem “The Sphinx” in a playful rhyme, Basil reads Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia (1879), and the film begins with an excerpt from Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám (1859).

Although the film may be imperfect, if at times heavy-handed, it offers both students and critics a chance to think through some of Wilde’s own meditations about the critic and artist. Lewin translates the novel into a new form of art that emerges from its own moment, using technological advances in film and Technicolor as part of the film’s reimagining of Dorian. The Albright portrait is a genuine work of art in line with Albright’s other work (see his “Into the World Came a Soul Called Ida” and “That Which I Should Have Done”). Lewin’s Dorian Gray is not one work of art but a collection of different moments and attempts. If, as Wilde suggests, it is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors, this film still has a lot to show viewers.

Questions for discussion

Take some time and look at the painting by Henrique Medina, showing the youthful Dorian. How does it convey Dorian’s beauty?

Now take some time to look at the Albright painting. How does the portrait attempt to convey the corrupted soul of Dorian? What passages from the novel might have inspired Albright? What individual details contribute to this effect?

In the Preface to Dorian Gray Wilde writes that “The Critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impressions of beautiful things.” How does the film translate the novel? Can a film be a work of criticism? Is beauty something we value as students and critics?

Also in Preface, Wilde writes: “The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” Albright’s painting of Dorian is ugly, and intentionally so. Does this contradict Wilde’s definition of the artist? Can there be an aesthetics of ugliness? How so?

The film contains many allusions to Victorian literature and culture. Are they just toss-away references to the nineteenth century? Look up one of the allusions above and think about how they might resonate with other ideas in the novel or film.

Read Bosley Crowther’s review from The New York Times. Is Crowther fair to the adaptation? What does he seem to value in a film?

Works Cited and Further Reading

Albright, Ivan. Picture of Dorian Gray. Art Institute of Chicago, 1944. Oil on Canvas.

Alexander, Jonathan. “Dorian Gray In The Twentieth Century: The Politics And Pedagogy Of Filming Oscar Wilde’s Novel.” Approaches to Teaching the Works of Oscar Wilde. 75-82. New York, NY: Modern Language Association of America, 2008.

Crowther, Bosley. “‘The Picture of Dorian Gray,’ Film Version of Wilde Novel, With Hatfield and Sanders, Opens at Capitol Theatre.” The New York Times. March 2, 1945.

Ellman, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1987. Print.

Hannon, Patrice. “Aesthetic Criticism, Useless Art.” Critical Essays on Oscar Wilde. Ed. Regina Gagnier. New York: Macmillan, 1991. pg. 186-201. Print.

The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dir. Albert Lewin. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1945. Film.

Ross, Alex. “Deceptive Picture.” The New Yorker, August 8, 2011.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003. Print.

von Hagen, Kirsten. “A Picture Is A Picture Is A Picture: Filmic Transformations Of Oscar Wilde’s Novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray.” Old Age and Ageing in British and American Culture and Literature. 107-119. Münster, Germany: LIT, 2004.

Joshua Cohen’s PCKWCK

by Laurena Tsudama, University of Connecticut

Despite the popularity of adaptations of Victorian fiction, the deliberate adaptation of not just the plot or themes of a Victorian novel but also the conditions of its production is still unusual. However, that is precisely what American novelist Joshua Cohen has done in writing PCKWCK (2015), his adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers (1837). Written online in real-time, PCKWCK offered readers both a new (and, oftentimes, unusual) take on Dickens’ classic novel and an interactive experience that allowed them to engage directly with the material being written before their eyes.

mr-pickwick-addresses-the-clubCohen’s project adapts not just The Pickwick Papers but also Victorian serial publication, and PCKWCK is more a conceptual adaptation than a retelling of Dickens’ novel. PCKWCK amplifies the interactive experience that serialization presented to the Victorian reader by utilizing a similar structure, one in which readers receive parts of a novel to which they can then respond, and situating it within a digital culture that speeds up the process of author-reader exchange. Dickens’ practice of publishing his novels in serial parts created what The Illustrated London News describes as an “immediate personal companionship between the writer and the reader”: “It was just as if we received a letter or a visit, at regular intervals, from a kindly observant gossip” (“The Late Charles Dickens”). Although this sentimental image of the author-reader relationship is certainly relevant to PCKWCK as a kind of contextual backdrop, Sarah Winter’s argument that Dickens shaped “the reception of popular serial fiction into a means of gathering readers into a new constituency with democratic, participatory potentials” comes closer to how PCKWCK envisions serialization’s (and the internet’s) impact on reading (6).

