N°2 | introduction : Adaptation, Revision, Translation
Suzanne Bray et Gérald Préher
The articles in this issue all started out as papers presented at an international conference entitled “Adaptation, Revision, Translation: From Life to Art, from the Page to Stage and Screen”, held at Lille Catholic University on 17th-18th June 2016 and organised in collaboration with Liverpool Hope University. The conference sought to place adaptations of all kinds in a theoretical context and to examine several, successful and unsuccessful, attempts to move from one medium to another. For this purpose, the word “adaptation” was understood in the broadest sense, making interdisciplinary and intercultural approaches possible.
Reflecting upon the new edition of her Theory of Adaptation published in 2013, Linda Hutcheon felt that the first version of her study only looked at adaptation “in terms of repetition with variation” (4). She now sees “new forms and platforms” (xix) and wonders “where to draw the line at what we call an adaptation?” (xxiv). In an endeavour to fuel the body of work already available on adaptation theory, this issue explores a variety of avenues. Some contributors have worked on textual manipulations: short stories being turned into novels or “original rewritings” of classic works of literature. History, real crime or personal recollections finding their way into fiction or film also have their place here, whether in literary classics, autobiographical works or glamorous historical bestsellers like Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2001). As Linda Seger points out, “adaptation is a transition, a conversion, from one medium to another. All original material will put up a fight, as if it were saying ‘take me as I am’” (2). How novelists, screenwriters, translators and other adapters resist that temptation and engage in the necessary reconceptualising in order to create a storyline and a new work of art is an essential part of our subject.
Some contributors have chosen to reflect, in a more traditional way, on adaptations of particular works of fiction into film or stage plays and, in a less conventional way, on fiction that derives from film or the stage. Translations and adaptations of box office hits into another language and culture are also relevant here. We can thus see in what ways Kamilla Elliott’s comments in Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate may be taken further for, according to her, “if art draws from real life, then an art adapting another art is one step further away from real life as a representation of a representation” (162). However, as we shall see, this does not prevent the adaptation from being a realistic representation of life, sometimes more so than the source work.
The first section presented here, “From Page to Screen”, explores film adaptations of works of fiction, although the four works studied do more than merely adapt a text into a different medium. Erika Thomas’s analysis of Le Feu Follet (1963) also shows how suicide is the result of an inability to adapt in real life, while Gérald Préher’s study of Rich in Love (1993) highlights Bruce Beresford’s portrayal of the American South in the process of adapting to new social conditions. David Goldie uses Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy to show the role of adaptation in all mythopoetic works, whether written or filmed, thus demonstrating the unreasonable nature of much criticism of the films. Jonathan Fruoco examines Terry Gilliam’s metafilmic adaptation of Don Quixote, which is arguably not only an adaptation from page to screen but equally a way of transforming life into art, and vice versa. Finally, Alison Offe’s study of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, examines the double process of adapting the biography of real historical characters into a subjective novel, narrated in the first person, and then into a film with an inevitably different focus.
A second, smaller, section shows two forms of adaptation to and from the stage. Suzanne Bray shows how the author Dorothy L. Sayers adapted her own play, Busman’s Honeymoon, into a novel without changing the essential message or plot. On the other hand, Amélie Moisy uses Ketti Fring’s 1957 play “Look Homeward, Angel”, an adaptation of Thomas Wolfe’s first novel of the same name, in order to reveal the flaws in the four main clichés on telling versus showing identified by Linda Hutcheon in A Theory of Adaptation.
The third section “Adapting for a New Audience” reveals some of the difficulties in the adaptation process. Anne-Frédérique Mochel-Caballero compares two more or less successful attempts to make the biblical story of King David relevant to a 20th century audience and Corinne Oster examines two wholly unsuccessful translations into English and intercultural adaptations of the French hit film Le Père Noël est une ordure, showing clearly why they failed. Louis Daniel Brodsky’s poetic evocation of Faulkner’s Quentin Compson in his Mississippi Vistas, although fully comprehensible to those who know the original corpus, remains, as Ineke Jolink demonstrates, somewhat evanescent.
The final section, “From Life to Art”, shows that the source of an adaptation is not necessarily a text or work of art. A.S. Byatt’s “Morpho Eugenia”, studied by Peter Merchant, starts with the biography of a historical figure, who serves as a springboard to more contemporary concerns. On a more personal level, Emmeline Gros shows how Julian Green adapts his own and his mother’s memories of the American South in his fiction. The two final articles transform controversial elements of American history into works of art and literature. Clara Juncker presents the African American painter Jacob Lawrence and his politically motivated art, in particular his visual adaptation of the stories he heard in childhood of the Great Migration. Percival Everett’s Watershed, examined here by Françoise Clary, is an equally political work, showing the unfortunate consequences of the United States’ Government’s Indian policy.
The Collins English dictionary defines “to adapt” as to “change something to make it suitable for a new purpose or situation.” This collection of articles shows something of the wide range of things which may be adapted in order to produce some kind of work of art and, we hope, will contribute to a better understanding of how this adaptation may be brought about.
Elliott, Kamilla. Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. 2006. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Seger, Linda. The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction Into Film. 1992. New York: Henry Holt, 2011. Print.