Narrative Techniques Victorianism Vs Modernism English Literature Essay
The late Victorian period, 1870-1900, meant the decline of Victorian values. Victorianism in its meaning was a clear cut between good and bad, right or wrong, as Victorians saw the world governed by God’s will and it was characterized by the industrial revolution, high ethical levels and the focus on middle classes. The late Victorian period however, influenced the literary trend that modernism would become and the main focus of the writings was the individual and less evaluations of the society. While Victorians and their literature were concerned about the culture in which they already were, Modernists focused towards the future and different ideas. Although back to back literary trends, one can not say that they are entirely chronologically defined periods but as well as states of mind and aesthetic values, due to the changing of the world and the perception of things. Modernism is considered to be a rebellion against ages past and one of the first examples of modernist writings that began the shift from Victorianism to Modernism, highlighting the idea of British superiority no more, was Joseph Conrad with Heart of Darkness. He, together with Henry James, are late Victorian writers who found themselves at the cross-roads between the late 19th century and the early 20th century.
The narrator is the main elements of a story, being a fictional or non-fictional entity who tells the story of a novel. The narrator is made by the author and, depending on each case, can be presented as a distinct form or as the author him/herself. The narrator exists only in the world of the story and his duty is to present the development of the story in comprehensive terms; a narrator may tell the story of a novel from his/her own point of view or from the point of view of a character.
One of the most used narrative perspectives in literature is the omniscient one. A novel containing this type of narrative presents a narrator that sees and knows everything about the world related in the story and even what the characters feel and think. The main advantage of omniscience is that the narrator is believed to be a reliable person, which only relates true events within the plot of the novel. Although an objective narrator, the omniscient narrator can sometimes judge and share his opinion about the character’s behavior.
4.1 Reliable or unreliable narrator?
The term of unreliable narrator first appeared in 1961, in Wayne C. Booth’s book The Rhetoric of Fiction. An unreliable narrator is a narrator whose trust brings up a question mark upon the reader, as a following of him/her deceiving the reader. The most often unreliable narrators are the first-person narrators but also the third-person ones can be called unreliable. Therefore a reliable narrator is the one who can be trusted, relating the story as it happened or as how it was experienced by him. "The nature of the narrator is sometimes immediately clear. For instance, a story may open with the narrator making a plainly false or delusional claim or admitting to being severely mentally ill, or the story itself may have a frame in which the narrator appears as a character, with clues to his or her unreliability. A more dramatic use of the device delays the revelation until near the story's end. This twist ending forces readers to reconsider their point of view and experience of the story. In some cases the narrator's unreliability is never fully revealed but only hinted at, leaving readers to wonder how much the narrator should be trusted and how the story should be interpreted"  .
When discussing about reliability or unreliability in terms of the narrator, there emerges some questions that the reader begins asking as he begins questioning the narrator:
1. What effect would the author produce by rendering the narrator unreliable? As a matter of fact this question has an enormous effect on the reader because once the reader perceives the narrator as unreliable, he tends to question all the "truths" that the narrator presents as being true. Following this, the reader can begin, from then on, to initiate some sort of a battle with the narrator, contradicting his portrayal of characters, situations or actions.
2. What would change interpretively if the narrator were discovered to be withholding information, misrepresenting events, or slanting the story in a way to make it suspect? As I said before, the reader will begin questioning the narrator’s objectivity; for example, in the case of a narrator who relates a story, from a historical point of view, misplacing events or presenting them at a later time then it really happened, will encourage the reader to name the narrator unreliable.
3. Would it matter what the reasons for unreliability appeared to be? It sure does matter, especially if the narrator presents the story as he does, in terms of unreliability, in order to ensure a better development of the story, in order to attract the reader and make him question the reasons the narrator had for it.