PCKWCK retains some central features of The Pickwick Papers, such as a colorful cast of characters and a roving “club” whose adventures propel the narrative. Cohen’s novel follows the activities of the eponymous PCKWCK Club, a United States-based military contractor that specializes in the extraordinary rendition, interrogation, and torture of suspected terrorists. The novel’s first two chapters are narrated by a French taxi driver/aspiring novelist, born in the fictional country of “Tunubia,” who becomes a target of PCKWCK. Believing that he has finally found a publisher for the manuscript he has spent eight years writing, the narrator travels to another fictional country called “Maqajoshua_cohen-2010ma” only to be taken, interrogated, and brutally tortured by members of PCKWCK because his pen name has led them to believe he is the son of a known terrorist. The remaining three chapters of the short novel follow the PCKWCK Club’s members, whose identities and speech Cohen adapts from the participants in the website’s chatroom.

This chatroom, which appeared alongside the text of the novel, allowed PCKWCK’s readers to discuss the novel while Cohen was writing it. Between October 12th and 16th of 2015, for five hours each day, visitors to PCKWCK’s website could watch Cohen via webcam as he worked and read the novel as it progressed. PCKWCK mimics the serial format of The Pickwick Papers: Cohen wrote one chapter of the novel per day, and readers could discuss and respond to the novel before its completion, much like Dickens’ readers did. However, PCKWCK also modernizes that serial format: the novel appeared online and was produced at an incredibly rapid pace, and readers responded in the chatroom not just after Cohen completed a chapter but also during the five hours he spent writing it. Essentially, PCKWCK heightens the “democratic, participatory potentials” of serialization, which Winter identifies in Dickens’ own work, by condensing and updating the Victorian serial format to reflect the internet culture of our time (6).

For pedagogical purposes, PCKWCK is best suited to college-level work due to the violence and language it depicts. However, because the original text can only be found piecemeal online, PCKWCK is currently most useful when studied as a phenomenon rather than a text. In examining PCKWCK as both an adaptation of Dickens’ novel and a cultural artifact that seeks to mediate the temporal gap between Dickens’ moment and ours, we can discover how Cohen’s work and his working habits speak back to The Pickwick Papers by linking Victorian literary production with contemporary internet culture. The reflexive relationship between Dickens’ original novel and Cohen’s adaptation can help us understand Dickens’ role in our culture as well as allow us to use earlier Victorian models of literary production to analyze those extant today.

Questions for Discussion

Compare the online, real-time publication of PCKWCK with the print, serialized publication of The Pickwick Papers discussed by Robert Patten in “Pickwick Papers and the Development of Serial Fiction.” The two novels share an especially important feature: they both allowed their contemporary readers a feeling of connection with the author and text through serialization. Even if he did not always alter his novels to suit readers’ tastes, Dickens took immense interest in his readers’ letters, often written and sent before a novel finished its run. PCKWCK establishes a similarly responsive relationship between author and writer, but that relationship is complicated by the introduction of the trappings of modern digital culture: the presence of the webcam, the anonymity of the chatroom participants, and the speed at which the novel was written. What do the similarities and differences between Dickens’ novel and Cohen’s adaptation suggest about the relationship between the Victorian period’s literary culture and today’s? How do the two modes of publication comment on each other?

Discussion of the ethical implications of the Pickwick Club’s activities is not entirely new. Scholars have written about the novel’s utilization (and subversion) of temperance narratives, interest in reform, treatment of class, and examination of morality (see Claybaugh, Parker, and Tharaud). However, by transforming Dickens’ Pickwickians into operatives for a military contractor, and a wantonly violent and destructive one at that, Cohen’s adaptation places the question of the Pickwick Club’s ethics in a rather extreme light. Why does Cohen cast the PCKWCK Club, marked by its very name as an updated version of Dickens’ Pickwick Club, as such a malevolent entity? Does this decision reflect a negative interpretation of the original Pickwick Club; clubs, organizations, and corporations of today; or both? In what ways does Cohen’s decision comment on the Pickwick Club of Dickens’ novel, Victorian culture generally, or even today’s culture?

