A Project Proposal: “Adaptations of Feminism”

For my final project, I will be creating a multimodal essay on my WordPress site to present findings on the following questions: How do adaptations stay true or stray from the narrative or stylistic structures of a key piece of literature in the English cannon? How can tracing these changes through adaptations help us to understand transformations of feminist thought? In this context, adaptation works to define the continuation or extension of one author’s fictional world by other authors in written literature.

To present my findings, I will create a tab on my WordPress site entitled “Adaptations of Feminism”. This tab will include 5 individual pages: “Introduction”, where readers are introduced to my topic, its importance, and thesis; “Methodology”, where I explain my research methodology, tools, dataset, and why I decided to explore these questions in this manner; “Findings”, where I display and analyze data visualizations, as well as a series of shorter pages with findings for data visualizations and analysis for each book in my dataset; “Analysis”, where I will analyze my findings as a whole; and “Conclusion”, where I will explore my thesis further and make an overarching claim not only on the reasons why this certain research methodology has the potential to provide a new understanding of feminist thought and the impact of adaptations, but also the ways in which a digital humanities approach, specifically a distant reading approach, can possibly change the way we understand literature and its impact. It is my hope to reach a rather wide ranging audience with this project — including anyone who is interested in digital approaches to literature and/or tracing feminist thought throughout the course of history.

My data set is as follows:

  • Three texts, written by female authors, that work as the control for examining adaptation and feminism from the 19th to 21st century:
    • Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte
    • Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys (prequel to Jane Eyre)
    • All Hallows at Eyre Hall (2014) by Lucia Gray (sequel to Jane Eyre)

This group of core texts is rather unique. While Jane Eyre begins this series of adaptations, it was a purposeful choice on behalf of Jean Rhys to build off of Bronte’s original work and of Lucia Gray to build off of both Rhys’ interpretation and Bronte’s original storyline. In this way, these texts provide an interesting take on what it means to adapt an original work of literature and have a clear narrative continuation of sorts, which is useful when examining the other ways they might differ. Joyce Carole Oates notes some of these specific stylistic shifts (and similarities) between Jane Eyre and its adaptations found through a close reading approach in her piece entitled “Romance and Anti-Romance“. It is my goal to analyze 1) if these changes mark a sharp deviation from the original work, 2) what this deviation (or lack their of) implies, 3) how the tone of feminism emerges or changes as a result of these deviations, and 4) how this can align with known histories of the feminist movements.

To test my theory that we might be able to trace shifts in feminist thought within Jane Eyre and its adaptations, I have included in my dataset the following:

  • Three texts, published in the same year as these control texts and also written by female authors, that are regarded as inherently feminist and help to trace feminist thought through the 19th to 21st century:
    • Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Bronte
    • Valley of the Dolls (1966) by Jacqueline Susann
    • Big Little Lies (2014) by Liane Moriarty
  • Three pieces of writing, published in each respective century (19th, 20th, and 21st), that are classified as inherently anti-feminist to help provide a contrast:
    • Sex in Education (1873) by Edward H. Clarke
    • Washington Confidential (1951) by Jack Lait
    • Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right (2014) by Cathy Young

I have been fortunate enough to find either PDFs – which can be transformed into TXT files – or access to TXT files of the texts on Project Gutenberg. My plan is to utilize Voyant and AntConc to analyze specifically the usage of the pronouns “she” and “he” and the most frequently used corresponding verb with these respective pronouns in an effort to define a respective novel’s understanding of a woman or man. Voyant and AntConc have the capability to produce graphs and charts on these N-grams that will help to offer visual insight into my analysis. WordPress allows for the inclusion of these interactive visualizations from AntConc and Voyant, which I hope to utilize in my project. I will also be including static images — including screenshots and novel covers — that WordPress supports as well.

In this project, my overarching claim is that, through this preliminary experiment on the usage of digital distant reading and analysis, we can begin to trace the shifts of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd wave feminism across the adaptions of Jane Eyre. When tracing these shifts in literature by examining gendered verb usage, we examine the usefulness of digital scholarship in relation to literary studies, as it lends a new perspective on centuries of cultural change through the ability to distantly read. It is with this in mind that I realize my project seeks to also present an understanding of digital humanities as a valuable tool for cultural and literary analysis.

Three secondary sources I will be utilizing to ground my scholarship and for my analysis are as follows:

Ted Underwood, Topic Modeling Made Just Simple Enough

Teddy Roland, Topic Modeling: What Humanists Actually Do With It

Andrew Goldstone and Ted Underwood, What can topic models of PMLA teach us about the history of literary scholarship?

I will also be utilizing secondary sources that provide historical context on feminist movements to support my claims. It is my hope that through this historical approach to my topic, I can present the beginnings of an experiment that has the potential (on a larger scale) to provide a comprehensive understanding of time, literature, and various feminist movements.

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