4.2 Vanity Fair: "The Puppeteer" presents…
Vanity Fair, a novel written in the Victorian period, by William Thackeray debuts by curtains rising and fair enough, ends in the same manner: "come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out"  . Thus, Thackeray appears to unite the author and the narrator as a means of creating "the puppeteer", who will place his puppets on the scene. "For after the curtain rises, the narrator appears in two roles: as a detached, seemingly objective, third-person omniscient narrator looking down on his creation and commenting upon its characters and events and, at the same time, as a character in his work who suffers the same limitations of knowledge as the other actors"  . We see two sides of his narratorial performance, as he calls him "the novelist, who knows everything" to later on admit that he does not know quite everything and that he gets help from his characters. As the novel begins to develop its plot, the narrator has not yet decided if his novel has or has not any heroes, after subtitling the novel A novel without a hero. As a first instance he is convinced that the heroine is Amelia Sedley but getting to know her better he gets to the conclusion that she is only a simple person, a transparent character which is pleased to live a life that others make for her. Later on he changes his mind and admits that "if this is a novel without a hero, at least let us lay claim to a heroine"  .
Probably one of the most important passages from the novel is this quote:" The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice"  , because here the narrator creates, through the use of the mirror, the depth of the character and how one can see who he really is only by seeing himself, as he really is, "face to face".
Becky Sharp, and later on Rebecca Crawley, portraying the human imperfection, stands at the center of the satire and irony used by Thackeray in the novel. Her rise into the high society is the main concern of the satire, and it is amplified also with the use of irony. The main difference between her and Amelia is, as critic Mark Spilka stated, that Amelia feels rather than thinks her way through life. The comical situations do not take a center stage, for they blend with satire and irony as a means of making a complex image of a certain society. The reader, however, is not left out from the range of the narrator’s sarcasm and irony. If at times the reader is addressed to as astonished, respected, beloved or good-natured reader, for certain there are times when he too is criticized, being addressed as you, as a way of accusing him of something.
Often, we see the narrator portray himself as one of the characters, or at least a witness of the things occurring in the plot: "I have heard Amelia say" or "The other day I saw Miss Trotter". However, the "I" makes some sort of confusion about its identity, but it is necessary in breaking the fictional illusion; firstly, we see that the narrator does not let the readers forget that he is the mastermind of the characters and the situations in which they are involved and at the same time participates in their "adventures", being next to them and advising them if what they did was good or wrong; secondly he introduces elements of not so important relevance into the novel: "I remember one night being in the Fair myself"  . The author’s intervention is sometimes seen under the form of a shadowed presence, such as the puppeteer who pulls the strings; sometimes the puppeteer himself makes his appearance on stage. His appearances, seen or unseen, relate the author’s opinion about the society portrayed by him or about what the characters are created to show. The omniscience of the narrator is somehow discussed by critics, in order to asses if the author emerges in the story as the narrator. Nonetheless he adopts different figures along the way, places himself on the "stage" along with the puppets and distances from them when he ends their play, putting them in a box. In a continuous movement from here to there, he accentuates his fictional status pushing the metafictional potential of the novel beyond his limit. The reality experienced in the novel, as in many cases terms from real life are inserted, is only a fictitious one. Then at the end of the novel, when the narrator closes his play, there is no shock, for it has been what it has been, a simple play that at a certain point must end.
Blending reality with fiction, Thackeray achieves to bring into discussion different names of the age (King George IV or Napoleon); further more, we find out that the action of the novel takes place years after 1815, as he comments that Apsley House and Saint George’s Hospital look different than in 1815. His narrative technique, fiction in the novel, gives the narrator the chance to mirror the world or create its own universe.
