do (or can, or should) cinematic adaptations recreate either particular textual features or general effects produced by the literary texts they are adapting?
Even to pose this question involves several foundational assumptions. First, as Laura Carroll puts it in the chapter she has coauthored in the present volume, adaptation is “a fundamentally binary textual system, involving a book and a film pair standing in a simple and commonsensical relation of an original and a copy” (p. 227). Second, despite Bluestone’soft-quoted warning that “[i]t is as fruitless to say that film A is better or worse than novel B as it is to pronounce Wright’s Johnson’s Wax Building better or worse than Tchaikowsky’s Swan Lake” (5–6), it is reasonable to assume that there are common terms for comparing stories that are presented in modes as different as books and movies. Third, “The rhetoric of fiction is simply not the rhetoric of film, and it’s in finding analogous strategies whereby the one achieves the effects of the other that the greatest challenge of adaptation lies” (Boyum, 81). Fourth, only “a structurally constrained model of analogy” in which “films locate analogous, already complete signs in their own lexicons that approximate literary signs” (Elliott, 4) can account for the otherwise unaccountable ability of movies to provide visual (or audiovisual) equivalents of novels. Finally, the books, whether because they are literature or because they are original, provide standards for judging the relative success or failure of their adaptations.
The history of adaptation studies since McFarlane wrote Novel to Film has been a story of increasingly sustained assaults on these assumptions. Imelda Whelehan contends that films’ ability to beget their own literary offspring in the form of novelizations has “destabilize[d] the tendency to believe that the origin text is of primary importance” (3). Dianne F. Sadoff and John Kucich assemble a collection designed “to historicize postmodern rewritings of Victorian culture” in order “to begin a discussion of postmodernism’s privileging of the Victorian as its historical ‘other’ ” (xi). Sarah Cardwell rejects comparative page-to-screen analysis in favor of “a non-comparative, ‘generic’ approach” whose primary context for analysis is the common features television adaptations of