Cohen has said that the reason he chose to adapt Dickens’ Pickwick Papers was “The enormous pressure [Dickens] was under. The great pressures of producing that much text. It was the sense that your best inventions are the ones forced out of you” (“An Experiment in Anxiety”). Cohen reinforces this idea by casting PCKWCK’s chatroom participants as the narrator’s torturers, who torment him over the information in his manuscript. What kind of argument might Cohen be making about authorship? What commentary is he offering on Victorian and/or contemporary production of literature and entertainment?

Further Reading

Claybaugh, Amanda. “Dickensian Intemperance: Charity and Reform.” Novel, vol. 37, no. 1-2, 2003, pp. 45–65.

Cohen, Joshua. “An Experiment in Anxiety.” Interview by Andrew Leland. The Believer Logger. The Believer Mag, 15 Oct. 2015. Accessed 14 Oct. 2016.

Dickens, Charles. Life, Letters, and Speeches of Charles Dickens. Edited by Edwin Percy Whipple, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1894.

—. The Pickwick Papers. 1837. Edited by James Kinsley, Oxford UP, 1988.

Johnson, E.D.H. “Dickens and His Readers.The Victorian Web. The Victorian Web, Jan. 2000. Accessed 14 Oct. 2016.

Parker, David. “Pickwick and Reform: Origins.” Dickens Studies Annual, vol. 45, 2014, pp. 1–21.

Patten, Robert. L. “Pickwick Papers and the Development of Serial Fiction.” The Rice University Studies, vol. 61, no. 1, 1975, pp. 51–74.

PCKWCK.Useless Press. Useless Press, 12 Oct. 2015. Accessed 14 Oct. 2016.

Tharaud, Barry. “Form as Process in The Pickwick Papers: The Structure of Ethical Discovery.” Dickens Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 3, 2007, pp. 145–158.

“The Late Charles Dickens.” The Illustrated London News, 18 June 1870, p. 639. The Illustrated London News: Historical Archive, 1842-2003. Accessed 14 Oct. 2016.

Winter, Sarah. The Pleasures of Memory: Learning to Read with Charles Dickens. Oxford UP, 2011.

Andrew Davies and Sue Birtwistle’s Wives and Daughters

By Andrea Coldwell, Coker College

wivesanddaughtersThe final episode of Andrew Davies and Sue Birtwistle’s 1999 Wives and Daughters offered its viewers the happy ending that generations of Elizabeth Gaskell’s readers had missed. The adaptation garnered attention both as a new product by the team then famous for their wildly popular adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1995) and as a venture into uncharted territory. Though Elizabeth Gaskell’s reputation has grown significantly since the release of the series, in 1999 television reviewers labeled the novelist “overlooked.” In spite of this, Wives and Daughters was the first of several popular adaptations that reworked Gaskell’s novels to address twenty-first-century issues with roots in Victorian culture.1 While Davies and Birtwistle’s miniseries addresses many areas of common ground between the nineteenth century and the present, it is their ending to Gaskell’s unfinished novel that most notably draws together the themes of scientific curiosity, social and biological evolution, and colonization that play a less central role in the novel.

Elizabeth Gaskell died before completing the final chapters of Wives and Daughters, which had been serialized monthly from 1864 to 1866. This lack of closure has posed a challenge for readers as well as for the screenwriters. Although claims that “Davies has supplied the lost denouement with surprise and style,” The Sunday Telegraph quotes Birtwistle as noting, “We had quite a debate about it. It was clear what Gaskell wanted to happen. We’ve had to come up with the ‘how.’” The pair chose an ending that is both “happy” in the traditional sense of Victorian novels—Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley marry—and unconventional as well—the pair picks up with Roger’s comparative osteology just where he left off, on the plains of Africa (where to the shock of some audiences, Molly is pictured wearing trousers).