The concept of mimesis, of acting role, is the main characteristic of the characters. Vanity Fair, the imaginary world that the narrator portrays is filled with actors and buffoons, making up an interesting charade filled with bits of drama. "If the world is a fair where vanities are sold, and if external appearance and manners are valued more highly than good character and ethical conduct, then it makes sense that those who can put on the best show in public end up winners. Vanity Fair is fixated on performance and the way in which we all act out roles for the benefit of those around us. The only difference is that most of Thackeray's characters do this kind of acting subconsciously (and thus, not particularly well), while his main protagonist, Becky, is a self-aware master of the stage"  . Caught in the frenzy of acting, the characters divide themselves into several categories: those who are authentic, in public as well as in private, those who have an authentic face but only in private, and those who are so deeply caught up in performing their roles that lose their self and are not able to distinguish between reality and stage. Saying this, could we say that the heroine of Vanity Fair is a part of those who have an authentic face only in private or of those who entirely lose their self and cannot distinguish between reality and stage? Well, Rebecca clearly knew what was reality and where she had to act, and most of her life her place was "on stage", this being the only way to survive. Characters such as Becky or Barbra Crawley love to put on a show, but only if they have something to gain from it. Thus, satire and irony are used as the main means of criticizing a society and where is the case, the context puts its mark on the description of a character or place, having a double power of presenting a situation. The characters evolve throughout the novel, although not in time but in space, for they do not show any moral development but a continuous movement from here to there. Becky’s statement in which she claims that if she had had five thousand a year she would be a good person marks a definite line of what the Victorian society had become and the meaning of vanity thus transforms into the desire to own and have money.
Parody also has a central status in the novel, for it can be considered one of the narrative techniques used, forming itself from the alignment of essence with appearance. Thackeray is considered one of the arch rivals of romanticism and the heroic ideal, so he does not lose any opportunity to parody, as in the scene where Sir Pitt Crawley proposes to Rebecca. He, although claimed to be included in the British aristocracy, was in fact a drunkard and a person who could not live without the help of another.
The ending of the novel is not one in which we have a marriage or in which all turn out to be a happy ending. The narrator leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions because the novel ended as it should for no specific reasons. It ended as it did because Thackeray believed that if he were to extend the action throughout the second generations’ live, it would lead nowhere. The puppet box is thus closed, by no reasons, but as a normal end of a theatrical show. The moral design that Thackeray portrays is the one in which we are able to see that the moral judgment is never easy, as an example of Becky’s entire life. Even more, the reader acknowledges that he is not only a reader but a part of the play itself, an actor on the stage, participant in the action. Breaking the line drawn between fiction and reality, the author-narrator kindly asks the reader to see under the surface veil and discover why to a certain extent some key questions have no answer, at least from the narrator’s point of view. And, as a fictional world, in which omnia vanitas, we as readers, are not allowed to believe anything of which is said in the novel but interpret the end of the plot as our morality believes it should have ended. "When we have finished the novel, the illustration on the title page takes on a meaning unforeseen in the beginning and becomes for us the "illumination" Thackeray speaks of in the prologue. The cracked looking glass in the hand of the Manager of the Performance shows, we now understand a shattered image of self, a fragmented and discontinuous self. What the author, who had presented himself as, inter alia, omniscient narrator, puppeteer, historian, and moralist—what the author sees in his work is, in the last analysis, himself. It is a mirror held up not to nature but to himself and his "brother," the reader, "mon semblable, mon frere.""  .
More and more, the reader is placed at a certain distance from the characters and events happening, for the narrator does not want the reader to compare himself with the characters and sympathize them but distance from their feelings and objectively judge them, as a succession in the narrator’s leaving empty spaces. Thus, there is created a clear interaction between reader and narrator, with the purpose of distancing the reader from being drawn in the fiction; by this, the reader remains as objective as he was when he started reading the novel. Identifying with the narratee is a difficult term to discuss about. In no situations, the narrator wants the reader to feel compassion for the narrate and he recurs to certain situations for this not to happen, for example, the case of Dobbin’s experience with boarding school. Through this, the reader will smoothly detach himself from mixing his feelings with the narrate.
An interesting technique of the narrator is that he created situations and describes them in such a way, as to connect with the reader and made him think of the ending of that situation, to later on "crush" him, as nothing turns out to be as expected. The narrator has, in the novel, the ultimate power. He can submit his narrates to his criticism and distance the reader from the actual conflict between the narrator and narrates.
Adding up to Thackeray’s narrative techniques, he makes an extreme use of his characters and through them, he brings up critical points of the current society. Thus, the ending of the novel, depending on the reader, presents Becky’s unlikely ascension to respectability and high society. The ending in which she is involved, brings a question mark into the reader’s mind as whether she killed or not Joseph Sedley. Portraying Becky as silenced as she was in the end, could have different meanings for each reader, as there is only verbal-gossiped evidence of her guilt. While some could consider Becky’s silence as a hint towards the murder she committed, others can consider her innocent as the Victorian belief was that no woman could be capable of murder or any capital crimes.
