Screening the Novel
Course Instructor: Dr. Nancy M. West
Associate Professor/Associate Chair, English Department
Office: Tate 201
Office Hrs.: Wed., 2:00-2:45; Thurs., 11:15-12:30, and by appointment
Course Syllabus and Calendar (Fall 2004)
*Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women
Cain, James. Double Indemnity; The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cunningham, Michael. The Hours
Custom Publishing Coursepacket
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations
Orlean, Susan. The Orchid Thief
*Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein
*Stoker, Bram. Dracula
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway
*You will need to read only one of these books as part of your work for a group presentation. I will
distribute a sign-up sheet the first week of class so that you may sign up for the novel of your choice.
How do we talk about a film adaptation of a novel? The most common approach is to measure the success
of the movie by how closely it comes to capturing the ―essence‖ of the original text. Typically, viewers
grumble when a director changes the ending, adds a plot twist, cuts a character. But such complaints are
hardly fair, for they’re based on the problematic assumption that cinema, while a different medium
altogether, must nevertheless do just what a novel does. In recent years, film scholars like Robert Stam
and Brian McFarlane have developed new means of approaching film adaptation, encouraging students to
think about literature and film as two different mediums each trying to tell a ―story‖ in their own way.
They also emphasize the importance of studying film adaptations within their historical and cultural
We will study these recent approaches to adaptation by focusing on six novels and several of the movies
that have been adapted from them. The course begins with Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, a hard-to-
describe book (part novel, part autobiography, part journalistic account) that served as the basis for an
even harder-to-describe film, Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. Released last year, Adaptation raises fascinating
questions about the role of the screenwriter in Hollywood, and about which kinds of stories can be told by
mainstream cinema and which cannot. Our course will then move backward in time, focusing on a
nineteenth century novel—Dickens’s Great Expectations—that has been adapted for the screen
repeatedly. We will study several of these adaptations within their historical and cultural contexts,
discussing, among other topics, the role Dickens’s novels played in transforming Hollywood movies into
prestige products. Once we finish our study of Great Expectations, the class will divide into several
research groups, each group choosing one of three other nineteenth-century novels that have been adapted
repeatedly for the screen: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and Bram
Stoker’s Dracula. Students will be required to give a group presentation on a film version/s of these
novels, selecting not only from Hollywood feature films but from foreign films, animated films, and silent
films as well.
Following these presentations, we will turn to James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity and Billy Wilder’s
1944 film version of the same title. Together, these two provide one of the rare instances in which a film
version is considered to be far superior to its literary original. For our last case study in the course, we
will focus on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and the Pullitzer prize-winning novel that ―adapted‖ it,
Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which was itself adapted into an Oscar-winning motion picture in
2002. Together, these three works raise fascinating questions about how artists respond to each other’s
work across the boundaries of time and medias.
Attendance. I take attendance in the Tuesday and Thursday discussion classes and at the film showings on
Thursday nights. Anyone missing more than four classes will have his or her grade reduced; anyone
missing more than six classes may be dropped from the course at my discretion. Please note that this
attendance policy applies regardless of the reasons for missing a film showing or discussion class.
Students who miss film showings must make arrangements on their own to see the films. Students who
miss discussion classes are responsible for the material covered in those classes.
Thursday evening screenings start promptly at 7:00 p.m.
Discussion Board, Papers, and Exams. Blackboard contains a ―Discussion Board‖ feature that allows
members of the class to post responses to the readings and the films in this course. You are responsible
for one long or two shorter postings a week (I will provide more information on this during the first week
of class). The course requirements also include a short paper (2-3 pages), a group presentation (coupled
with another short paper), a longer research essay (8-10 pages), and a final exam.
Attendance, Class Participation: 15 pts.
Group Presentation: 20 pts.
2 short papers: 10 pts. each
Long paper: 25 pts.
Final: 15 pts.