These choices in turn shape audiences’ views of what goes before. Scholar Katherine Byrne points out that Molly’s activities throughout the series accentuate her interest in science and learning, playing up what Byrne sees as merely “potential” in the novel’s heroine. Indeed, in the novel, Mr. Gibson puts careful limits on Molly’s education and accomplishments; she must struggle for every lesson beyond basics. Byrne also notes that the screen Molly is healthier than her novelistic predecessor, a young woman who would be unlikely to survive an African safari. According to Gaskell’s editor, Frederic Greenwood, Gaskell intended that Roger return to Africa alone and that the couple be united afterwards in England where he would become a famous professor at a university. In the novel, Molly’s curiosity about science is largely limited to reading. In the film however, her active investigation of plants and insects joins with the intimacy of sharing a microscope with Roger to transition her from interested hobbyist to budding amateur scientist—precisely the sort of mate who might travel with him to Africa rather than tying him to an English lecture hall.

By foregrounding scientific investigation as a bond between Molly and Roger, the series conclusion cements its emphasis on Victorian scientific inquiry. The series is full of commentary on the nature versus nurture question. For example, it expands on Gaskell’s hints about both how various young people have been raised and their innate characteristics. How is it that the two Hamley brothers differ so greatly after growing up under similar conditions, and what in Molly’s and Cynthia’s childhoods and educations resulted in their very different approaches to people and social codes?  For example, on the surface, it might seem that Cynthia is the better educated of the pair. However, both the novel and the series make it clear that her education is largely for show and that she lacks the thoughtfulness and attentiveness that Molly has been trained in throughout her life.

Likewise, the series builds on Gaskell’s allusions to the debates that raged in the 1830s concerning appropriate scientific mindsets and methodologies. Where Gaskell gives a title or a brief comment, the miniseries builds in a conversation, essentially annotating for modern audiences what well-informed middle class Victorians might already know, if only by hearsay. One example of this expansion occurs when the Hamley brothers come to dine with the Gibsons. Mr. Gibson comments on Roger’s paper (in advance of its presence in the novel), and Mrs. Gibson is drawn to ask about comparative osteology. In the course of his brief explanation, Roger notes jokingly that “it shows that we’re more nearly related to the great apes than some of us might care to think.” With Cynthia’s response that “you wouldn’t need to be a scientist to come to that conclusion,” his light tone points to the currency of the debate, even amongst nonspecialists. In the novel, the conversation between Roger and Mr. Gibson separates them: “Roger, who ought to have made himself agreeable to one or the other of the young ladies, was exceedingly interested in what Mr Gibson was telling him of a paper on comparative osteology in some foreign journal of science” (chapter 24). By dramatizing this as a general conversation, the series implies that this is a common topic of conversation, rather than one confined to men or even to scientists. Molly has found scientific books interesting, and Cynthia can follow the spirit, if not the details, of the argument. Far from being earth shattering, the debate over details of what would become evolutionary theory is offered as simply the dinner table conversation of the day.

As important is the inclusion of African scenes in the series, not excepting the final images of the newlyweds isolated in a desert landscape. The novel gives little detail about Roger’s experiences abroad, simply summarizing a few aspects of his letters to demonstrate that Molly cares more deeply about his welfare than Cynthia does. In addition to these summaries, the series shows Molly tracking Roger’s progress across a map of Africa and moving between letters and texts to learn more about the places and species he describes. More significantly, Roger himself is frequently shown making his way across desolate landscapes, the only European in the shot and in his party. He gazes at novel species and is gazed at in return by a group of African women. When he is ill, he is carried by members of his group, and he is also shown sitting in camp with them. While these scenes bring Africa into the series more vividly than its depiction in the novel, it is worth noting that viewing audiences know little more than the novel’s readers about the where’s and when’s of Roger’s trip. The Africa of the miniseries is still a monolithic continent waiting for European exploration, even as the African scenes ask viewers to consider the roles that African and colonial settings play in Victorian fiction.

