Adaptation as an intertextual mode of practice
: British nineteenth-century literature and the Hollywood Studio era

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is an interdisciplinary study of adaptations produced in the Hollywood studio era, focussing on British nineteenth-century literature adapted between the years 1930 to 1949. Based on the critical fields of adaptation criticism and historical scholarship of film, it emphasizes adaptations in relation to production practices, examining how and why a range of British literary texts were adapted in this era. The study uses a specially-created dataset collected from the American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures, and archival evidence from the Margaret Herrick library, New York Public Library and British Film Institute. The introductory chapter provides an overview of the period, considering the impact of economic constraints, censorship, and war. This chapter argues that adaptations were an integral part of the industry in this period, driving innovation and production trends.

Following this overview of the period, five case studies are presented in order to consider the diverse range of strategies employed in the adaptation of literary texts. These focus on the screenwriting process of Universal’s Frankenstein (Whale, 1931), the production design of MGM’s David Copperfield (Cukor, 1935), the impact of censorship on two adaptations of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Stevenson, 1897?), Sherlock Holmes’ iconography, and the direction of Twentieth-Century Fox’s production of Jane Eyre (Stevenson, 1943). These chapters consider the complexity and diversity of adaptation practices as they met with different studio house styles and production trends.

Throughout this thesis, adaptation is investigated as an intertextual mode of practice. Each case study reveals how filmmakers drew on a range of non-literary sources, such as illustration, theatrical productions and radio to inform their creative processes. Following an appeal for a broader engagement of industry practices to form part of the discussion on adaptation processes, this thesis will argue that an understanding of the literary text’s prior relationship with more popular forms of culture is a necessary component to the study of adaptation. Furthermore, it will create a space for reconsidering Hollywood’s relationship to other cultural forms.  
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLaurel Forster (Supervisor), Justin Smith (Supervisor), Christine Etherington Wright (Supervisor) & Esther Sonnet (Supervisor)

Cite this