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(Re)Imagining the Nineteenth Century: Issues of Power and Process in Period Adaptation

Gilbert, Alycia. (Re)Imagining the Nineteenth Century: Issues of Power and Process in Period Adaptation. 2023. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

“(Re)Imagining the Nineteenth Century: Issues of Power and Process in Period Adaptation” explores how the historical nineteenth century is reconstructed through the transhistorical process of adapting the period’s novels into film, drama, and television. Through adaptation, creators reimagine the nineteenth century from its visuals to its social dynamics—the world of nineteenth-century texts made visible, material spaces; my work moves across the nineteenth century and into the twenty-first to ask how these ideological systems have been recontextualized into new historical imaginaries. Across this project, I focus specifically on how adaptations interpret the historical power dynamics of empire, gender, and race embedded within their literary source-texts as they reimagine these systems through the productions’ own historical contexts.

While postcolonial feminist frameworks guide this project, each chapter is driven by a methodological question about historical mediation and the process of adaptation, both within production and reception, engaging with methodological patterns that have gone understudied or even unidentified within adaptation studies. As I offer readings of adaptations of Jane Austen’s Sanditon, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, I identify compelling adaptive phenomena that merit further theorizing: completions of unfinished novels, understudied Victorian stage adaptations that mediate imperial histories, and adaptations with new temporal settings. This project argues that these adaptive phenomena help us better understand the constructedness of time and history in nineteenth-century adaptation, providing new directions for examining how adaptations shape a cultural memory of the nineteenth century and its ideological underpinnings.

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