Search and Access: An Analysis of the Adaptation

For a fiction-lover like myself, different adaptations to beloved literary works are more than welcome. Many of my teenage years were spent anxiously waiting for Harry Potter and Hunger Games movie releases after reading (and eventually re-reading when the impatience became too much for me to handle) these series. Reflecting on this now, it becomes clear that much of the appeal from these series is born from this notion the adaptation – a sort of collective fan longing that propels the stories to be presented and re-presented so we can all continue to enjoy them. Still to this day (literally to this day – I have spent the better half of October thus far re-watching the Hunger Games AND the Harry Potter series) I enjoy revisiting these stories and their adaptations.

It was through the act of re-visiting that a potential distant reading project illuminated itself to me. We often think of adaptations as needing to have a different author and be substantially different in media or form to their literary counterparts in order to provide the viewer with something that will continue to captivate their interest. This got me thinking – have there ever been literary works (not including fan fiction) that build on or off a specific novel? What does this do to the narrative? When the creative form does not shift, in what ways do the authors remain loyal to the original text while also utilizing their unique style?

So, off I went, in search for a corpus of text to begin this sort of research. I set my initial literary period as anything from emerging from the year 1800 forward in an effort to keep my search wide reaching. I did however, keep my “secondary period” of text – specifically adaptations of a given work – from 1900 onward. I looked for narrative fiction primary texts and adaptations in this initial search and kept the genre undefined, as I was open to anything and everything that fell into this set of parameters. My final research parameter centered on a desire to work with feminist theory in some way, and it was this factor that ultimately determined the small corpus of texts I seek to analyze. Below are a few interesting articles I stumbled upon during this research that help to further ground my understanding of the importance and impact of adaptation – theoretical understanding that will no doubt come in handy at some point in my research project and be a space for me to add to the academic conversation:

Jane Eyre was a somewhat obvious result of this initial search, being one of the most widely read and admired novels of the Victorian age as well as what some claim to be the first “feminist” novel (a claim that has produced much debate). A sort of fan-based obsession with the characters in this narrative is one that inspired a slew of adaptations, specifically a number of well-regarded prequels and sequels that have helped to further examine the nuances of the characters. This original novel and its adaptations offer the unique opportunity to examine the feminist movement throughout the late 19th century as well as the 20th and 21st centuries.

After landing on Jane Eyre and its adaptations as a corpus of sorts, I solidified a few preliminary research questions:

  1. In what ways do literary adaptations hold true to the original novel? How does word or phrase usage change? How does this change or complicate the characters and/or the meaning of the novel?  
  2. How do the feminist goals of the narrative and its adaptations shift given the different time periods in which they are written?
  3. What does an analysis of this novel and its spin-offs demonstrate about the importance of adaptations to the literary world and beyond?

My plan for this project is to in some way distant read 3 texts – though I admit that this small list might expand to a larger one (as I said, there is no shortage of prequels/sequels from which to choose from). As of right now, my list consists of Jane Eyre (1847) along with the most “well known” or “highly regarded” (a somewhat subjective component of my data set) prequel and sequel respectively – I have landed on Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys (prequel) and All Hallows At Eyre Hall (2014) by Luccia Gray (sequel). I strategically choose books published in 3 distinctly different time periods to see how this plays a role in the feminist narrative specifically.

My plan to tackle these texts is to utilize a software of some kind to look specifically at pronoun and subsequent verb usage to better understand the ways in which these adaptations call upon that which they are adapting and stray from this original way of expression. I plan utilize intertextual, feminist, and cultural criticism in order to examine my specific research questions. As for accessing these texts, adaptations are not as easily accessible as classic works like Jane Eyre (which is available via The Project Gutenberg). Both Wide Sargasso Sea and All Hallows At Eyre Hall are available for in PDF format online. I will be able to transform those PDF documents into TXT files that can in turn be analyzed via a word analysis system for distant readings. From there, it will be about bringing meaning to the respective novels at their most basic level and, hopefully, shedding a light on the ways in which transformative novels and subsequent adaptations help to bring about a change in perspective, both for their specific audience and the greater world.

Below is an example of a distant reading project which helped to inspire this project:

Jane Austen and Civility: A Distant Reading

One Comment

  1. In your Search and Assess post, the way you insert your own reading experience and perspective into your project is expertly done. The reader is able to gain insight into your views and interests while you explore new digital approaches to your research. Jane Eyre should have a wide range of adaptations available to you. In my own reading life, I have come across the YA books Jane by April Lindner and Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, and have enjoyed looking at the way new authors adapt the original. I do believe your chosen texts should speak to temporal differences in adaptations of the text and will be interested in the final results. Perhaps engaging with data feminism from Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein’s work will help your feminist approach to the examination of the text data as you continue your research.

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