Seen by critics as an evasive narrative due to its confusion and ambiguity, Vanity Fair is clearly one of the most controversial novel to argue with the Victorian morals and conventions. It is a realistic moral fiction, although critics thought that it can not be fiction while he creates and speaks about his characters as real human being, of which he knows everything.
Meaning and meaningless represent the two major concepts that describe Thackeray’s genius stage set and performance, as a way of portraying the self, through good or bad characters, through poor or rich characters, through high society or the lower class, through men in general and distinct personas. Nonetheless, William Thackeray falls into the category of Victorian writers and his novel, Vanity Fair, is certainly a Victorian realist writing, as his goal was to rise against the archetype of the hero of the day and, as a novel of manners, focusing of the economical problems of a particular class, portrays the society in the most realist manner as possible.
Is the narrator of Vanity Fair reliable or unreliable? For the most part of the novels, the third-person narrators appear to be reliable but there exists exceptions where the narrator’s reliability is questioned and Vanity Fair is one of them. First of all, the narrator of the novel, sometimes interrupts the development of the story and intervenes with some arguments or opinions, addressing as "I", but this point has been discussed, when I explained that he does this in order to break the fictional illusion. Another point for which he could be considered unreliable, is his misplacing historical events (the Napoleonic Wars), reaching towards the 1815s. Other than this, the narrator does not present other cases of unreliability, which makes the reader presume that his unreliability came from his desire to mix even more the narration. Twisting his retelling of events was a way for the narrator to change the characters lives around and in the context of Vanity Fair, for example Amelia’s case, was a way of trying to see if she can cope with life’s blows and raise higher than what she was expected to do.
4.3 Middlemarch: Avoiding conventional description
Just as in Vanity Fair, the idea of romanticizing something, is highly negated in Middlemarch too. However, if the narrator of Vanity Fair was mostly concerned by describing the flaws of the society, the narrator of George Eliot’s novel is more concerned with the depth of the character’s moral development.
Wanting to make a statement and distance the literature of the Victorian period from the romantic one, the narrator portrays marriage as a disappointment, through the characters wrong choices of choosing the appropriate person to have a life with. One of the most important features of the narrator of Middlemarch is that of illustrating the position of men as well, the majority of the novel relating the status of women. Doctor Lydgate’s story is the best example of the status of men and how a character can develop and change throughout the plot’s development. On the other hand modern critics tend to portray George Eliot as one of their contemporaries. The search for meaning, the knowledge and experience from Middlemarch please their interest in it.
A novel with a major moralist view, just a Vanity Fair, Middlemarch also provides the conflict of who’s who. The omniscience brought a mixture of the narrator with the author, the author being the only person who can know all the perspectives of his characters. The author many times intrudes and blends with the narrator, by giving his own perspective on things.
Once again we are faced with the problem of who the narrator is? A character introduced by Eliot in the novel to ease her way into relating events or George Eliot herself? One or another, the narrator is however the most important asset in the novel, for the help brought in the development of the story; she gives meaning to the actions of the characters. But aside from being an important help, the narrator, which at times can be seen as a character, differs, in terms of the narrator of Vanity Fair, by not taking part in the action, as the one in Vanity Fair did. Modern critics, as they embraced Middlemarch as a writing that previews the trend following Victorianism, thought that aside from the problem of the narrator and the author, there is another point to be taken into account, that of the authorial intrusion.
The narrator will have different attitudes during the novel, concerning the situations which will be related. Thus, in a period where the female novel was set to present women strictly tied up to what their status was, concerning home and family, we see a breach of the plot concerning the women. The narrator pushes the boundaries and presents another meaning, the psychological one, giving women the chance to develop also in another context.