Finally, though, these issues are tangential to Gaskell’s novel, in which, as Birtwistle points out in her interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gaskell offers an “authoritative feeling of what it’s like to be alive for a wide range of people. Nothing’s forced about her writing. She has great confidence to write about what are pretty ordinary lives in some cases.” Although readers and viewers love Molly Gibson, characters repeatedly note that she is just an ordinary girl. She’s not as pretty or instantly attractive as Cynthia, and even Lady Harriet labels her only “my favorite young woman.”  Yet, in the end, viewers see her embarked on the final leg of an expedition of a type that changed scientific thinking in the nineteenth century and, with that thinking, many aspects of social life. As a result, one effect of Davies and Birtwistle’s choices is that the series demonstrates the complex ways by which the lives of “pretty ordinary” people come up against questions and issues that continue to perplex and stimulate readers and viewers more than a century later.

Discussion Questions:

In Wives and Daughters, Gaskell spends a significant portion of the novel narrating emotional and thought processes in response to events. How does switching to film, where these internal monologues are translated into conversation or shots of a character thinking, alter the audience’s perception of the characters?

For the miniseries, Davies and Birtwistle created an ending to Molly’s story, something Gaskell certainly intended to do before her death, though her publisher indicated that Gaskell planned for the pair to settle in London rather than travelling to Africa. How does Davies and Birtwistle’s ending help to emphasize their interest in the changing climate for scientific investigation during the early Victorian period?  What might these choices about how to end an unfinished work tell us about the roles of conclusions in literary works?

Education for both men and women plays an important role in both Gaskell’s novel and in the miniseries. For example, Cynthia and Osbourne seem both better educated and more polished than their siblings when they’re first introduced, but both the novel and the adaptation undermine this initial judgment by showing that Roger and Molly make better use of more limited resources. What trends emerge in these discussions of social, moral, and intellectual education?  How do those trends shift when we consider gender or class as an aspect of education?

In adapting Wives and Daughters for modern audiences, Davies and Birtwistle both increase the emphasis on the details of Roger’s scientific study and shift the emphasis of discussions about his travels from African people to science. They preserve, for example, little or none of Mr. Gibson’s talk about and mimicry of stereotypes of African people. What could these changes tell us about changes in audience?  How have our perceptions of Africa changed?  What about our perceptions of science (and particularly of evolutionary biology)?

Further Reading:

Boiko, Karen. “Reading and (Re)Writing Class: Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Wives and Daughters’.” Victorian Literature and Culture 33.1 (2005):85-106.

Byrne, Katherine. “Anxious Journey’s and Open Endings: Sexuality and the Family in the BBC’s Wives and Daughters (1999).” Adapting Gaskell: Screen and Stage Versions of

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction. Ed. Loredana Salis. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. 77-95.

Endersby, Jim. “Sympathetic Science: Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and the Passions of Victorian Naturalists.” Victorian Studies 51.2 (Winter 2009): 299-320.

Greenwood, Frederic.”Wives and Daughters: Concluding Remarks.” The Victorian Web. Accessed 30 August 2016.

Gritten, David. Review of BBC Wives and Daughters, by Andrew Davies and Sue Birtwistle. The Telegraph Accessed 10 June 2016.

Gritten, David. “Will BBC’s Latest Literary Export Be the Next Jane Austen?” The Los Angeles Times, 12 August 2000, Accessed 10 June 2016.

Litvack, Leon. “Outposts of Empire: Scientific Discovery and Colonial Displacement in Gaskell’s ‘Wives and Daughters’.” The Review of English Studies 55.222 (July 2004): 727-758.

“Wives and Daughters.” Masterpiece Theatre. Web. 15 June 2016.

1.Both the miniseries North and South (2004), adapted by Sandy Welch, and the miniseries Cranford (2007), created by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, attracted wide audiences.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Great Expectations

By Chris Dickinson, Baylor University

Over shots of Florida’s Gulf Coast, an adult Finn (Alfonso Cuarón’s version of Pip, played by Ethan Hawke) tells us, “I won’t tell the story the way it happened. I’ll tell it the way I remember it” (Cuarón). Such a statement in the opening scene of Cuarón’s 1998 film lets viewers know that Mitch Glazer’s screenplay presents a fantasy about Great Expectations rather than a strict re-telling of Dickens’s novel. The changes to setting and narrative are immense: Florida’s impoverished pre-Katrina Gulf Coast (the opening shots of which are particularly striking) replaces England’s marshlands, New York replaces London, and a funded art exhibition by an unknown benefactor replaces Pip’s original “Expectations.” Despite all these “cosmetic” changes, the most profound changes in the film come in terms of character. For instance, Finn is an artist rather than a blacksmith’s apprentice, and Lustig (the Magwitch character, played by Robert DeNiro) is an Italian mobster.

