Daniel Cook and Nicholas Seager (eds), The Afterlives of Eighteenth-Century Fiction (Cambridge: CUP, 2015), 316pp. ISBN 9781107054684; £67 (hb).
In April 2016, a research network dedicated to Authorship and Appropriation was inaugurated during an international conference on the subject at the University of Dundee, where not coincidentally this present volume was also launched. Cook and Seager are leading figures in this initiative, and their collection of essays exemplifies the aims of the network in that it seeks to facilitate scholarship on adaptation by accommodating ‘[i]n addition to issues of genre, authorship, audience, and influence’, also ‘afterlives in terms of remediation: the textual (poetry, prose, and playtexts), the performative (film, opera, and theatre), and the visual (caricatures, illustrations, and photographs)’ (p. 3). This excellent collection is notable for the range of research interests that it covers and should manage to convince many scholars who do not normally read each other’s work that they are all active in one overarching discipline, namely the diverse study of adaptation.
As an alternative to ‘adaptation’, which because of its overfamiliarity is arguably now too much taken for granted, the metaphor ‘afterlife’ is repeatedly invoked in order to call attention to ‘the mutual relations between “versions” of works’ (p. 2; my emphasis) without prioritizing versions by historical precedence or hierarchies of prestige for their respective genres. The editors and all contributors start from the principle that every adaptation is to some extent an adoption too, and should not only be considered as a citation but also as an autonomous work in its own right. To study adaptations as afterlives is to give equal scrutiny to the older version and the new, taking into account the particular contingencies of genre and publication or performance context for both. This approach, as is acknowledged, owes much to the pioneering work of Linda Hutcheon, who in her Theory of Adaptation (2006) may have coined the term ‘afterlife’ in the sense that it is used here. However, the range of the genres discussed and the focus on case studies ‘aftering’ eighteenth-century fiction rather than the already widely studied adaptations of Shakespeare or Victorian novels, makes every essay in this collection a valuable contribution to the field. The contributors are internationally renowned experts on long-eighteenth-century fiction, and readers of Romantic Textualities will be glad to find that the book demarcates its period generously, so that there is plenty of room for works from the Romantic era.
The opening essay by Daniel Cook sets the tone, proving that ‘secondary authorship is intrinsic to, and often roused further by, familiar eighteenth-century writing’ by discussing how famous works by Sterne, the Fieldings and Frances Burney either are the starting points of chains of appropriation or themselves hark back to older texts (p. 37). His overview of the different authorial adaptation strategies that may be discerned in this period, which resulted from inconsistent attitudes towards the ownership of literary production, fittingly lends itself to appropriation as teaching material. Michael McKeon deals in fundamentals as well, tracing the origins of the family romance through psychoanalysis and social history using examples from Richardson, Henry Fielding, Burney and Austen, and ponders in a brilliantly understated coda on what a Freudian perspective on the continuous fascination of the theme of parentage may tell us about literary history. McKeon’s suggestion that the entire genre of the novel may constitute the ‘afterlife’ of the older genre of the romance is intriguing, but especially stimulating is his question (left unanswered) whether, with phenomena as prevalent as this, the recurrence of a given literary commonplace should be considered a historically and culturally contingent ‘convention’ or a ‘universal human motive’ (p. 68).
Leah Orr argues that the interest in criminality in eighteenth-century fiction was influenced by popular chapbook abridgements of seventeenth-century picaresque and rogue tales, which could be the ‘missing link’ between the ‘episodic plots and static characters’ of the picaresque and the more realistic eighteenth-century novel (p. 86). The brevity of the chapbook forced its ‘proprietary editors’ (to borrow a term from Cook’s opening essay, pp. 23-27) to cut their source texts down to a narrative form that is more similar to that of a novel like Moll Flanders (1722), whose exact debt to the picaresque tradition has long been a point of contention. The following essay by Sarah Raff on the echoes of The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753) in Bleak House (1852/1853) can be read in dialogue with McKeon’s preceding piece, as it views the relationship of the guardians and their wards in these respective novels as analogues to the ways that Richardson and Dickens as authors seek to assume moral guardianship and affective control over their readers.