"To appreciate the work that George Eliot has done you must read her with the determination of finding out the reason why Gwendolen Harleth "became poisonous," and Dorothea, with all her brains and "plans," a failure; why "the many Theresas find for themselves no epic life, only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity"  . We thus see a highlighting of the psychological plan, in which the characters develop, while in their normal plot, they remain static. The narrator portrays Dorothea, as well as doctor Lydgate’s internal torment and how the excessive moralism is a strong part in their lives, although they do not manage to make this an advantage.
The narrator’s main purpose is to render the moral development through a psychological plan, which intervenes in the ordinary life of the characters and turns their lives around. Along the novel, the narrator has several central concerns about the characters’ behavior. Thus, Dorothea’s character tends to be one of full moral embodiment, Lydgate is presented in the shadow of his own genius, Bulstrode seems a man with an entire established life and Rosamond appears to be a self-centered person. These characteristics are for sure given to the reader with the help of the narrator, for without the narrator’s help, the reader would never understand Dorothea’s struggle or Bulstrode’s internal torment of his past. In this manner, the narrator uses the inner conflict in order to make the character understand the layers of his/her past decisions and how these memories would come and intervene in their actual life.
How Eliot chose to create her characters is very interesting. The novel does not present any extraordinary characters who live out of common lives but ordinary ones who live in a society made up of mixed classes, which influences them in perceiving the persons they come in contact with. At first sight, there is obvious that characters establish their relationships with others by first impressions, which rather makes it sometimes hard to continue the respective relationship. Based on one first meeting, some of the characters have strong opinions about the other, which in time change and defy their expectations; each perceives the other as an unknown equation and seeks to discover the result that he/she thinks exists, to later on find out that what they expected is far from the truth; for example, young Ladislaw saw in Dorothea, for the first time they met, a different person; Lydgate believed in his turn that Rosamond was the right woman for him; Dorothea believed that her happiness stands along Casaubon. This equation, first impression-interpretation- expectation, that each character made in trying to understand the other turned out to be wrong, for the detriment of their own sake. From this point of view, we can go towards another one, the rapport between performance and reality and distinguishing between these two. For many of the characters in the novel perform rather than being genuine. The most important actress in Middlemarch is Rosamond Vincy, who just as Becky Sharp, tries to allure her husband into making things easier for her.
One of the opening passages of the novel presents the narrator describing Dorothea as different, portraying her in different clothes, distancing her from her sister Celia, who seemed to be a more usual type of person and later on, also from Rosamond,. Here, the narrator sets a clear line between the two sisters and somehow predicts how the main character, Dorothea, will begin her life.
For the most part of the novel, the reader understands the life of Dorothea Brooke, how she quickly decided to get married and resulted in a disastrous marriage, with obvious consequences in a later part of her life. However, the narrator brings these points to central stage by her way of making them be much more controversial. Dorothea’s desire to get married and have the life she imagined for her was a natural thing coming from her part, but how and who she chose to get married with, goes beyond the understanding of the reader; here, the narrator shifts from presenting her surface portrayal and goes deep into her soul, showing her desire to obtain other things through marriage. Thus, the whole novel gets a new meaning and develops under Dorothea’s search for what she imagined happiness would be. Because if Dorothea would have married Sir James Chettam, she would rapidly become a housewife and she would not be the novel’s central focus.
The plot of Middlemarch is presented by the narrator in a very distinct manner. She opens the development of the characters in an easy way, portraying them as usual characters. However, for each of them, the narrator describes a distinct part which makes the reader think that there is more to add. Thus, the characters are placed in linked connections to one another, influencing their future conflicts; this lead to the development of the multi-plot. As examples, Dorothea’s first presentation clearly sets her apart from her sister; Lydgate’s coming into town and having connections with Bulstrode could make him appear guilty for Raffles’ death; Rosamond and Ladislaw closeness raises the level of tension between Dorothea and Ladislaw. A major part of the novel is taken into account by the narrator also in terms of marriage and the connection between the two partners. The two major characters rounding up around the marriage perspective are Dorothea and Lydgate. Dorothea tries to free herself from what became a burden, because of her feeling of disconnection with others. Here the narrator tries to make a statement concerning the marital status, meaning that marriage should be the context in which one finds his/her other half. In her ordeal, Dorothea’s soul gets trapped into some kind of balloon and her feelings can not go beyond the boundary; for she could not say anything about her problems because all those to whom she could say anything are the persons who advised her to think twice before marrying Casaubon. She could not talk to her sister, to her uncle and certainly not to her husband. This is the time when the narrator intervenes and explains her torment, as an answer to the couple’s inability to connect. Another quality of the narrator of Middlemarch is that she goes way beyond the surface appearance of a character; she goes into the consciousness of different characters. For example, the narrator analyses the consciousness of Rosamond and Lydgate, after their first problems in marriage. What the narrator surprises is the fact that both of them thought for themselves and between them there was a gap, none of them being able to fill it.