Estella, played by the 26-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow, is particularly changed, though she retains the name. Cuarón believes that “it is impossible to make a contemporary film of a book about young people in love without sex” (Katz 97), and Estella is more sexualized in Cuarón’s film than in the Dickens original. Yet this focus on the sexualized body of Estella is not simply the result of setting the adaptation in 1990s America. To begin with, this focus is not just added to the narrative but replaces the original dynamic between Pip and Estella. As Pamela Katz states, “Glazer’s screenplay focused almost exclusively on the theme of unrequited love. Tugging quite forcefully on this single thematic thread, he transformed (or updated?) it into the very requited form of erotic obsession” (97). Pip’s unrequited yearning becomes, in Cuarón’s film, Finn’s psychological obsession to posses Estella’s body.

The focus on Estella’s physical body begins early in the film and continues throughout, from when the young Estella kisses Finn at the water-fountain in the decayed mansion belonging to Densmore (Cuarón’s Miss Havisham, played by Anne Bancroft), to when the teenaged Estella sexually teases Finn by allowing him to caress her leg after a formal dress dinner, to when their kiss is repeated once the two are in New York, to the afternoon in which Estella poses nude for Finn’s painting (a scene often mocked as campy), to the night in which the two finally experience sexual consummation.

The focus on Estella’s sexualized body comes at the cost of other narrative elements from Dickens’s original. Katz mentions that Cuarón wished to incorporate into the film the same class-consciousness that permeates Dickens’s novel. She is also surprised to find out that originally, Estella was meant to be a successful career-woman. Demands from the script and studio caused both of these elements to be removed from the final film.

Dickens is a product of the age in which he wrote. The attempt to bring Estella’s character into the 21st century is fraught with peril, and is the cause of much of the film’s disjointed feeling. Ultimately, the film brings the validity of “contemporizations” of classic texts as a whole into question, and because of this, challenges directors, screen-writers, and adaptation theorists to do the same.

Questions for Discussion:

Does this adaptation’s “sexualizing” of Estella harm the quality of the film as a whole, or does it help in situating the film in its contemporary setting and context? If the latter, how is this achieved?

Do you agree with Cuarón’s assertion that “it is impossible to make a contemporary film of a book about young people in love without sex”? If so, does this mean that any contemporization of a novel or play should sexualize its female characters as Cuarón’s film does? Why or why not?

Cuarón was unable to imbue this film with the same feeling of class-consciousness that is so powerfully evident in Dickens’s original novel. However, what are some ways in which a film set in 21st-century America might convey the same anxieties about class that were present in 19th-century England? What might a director do to illustrate these anxieties?

Further Reading:

Great Expectations. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. Twentieth Century Fox, 1998. Film.

Katz, Pamela. “Directing Dickens: Alfonso Cuarón’s 1998 Great Expectations.” Dickens on Screen. Ed. John Glavin. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 95-103. Print.

McFarlane, Brian. Screen Adaptations: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations: The Relationship Between Text and Film. 2008. Ed. Imelda Whelehan. London: Methuen Drama, 2008. Print.


Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon’s Goblin Market

by Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, Louisiana State University

Though Christina Rossetti’s powerful 1859 narrative poem Goblin Market might seem an unlikely source for a Broadway hit, Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon’s Goblin Market opened at New York’s tiny Vineyard Theater on October 17, 1985, starring Terri Klausner and Ann Morrison, to such good reviews that six months later it moved to Circle in the Square (a larger venue in Manhattan) for a successful run. A chamber opera requiring only two singer-actresses and a four-piece orchestra, Goblin Market has enjoyed continual production in both regional and college theaters. Most of the lyrics come almost directly from Rossetti’s luscious and memorable verse. The result is a captivating entertainment that—depending on directorial choices—works for a range of ages. Rossetti’s poem has generated a wide variety of interpretations: a Victorian children’s fairy tale, a metaphor for sexual desire, a Christian allegory, a saga of addiction and recovery, a story of sisterly affection, a representation of incest, a portrayal of prostitution’s ruthless market economy, a psychological investigation into the divided self, a portrayal of anorexia, and a feminist glorification of Sisterhood (with a capital S). In addition to being a work of theater that succeeds on its own, Pen and Harmon’s adaptation to the musical stage provides yet another way to examine Rossetti’s work.