Three essays address an aspect of ‘afterlives’ that is not often linked to the issue of adaptation: the serial or partial dissemination of texts in the periodical press, miscellanies and anthologies. The wide-ranging discussion of the appearance of eighteenth-century novels in newspapers and magazines by Nicholas Seager should once and for all do away with the persistent literary-historical misunderstanding that the serialization of fiction starts in the nineteenth century, although in this earlier period it of course had particular characteristics that are examined here as well. M.-C. Newbould explains how the novels of Henry Fielding and Sterne were repurposed well into the nineteenth century in so-called ‘beauties’, anthologies that introduced readers to the work of one or several authors by offering them the most edifying or affecting passages. The rationale behind the selection of these extracts reveals much about the period in which these successful publications appeared. Dahlia Porter provides conclusive evidence for her claim that late-eighteenth-century novelists inserted poems in their prose works in order to ‘cultivate a specific kind of afterlife for fiction in anthologies, miscellanies, periodicals, and other novels’ (p. 153). Whereas previously poetry was incorporated to augment the prestige of the often denigrated novel genre, at the end of the century poems in novels of authors such as Ann Radcliffe may have functioned as an advertisement for the source text when republished in periodicals. In those cases when such poems lost their public association with their source, as happened with poetry abstracted from novels by Charlotte Smith, they could at least bring in publicity for their author.
Several essays focus on cross-medial adaptation. David Brewer reconsiders Catherine Gallagher’s notion of ‘fictionality’ by looking at the eighteenth-century puppet theatre. His entertaining essay contains a lot of original research (on p. 177 the mysterious puppeteer ‘Madame De La Nash’ is identified as ‘most likely Fielding in drag’), but also serves as an accessible introduction to an understudied theatrical genre that was clearly important at the time. Turning to theatre on a grander scale, Michael Burden discusses opera adaptations of four famous novels: Pamela (1740), Caleb Williams (1794), Frankenstein (1818) and Ivanhoe (1820). He explains why British audiences were so appreciative of musical productions based on novels, and what kind of interferences in the source texts were deemed necessary to prepare them for the stage. Burden’s account of how the political dimension of the novels by father and daughter Godwin was transformed in their adaptations is particularly fascinating. David Francis Taylor discusses political caricaturist James Gillray’s casting of Napoleon and other public personalities in the 1803 French invasion scare as characters from Gulliver’s Travels (1726). As Taylor proves, Gillray was not uncritically chauvinist in his ‘patriotic Gulliveriana’ (p. 225), but apart from borrowing his characters from Swift, also imported into his drawings the ambiguity typical of that author.
The following essays by Robert Mayer and Jillian Heydt-Stevenson address the dominant form of cross-medial adaptation of the past century, that of novels for the screen, and both are eminently teachable. Mayer delivers a survey of film adaptations of novels by Defoe, ‘a crucial element in Anglo-American as well as post-colonial Anglophone cultural memory’, appropriated not primarily for the narratives but because they are ‘useful for the collective “permanent rewriting” of both the past and the future’ (p. 248). Heydt-Stevenson suggests a new angle to what must be the most popular subject for adaptation studies (especially among students), Jane Austen costume dramas, by contrasting the treatment of the notion of ‘happiness’ in the source text and successive film versions. By paying attention to the changing interpretations of this notion and how it is developed through plot structures, she brings to the fore the didactic aspect of the source text and its representations in our age, which is generally resistant to explicit moral instruction. More Austen follows in the closing essay, in which Peter Sabor shows how a piece of Austen juvenilia only published in 1922, the short History of England (written in 1791), inspired the history spoof 1066 and All That (1930) by Sellar and Yeatman.
As the editors suggest, ‘[f]urther studies might move beyond these textual, performative, or visual boundaries to consider in detail the use of fictional works in marketing, tourism, merchandise, and other facets of modern living’ (p. 5). This collection nevertheless succeeds in introducing the state of the art in sundry specialisms relevant to the ‘afterlives’ of eighteenth-century fiction, while delivering fresh insights and hinting at possible further research.