Maybe one of the most important scenes from the novel, in terms of the narrator, is the one of the pier glass, in which the narrator says to relate a parable. Thus her intention is to demonstrate that the relations between the characters are connected and also, as inhabitants of the same town they will nonetheless be part of the other’s problems: "Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! The scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable"  .
"Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending. Who can quit young lives after being long in company with them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years? For the fragment of a life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web: promises may not be kept, and an ardent outset may be followed by declension; latent powers may find their long-waited opportunity; a past error may urge a grand retrieval"  – this is how the narrator decides to begin the finale of the novel. Through this passage, the narrator begins the presentation of the future of the characters and how their decisions influenced them, but also if their lives turned out to be what they craved for throughout all the development of the story, a closure for the past part of their lives. The reader discovers that Fred and Mary Garth had a happy marriage, although Fred never became rich; that Lydgate died at the age of 50 and that "he learned the value of her opinion"  [Rosamond]; that Dorothea married Ladislaw and gave up her position of a wealthy person but did not accomplish her dreams. All in all, these destinies were meant to be as they happened, for the narrator never intervened in the development of their becoming different persons, she only said different things and commented about their moral intentions and moral stability, which have not intervened in the continuity of their future. The author’s intrusion makes great sense in the novel. Thus, the comment on the character or addressing the reader make the author’s intrusion necessary for the different points of view or for the meaning of the novel. Helped by these intrusions, the reader will be able to understand better the characters in the novel and the world they live in.
Following the narrative techniques the two authors used, the reader is introduced to a better understanding of the novels. Being Victorian writers, Eliot and Thackeray used all of their knowledge concerning the narratorial point of view in trying to double the expectation of what the reader thought will encounter in the novel. All of their techniques make an important impact, as every character, part of the plot or setting is unique in its own right.
Being realist novels and talking about the reality in the novels, the reader sees the distinct connection between reality and morality, two terms which blend together and render the narrator’s point of view about the message of the novel.
Chapter 5 – Films Based-on-Novels
As many novels defined the periods in which they were written and remained in the history of literature as representative, the screening of the books came as giving a further more appreciation for the respective authors. However, in film history, and especially in the history of films based on novels, we have often seen that there are huge gaps between what the novel and the film presented; some, of course, went along with the novel, entirely respecting the plot, characters and actions but others deviated from it and although the same story, it turned into a different one, with different implications.
Both the novels studied in this thesis, Middlemarch by George Eliot and Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, have different approaches in terms of the Victorian society. The films however, received pro and con critics, and we are going to see in this chapter if the films created new meanings to the ones given by the authors or if they went on and respected the message of the books and its symbols.
5.1 Middlemarch – TV Mini Series (1994)
Middlemarch is a 1994 TV Mini Series in 7 episodes, based on the novel with the same name, written by George Eliot. Produced by BBC, it had great success, wining awards such as: Best Actress, Best Makeup, Best Original Television Music- British Academy Television Awards; Best Actress- Broadcasting Press Guild Awards; Best Dramatized Serial- Writer’s Guild of Great Britain; BBC Programme of The Year- Television and Radio Industries Club Awards. "In a 28 March 1994 review for The New York Times, Elizabeth Kolbert argued that the mini-series was a hit in Britain as it, "mesmerized millions of viewers here, setting off a mini-craze for Victorian fiction. In its wake there were Middlemarch lectures, Middlemarch comics, even a wave of Middlemarch debates. Authors and columnists argued in the London papers over whether Dorothea would, in fact, live happily ever after, whether Casaubon, if left alone, would have finished his great work and finally whether Will Ladislaw entered his marriage bed a virgin." In an 11 April 1994 review in Time magazine, John Elson also noted this fact, further stating that the series, "was a recent critical and popular success in Britain, leading to lectures and even debates on the novel"  .
