Erica Sheen argues persuasively that classic English novels cast as long a shadow over academic writing on adaptation as they do over specific adaptations themselves because the replacement of individual authors by filmmakers as the producers of socially powerful discourse “effaces the presence of the intellectual in the production system” (7). In a calculated response, “the return of the adapted text to its literary origin reinforces a link [between authors and their works] that the literary field is now unable to maintain on its own terms” (8). This fetishizing of the author reaches a peak in heritage adaptations, but it is common to all adaptations of nineteenth-century novels because the authors who stand behind them, from Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad, are so readily available to be fetishized. Compared to earlier English writers, they benefit from biographies that are better known than those of Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, are more readily assimilated to the idea of a coherent and identifiable career than those of Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding, and are more intimately bound up with their work—or, at least, are more available for mythologizing in those terms in films such as Finding Neverland (2004), Miss Potter (2006), Becoming Jane (2007), and Bright Star (2009).
As Sheen’s analysis implies, however, it is not only individual authors but also the ideal figures of the individual author and the intellectual that scholarly attention to adaptation valorizes. Thus, Victorian novelists and their novels have remained as pivotal for adaptation theorists as for filmmakers. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005) treats Sterne’s novel as a frankly unfilmable challenge. But Victorian novels, with their well-ordered stories of rich and varied characters set against a believable social canvas, seem ripe for adaptation. At the same time, their often prodigious length, density of incident, accretion of detail, and psychological penetration all pose what one might call exemplary challenges to cinematic adaptation, particularly compared to the outrageous, one-of-a-kind challenges that are offered by the likes of Tristram Shandy. If Victorian culture, as Sadoff and Kucich’s contributors agree, is postmodernism’s designated other, and if nineteenth-century novelists, following Sheen’s analysis, provide unrivaled opportunities for adaptations to valorize the fading power of the figures of the author