Conflicts with Other Classes. According to the regulations of the College of Arts and Science, attendance
at regularly scheduled classes takes absolute precedence over any other exams or activities. If a professor
in another course schedules an exam during one of our Tuesday evening film screenings, that instructor is
required to give you a makeup exam. If there is any problem with this policy, please see your dean. It is
your obligation to make sure that your other class meetings and exams do not conflict with any of those
for English 7110. You should check the complete schedules of all your classes at once.
Note on Academic Dishonesty
The faculty and administration of the University of Missouri-Columbia recognize the necessity of
encouraging procedures which assure to the extent possible an academic environment in which each
student has an opportunity to be evaluated fairly on the basis of their own performance. The maintenance
of such an environment requires that both faculty and students have access to these regulations regarding
academic dishonesty and that early in each term the instructor provide the class any expectations unique
to that course.
Any formal report of academic dishonesty will be made in writing to the department chairperson and the
office of Provost. The report, which will be prepared without delay, will contain a detailed account of the
incident, supporting evidence (if appropriate), and any disposition taken by the instructor.
Notice of violations and action(s) taken will be handled in accordance with Section 6.01 of the Collected
Rules and Regulations of the University as published in the MBook. When disposition of a case of
academic dishonesty is made, a report is to be submitted to the instructor and the Dean of the school or
college in which the student accused of academic dishonesty is enrolled. Academic Integrity is expected
of all students in a University community. A charge of academic dishonesty is a serious one and can have
serious consequences if guilt is established. Discipline ranges from a warning to expulsion from the
University. In addition, the instructor may award a failing grade in the assignment, a failing grade in the
course, or may adjust the grade as deemed appropriate.
Note: The information in this syllabus is available in alternative forms upon request. If you have a
disability and need accommodations, please notify your instructor. You may also contact the Access
Office, A048 Brady Commons, 882–4696.
CALENDAR OF FILM SCREENINGS, READINGS, AND EXAMINATIONS
8/24 Introduction to the Course
8/26 ―It Wasn’t Like that in the Book‖ (Coursepacket)
Screening: Adaptation (Jonze, 2003), 114 min.
8/31 Discussion of Film
9/2 Orlean, The Orchid Thief
9/7 The Orchid Thief
9/9 ―Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today‖; ―Literary Origins and Backgrounds of the
Film‖; ―Griffith and Eisenstein: the Uses of Literature in Film‖ (Coursepacket)
Screening: Great Expectations, Episodes 1 and 2 (Connor, 1991)
9/14 Discussion of Film; ―Literary Techniques and Film Techniques‖; ―Verbal and Visual
Languages‖ (Coursepacket). Paper One Due
9/16 Dickens, Great Expectations
Screening: Great Expectations, Episodes 3 and 4
9/21 Dickens, Great Expectations
9/23 Dickens, Great Expectations
Screening: Great Expectations, Episodes 5 and 6
9/28 Dickens, Great Expectations
9/30 ―Dickens and Adaptation‖
Screening: Great Expectations (Cuaron, 1998), 111 min.
10/5 Discussion of Film
10/7 NO AFTERNOON CLASS
10/12 Group Presentations/Paper 2 Due for Group Members (Frankenstein)
10/14 Bazin, ―Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest‖; Andrew, ―Adaptation‖ (Coursepacket)
Screening: Little Women
10/19 Group Presentations/Paper 2 Due for Group Members (Little Women)
10/21 Stam, ―Beyond Fidelity: the Dialogics of Adaptation‖ (Coursepacket)
10/26 Group Presentations/Paper 2 Due for Group Members (Dracula)
10/28 Cain, Double Indemnity
Screening: Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944), 108 min.
11/2 Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice
11/4 Ray, ―The Field of Literature and Film‖ (Coursepacket)
Screening: Body Heat (Kasdan, 1981), 113 min.
11/16 Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
11/18 Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Screening: Mrs. Dalloway (Gorris, 1997), 97 min.
11/30 Cunningham, The Hours
12/2 Cunningham, The Hours
Screening: The Hours (Daldry, 2002), 114 min.
12/7 Discussion of Film
12/9 Final Exam Review