A tale of passion and deceit, of innocence and blackmail, of love and disillusion- these are the first few words that describe the serialized novel of Eliot and can also be considered a statement from which the viewer can imagine the development of the novel.
The mini series of Middlemarch consists of 6 episodes in which the story of the novel is transformed into the story of the film. From the novel written by George Eliot, directors came up with the idea of making a film based on it, which will develop the same story and plot as the novel. And indeed, the film is exactly the same, with little interference and change concerning different scenes and characters. For example, in terms of the characters, we see a more soft Rosamond, not that self-centered as the character form the book but rather a sympathetic person, becoming more emotional than in the book, a more passionate and intense character; a much more accentuated Saint Theresa, with great ideals but constrained to a life in which her powers were limited for doing anything better; and in terms of scenes we see a greater embrace of industrialization as in the first scene Lydgate sees the construction of the railway as "the future".
Nonetheless, the film too presents the same message and symbols, following the lives of the two idealists of the novel: Dorothea is characterized by words such as "so much to do, so much to learn" or "great purpose in my life that would give it shape and meaning", in denial of her own present and Lydgate follows the same ideas, such as prevention and treatment or a general reform in practice although his profession was seen as a poor profession.
Although it was not the first classic serial, many people have read it, admired it and are interested in its interpretation. Middlemarch is an introduction to the tensions of this period, being a historical novel, presenting an image of where the present has come from. This can also be considered as a kind of transitional period, of progress but the fact still remains that there is no progress, everything remaining the same. Interpretation has different layers and depends on the viewer or reader as the surface of the text brings up the truth lying in the person beneath that surface reality.
Further more, after seeing the film, we see Eliot’s clear intention of writing about a world that was potentially dangerous and how the viewer can get carried away from this reality, when seeing the film. Mixing a great deal of fiction with televised drama, people are accustomed to a natural response following different scenes or discussions but in this context moral education is very important.
Knowing that Dickens or Thackeray complained about the lack of sex in their novels, Eliot presented couples that perhaps followed the nature of things and based on this fact, the film tried to breach this line, in portraying Dorothea and Casaubon or Lydgate and Rosamond in bed, but remained at this surface level, as nothing was shown but normal embraces.
The symbolism of the interlinked characters and the provincial city as a web remains pretty much the same as it has the same meaning, of linked characters, going along with each others’ decisions, of uses of energy, trying to make something of their lives but started in the kind of the provincial town. Coming back to the use of provincial, there exists a clear image of the provincial limiting and constraining background, a provincial society being a great metaphor that Eliot used in describing the stating point of her novel.
Perhaps the most challenging fact was that of transposing a book into a script and putting the reader in face of the image, which combined with music and stage effects present a visual image of the Victorian Period, first seen through the eyes of George Eliot’s novel, now through the serialized film base on Eliot’s novel.
" … and Dorothea. She had no dreams of being praised above other women, feeling that there was always something better which she might have done. If she had only been better and known better. Her full nature spent itself in deeds which left no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those being around her was incalculable, for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on historic acts and on all those Dorotheas who live faithfully their hidden lives and rest in unvisited tombs": the final words of the omniscient-authorial voice behind the scene of the serialized novel. They portray the same Dorothea or the same Saint Theresa that the novel presented, a person not being able to rise above her own condition and constrained to a life of acknowledging that dreams can not be achieved so easy.
Some viewers found the novel depressing, but at the same time realistic, presenting real problems that one could encounter in real life, ending with a feeling of sad compromise, far away form the ending presenting a happy ever after. Women readers or viewers especially are moved by Dorothea’s failure, giving her sympathy for her outcome in life. As for the other part, they see a real picture of life, with its own pro’s and con’s.
