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Dickens, Adaptation, and the Nineteenth-Century European Theatre

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Adapting Dickens (Dickens, Adaptation, and the Nineteenth-Century European Theatre)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2017-12-31

Adapting Dickens examined adaptions of the work of Charles Dickens in an European context as examples of critical translations of literary texts into new media, pedagogical forms and other languages. By exploring the dissemination and transformation of Dicken’s work in an European context the project developed new insights into the concept of adaptation which will provide important critical, theoretic and policy insights.
The project focused on adaptations as expressions of critical interpretation of primary texts as they comment and translate them into new media, other languages, and for consumption by a wide array of audiences. Drawing upon the latest developments in adaptation theory and pedagogy, the project explored new venues for researching Europe’s Dickens, developing new tools for locating, interpreting, and disseminating work on Dickens and the nineteenth-century theatre. The primary project goals were to enhance pedagogical innovation and to transfer knowledge that would enhance the study of European theatre history, literary studies, and transnational cultural exchange. The project was also designed to advance the Research Fellow’s professional development.

The project was designed to engage five core research, teaching, and public engagement objectives:
• to identify the place of Dickens within European literary and visual culture across time;
• to develop new models for approaching theatrical adaptation as trans-national translation and to understand remediation as a vehicle for the international circulation of literary texts;
• to understand how visual media and performance interpret and engage the public with literary texts;
• to develop and disseminate new methods for integrating adaptation and performance into the study of literature so as to relocate the mission of English as the development of active and cultural literacies;
• to employ the latest methods in literary and cultural studies to develop new models for engaging the public with the humanities through the dissemination of publicly relevant research and the promotion of broader cultural literacies.
A. Main research/Innovation. The primary research focused on the Research Fellow’s monograph on dramatizations of Dickens and on an assortment of shorter, article-length projects. Dissemination took place throughout the fellowship period through article publication, conference presentations, and classroom instruction activities, as well as through the development of online materials. The Research Fellow made use of primary archives and professional collaborations during the fellowship period.

The proposed article on No Thoroughfare went through several stages of development. Translations of the play into French, Spanish, and Portuguese provided further support for his argument about the theatricalized mobility of Dickens’s work across Europe in the nineteenth century. The work in progress was presented at a conference at the University of Warwick in early 2016, shortly after the term of the fellowship began. Audience feedback led to further redevelopment of the central thesis of this paper.

The production of an MLA volume of essays on teaching nineteenth-century fiction and adaptation is in progress. An initial proposal for the volume was submitted to the MLA, and feedback from a panel of reviewers has been received. The series editor has invited a complete proposal, which the Research Fellow is preparing, paying close attention to the matters outlined by the initial review panel.

Upon returning to work in January 2017, following the agreed-to suspension of fellowship activity, the Research Fellow began work on an essay on Richard Ganthony’s 1899 play A Message from Mars. As research into this play continued, the Research Fellow discovered how important its larger cultural context was. Providing a robust account of the play’s genesis, its engagement with Dickens, and its larger cultural and historical significance proved too much for a single essay. The Research Fellow has submitted a proposal for a critical edition, predicted to run to approximately eighty thousand words, to Broadview Press, which has commissioned reviews of the proposal. This research has also produced two new articles for an online platform. This work will also form the basis of a proposal for Horizon 2020.

The scholarly monograph described in the original proposal is in progress. Work on this this monograph is essential to the Research Fellow’s promotion case, the Research Fellow is fully committed to completing this portion of the project as quickly and as effectively as possible.

The primary points of transfer to a European audience occurred at conferences, both within formal presentations and informal conversations with European Research Fellows and students. The Research Fellow’s website and Wikipedia have also functioned as primary sites for public dissemination of the research: going forward, these venues will continue to serve in this capacity.
Results: Through the Fellowship period, the Research Fellow gained valuable experience working with diverse archives and gathered (and collated) a rich collection of primary and secondary materials related to Charles Dickens, his writing, and, most importantly, to the transfer and translation of Dickens’s writing to the stage (and the cinema screen) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Discoveries of the geographical and historical extent of European and global dramatizations based on Dickens were somewhat surprising, with several previously unknown dramatizations uncovered, revealing complex cultural transactions across different nations in, and beyond, Europe. For some dramas that were previously known, the Research Fellow uncovered fresh evidence that revealed more extensive lines of development and transfer, in at least one case leading to a fundamental rewriting of the cultural history of A Christmas Carol, the most frequently adapted and globally recognizable of Dickens’s texts.

Perhaps the project’s most important contribution to the state of the art is its fundamental challenge to the traditional divisions between theatre and literature, as the Research Fellow has uncovered—and publicly promoted—the close relationship—indeed, interplay—between the novel and the stage. Moreover, by exploring and exploiting links between nineteenth-century dramatizations of Dickens and cinematic appropriations of Dickens across the twentieth century, the project has complicated the neat disciplinary divisions that have traditionally separated literary history and criticism from theatre studies and film studies. The Research Fellow has made the claim (repeatedly, in conference presentations) that to read (to study and to teach) Dickens (indeed, nineteenth-century literature more broadly) in isolation from or without consideration of theatrical readerships, their entanglements within their contemporary culture, and their evolving critical and cultural signification over time. The primary thrust of the project has—and continues to be—the shifting of theatrical adaptation nearer to the center of literary analysis and literary and cultural history.

The project has produced a range of outputs including articles, book chapters, performances, drama workshops, a symposium, teaching and pedagogical material and a pan-European network working towards a bid for Horizon 2020 funding.
Message from Mars
Great Expectations Adaptation Cover