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FMMC 0490 / ENAM 0490 Novels on Screen

This tutorial explores the adaptation of nineteenth-century fiction in twentieth and twenty-first century cinema. The earliest forays into film were made while Queen Victoria was still on the throne and a striking number of these early experiments are adaptations of Victorian novels. Through the course of the nineteenth century, the novel had become a (or perhaps even the) culturally dominant art form of its day. As the century came to a close and film began to develop alongside its more venerable and established forebear, the two forms became entangled in surprising and mutually illuminating ways. This interrelationship was profound and has informed thinking about both genres at least since 1946 when Sergei Eisenstein noted a “‘genetic’ line of descent” between the two and insisted that “from the Victorian novel […] stem[s] the first shoots of American film esthetic”. In this course, we will consider how film interacted with the novel and, as it became increasingly dominant, how this shaping influence began to work in both directions. 

Adaptation offers an approach to filmmaking in which cinema and the novel come into especially close contact and, as such, this will provide the focus for our investigation. This course will consist of eight tutorials, each pairing a novel with at least one cinematic adaptation. Possible topics include:  

  • David Lean’s Dickens: Great Expectations (1860/1946)
  • Lewis Carroll and a proliferation of Alices
  • William Makepeace Thackeray and Stanley Kubrick: Barry Lyndon (1844/1975)
  • Dream and Disillusion: Michael Winterbottom, Jude (1996) and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895)
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897): from Nosferatu to Coppola
  • Making it Modern: Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) and Clueless (1995)
  • H.G. Wells and Sci-Fi: The Invisible Man (1897/1933)
  • From Page to Radio to Screen: The War of the Worlds (1897/1936/1953)
  • Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness (1899) and Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Neo-Victorianism and Layered Adaptation: Fingersmith (2002) and The Handmaiden (2016)
The City of Dreaming Spires
Waking up surrounded by Gothic architecture Studying in the Radcliffe Camera­ Strutting in high heels across cobblestones Shopping at the Covered Mar...
Veronica Popp, Spring Semester 2009, Elmhurst College