5.2 Vanity Fair: Based-on-Novel Movie (2004)
Vanity Fair is a 2004 British-American costume drama movie production, based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel with the same name. It has been nominated for the Golden Lion Award in 2004 at the Venice Film Festival.
"The peculiar quality of Vanity Fair, which sets it aside from the Austen adaptations such as "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice," is that it's not about very nice people. That makes them much more interesting" (Chicago Sun Times) / ‘The movie crams in so many of the events and characters of Thackeray's 900-page novel that the story often seems to be moving on fast-forward, pausing here and there to introduce a character, then skipping ahead - from London to the country to Brussels and on, eventually, to India"(New York Daily News) / "She has been made lovable -- and a Vanity Fair with a lovable Becky Sharp has no reason to exist. It's as if Shakespeare had put Hamlet on Prozac: What's the point?"(Boston Globe) / "This movie has precious little satirical edge. What it needs is more emphasis on the "vanity" and less on the "fair." "(Austin Chronicle)
Above are some of the critics reviews of the film made in 2004. For the reader of the novel Vanity Fair, the expectations for the movie were clear: everyone expected to see the cruel Becky Sharp. But as we know, expectations are sometimes wrong and the film presents a more "human" Becky Sharp, a Becky Sharp that says that "the only man that will enter my room will be my husband and my doctor", of course with a sense of irony and sarcasm.
Setting apart the movie from the novel, in the majority of the film, the viewer sees again in front of him the story of the fair and has flashbacks of him reading the novel, although in a much more accentuated rhythm. What the film brings, as in the case of Middlemarch, through images, sounds and especially in this film, the focus on different scenes that can be called symbols of it. The reader for sure reminded the scene in which Becky left Russell Square, heading for Queen’s Crawley. In an authentic thinking, the film focuses on the way Becky climbs the ladder of the carriage, focusing the lens exactly on the ladder, as a way of showing her beginning in her social climbing. Nonetheless, the ending or its alternate ending does not portray the cunning and scheming "heroine" of Thackeray’s novel, as Becky saying that love is vanity’s conqueror, dismisses everything that the novelist tried to do in molding the character of Becky Sharp.
Again, the symbol of the idol is presented through Amelia’s believing in her husband, even after death. The status of women is once again, as in the case of the novel, central, through lines such as "Of course it’s the women who keep the doors of society closed, they do not like outsiders to discover that there is nothing behind them" or "you are here to have children". The way of dressing, once again, just as in Middlemarch, remains central, as Becky’s dresses sets her apart from the other women. Readers of Vanity Fair remark that the two parts of the novel, before and after the war, are different, talking in terms of Becky’s person and development.
Irony and satire remain as keys for the development of the work of Thackeray, even in the film, through lines such as "I like Miss Sharp … Cesar liked Brutus and look where it got him" or "Prey for her soul…and her hundred thousand" and characters are constructed with this detail that brings much more pleasure for the viewer’s eye.
5.3 Originality or just the copy of the novel?
Opinions are shared when talking of the screenings of Vanity Fair and Middlemarch. There are readers who do not see the point of the films because the reading came first and consider that the film is just a remembering of entire pages already read. On the other hand, there are readers that cannot wait to see the screening of the novel in order to understand better the characters and the situations they went through or simply for the fact that they did not understand that well the novel.
In terms of originality, transposing a book into a script is not that hard to do when talking of people that do this for a living and it certainly does not present any originality. The originality presented when adapting a novel from its initial book comes from the effects that movie world has to offer. We have seen, as presented above, that there are innovating techniques used in order to emphasize different aspects that the novel presented as imperative; through image, focalization brings a different vision for the reader, who until then just imagined scenes or events, and gives a different perspective of how the reader perceives the situation.
At last, the screening of a book, especially a representative one, which is the case for my study, can bring different perspectives into a reader and later viewer’s eyes. Of course, it is up to him to consider if he/she chooses to believe in the fiction of the book or that of the film, as sometimes the film can distort the reality presented in the novel. The screening of a book can become useful to the reader in understanding those "dark" elements that, when reading for the first time the novel, are not that quite easy to discover.