Dr Elizabeth Mary Hammond, University of Southampton

 

A publishing and reception history of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations 1860-2012 is a commissioned monograph of approximately 110,000 words, to be published by Ashgate in 2014. The book combines approaches drawn from literary, adaptation and reception studies and book history in order to investigate the writing, publication and global impact of a novel that was indelibly shaped by the crucible of the Victorian periodical press in which it was created, but continues to have relevance to global audiences in a wide variety of media even today. This novel has had an exceptionally long and varied afterlife even by Dickens’ standards. It was pirated several times for publication and performance on both sides of the Atlantic before it was even completed, adapted, translated and reissued dozens of times in the remaining decade of its author’s lifetime (not always with his consent), and has spawned numerous adaptations and spin-offs ever since, including catch-phrases, silent movies, an abandoned André Previn musical, novels by Kathy Acker, Peter Carey and Lloyd Jones, pop songs, a South Park episode, and a poem by Carol Ann Duffy. In addition to providing the fullest account yet available to students and scholars of this novel’s multiple lives and their reception by audiences and critics over a century and a half – a resource useful in and of itself – I argue that the value of such a close focus on a single text extends far beyond Dickens scholarship or even Victorian Studies. This ‘biography of a novel’, I suggest, enables a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of cross-cultural, cross-media translation more broadly. It will shed new light on a range of issues including the politics of translation and of censorship, the interactive histories of various branches of the global media industries, the ways in which national and other identities are represented (or resisted) through and by cultural artefacts, and the ways in which these representations and appropriations change over time.

By collating previously scattered information on the novel’s creation, dissemination and reception gathered from archives in Britain and the US, through a range of recently available electronic resources, and via interviews with modern adaptors, I ask the following key questions: how did this novel’s creation under the specific conditions of the periodical market of the 1860s, and during a period of considerable upheaval in its creator’s personal and professional lives, affect its form and its central thematic concerns? Which aspects of this much-reprinted and adapted novel retain their power over time and space and across different contexts? What is the historical significance of the novel’s adaptation in each instance: are there patterns, trends or shared cultural concerns in these various incarnations? What can their repeated translation and re-casting tell us about the ways in which media industries and audience expectations interact, and old cultural icons serve new needs? The book contains 4 sections. Section 1 explores Dickens’ own complicated life in the late 1850s and early 1860s and its impact on his writing of Great Expectations, generally acknowledged to be the first novel of his late ‘darker’ period and one of his most innovative and autobiographical. This section situates the work within recent critical debates about the periodical press, authority, authorship, and the relationship between biography and fiction. Section 2 covers the distribution of the novel over time and space, discussing in depth key editions, translations, adaptations and re-castings. Section 3 focuses on the critical and general reception of the various versions, drawing on published and unpublished sources and electronic resources for reader and audience response. Section 4 comprises appendices of editions, translations, adaptations and spin-offs, a selection of critical reviews, and transcripts of interviews with modern adaptors.

 

 

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