The play is framed by a flashback. Dressed in mourning, the adult Lizzie and Laura return to their girlhood home, entering their old nursery to remember what may be a childhood game or may be something more. Once the frame is established and they have removed their black crinolines to reveal white petticoats and pantaloons, the drama follows the poem’s plot closely: Laura succumbs to the goblins’ tempting fruits and nearly dies; virtuous Lizzie saves her sister by bravely tricking the goblins into yielding the antidote without actually eating the forbidden fruit. Each actress speaks or sings her poetic character’s lines. But because there are only two actresses, each girl also plays the goblins in turn.

The play eliminates most lines that are typically used to support lesbian interpretations of the poem, such as “eat me, drink me, suck my juices / squeezed from goblin fruits for you” (lines 468-9). Unlike the poem, Lizzie brings back the physical fruit to Laura so that no live actors lick juice from the skin of another. But the possibility of a homosexual reading is reinstated through cross-gender performance. When Lizzie plays the goblins, they seduce Laura. Laura in turn plays the goblins throughout their violent assault of Lizzie.

The show’s readily available cast album and libretto work well for class discussion. Among the selections most useful for teaching is “Here They Come,” which is Pen and Harmon’s rendering of the poem’s metaphorical rape scene (lines 340-446): the women chant in disorienting counterpoint, harshly repeating the word “bite” as they rise to a feverish crescendo for an intense experience of how music can fortify poetry. Another song is “The Sisters,” a cheerful tune by Rossetti’s contemporary Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). The duet supplies the poem’s sense of the girls’ striking similarity, replacing lines often cited to back a lesbian reading of the poem (“Golden head by golden head, / Like two pigeons in one nest /. . . Cheek to cheek and breast to breast / Locked together in one nest” (184-198)) with words translated from Brahms: they are “like as like can be, / As eggs are like each other, . . . / Or one star like another, / You can’t tell her from me.” For four verses of the song, the girls sing in harmonious thirds emphasizing their supportive relationship, with Lizzie taking the higher vocal line. In the last verse, the girls’ voices become progressively discordant as they sing new words, “Now who is the loveliest one? / I am, I am, I am, I am, I am!,” with Laura repeatedly trying to get the upper hand as she grabs the higher note. The concluding “I” is sung only one note apart, gratingly. Rossetti’s poem is not often interpreted as about sibling rivalry, but this song humorously helps us to consider that possibility.

Listening to cuts from the show pairs well with looking at illustrations of the poem (beginning with the original wood cuts by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti’s brother) to compare visual and musical adaptations with Rossetti’s words.

Discussion Questions:

What is effect of framing the fantasy of Rossetti’s poem in a realistic setting in which grown women return to their childhood home after a funeral? How does providing the sense of an adult world outside the magical nursery space where goblins sell fruit change the how we interpret the story?

In much of the show, Pen and Harmon set Rossetti’s poetry to music almost exactly as Rossetti wrote it, while manipulating the words through repetition, as in “Here They Come.” How does musical embellishment serve as an interpretation of the poem, affecting our understanding of the poetry? In what ways do performance and staging also operate as an interpretation?

Pen and Harmon have written or interpolated some songs that are not based on Rossetti’s poetry. One example is “The Sisters,” emphasizing the girls’ sibling rivalry. How does the addition of these lyrics change our understanding of Lizzie and Laura’s characters? How does it affect their relationship? In what ways does it alter the meaning of the whole poem/play?

Further Reading:

Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen. Christina Rossetti and Illustration: A Publishing History. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 2002.

Pen, Polly and Peggy Harmon. Goblin Market. Dramatists Play Service. 1985.

Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems. Ed. Betty S. Flowers. London and New York: Penguin, 2001.

Weltman, Sharon Aronofsky. “Performing Goblin Market.” Essays on Transgressive Readings:  Reading over the Lines. Ed. Georgia Johnston. Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter:  The Edwin Mellen Press, 1997: 121-143.