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Tutor profile: Sean D.

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Sean D.
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Subject: Literature

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Question:

What does literary adaptation tell us about society's conception of authorship?

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Sean D.
Answer:

Since its inception, film has time and time again turned to literature, seeking to adapt classic works. Adaptations have ranged from those which sought to remain very faithful to the original source, to those that chose instead to deviate, sometimes greatly, from the author’s work. Focusing on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I shall explore how such adaptations affect our response to texts and how they allow for a debate regarding the originality of art and how much society considers art to belong to its creator. Regardless of how faithful a filmmaker seeks to be in adapting a novel to film, in the transfer from one medium to another, something will inevitably be lost. It is important, before analysing the questions that adaptation raises regarding authorship, to consider what is lost. With Pride and Prejudice, arguably the most significant weakness in being adapted to film is the loss of authorial irony. This may be seen from the novel’s opening lines, in which the narrator states ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. In transferring this line, as the vast majority of adaptations have, from an omniscient narrator to Elizabeth Bennet, authorial irony is lost and ‘the discourse of the narrator, becomes Elizabeth Bennet’s arch-knowingness’. Also significant is the inability, in the absence of an omniscient narrator (a figure rarely adopted in the primarily visual medium of film), to reveal the inner thoughts of characters that may be too personal to express through dialogue. Thus, Elizabeth’s disappointment in her father’s ‘ill-judged...direction of talents’ and his ‘exposing of his wife to the contempt of her own children’, may go unsaid, affecting the audience’s interpretation of Mr. Bennet away from the ‘authentic’ figure seen in the original text. In analysing the authenticity of adaptations in relation to their source’s authorial intention, we must first consider the idea that the texts we believe to be the ‘authoritative’ editions may not be entirely the author’s own work. Kathryn Sutherland highlights editor R.W. Chapman’s changing of a name mentioned by a character in Austen’s Emma, on the basis that he felt a printer had previously made a misprint. Sutherland claims that in such cases ‘the effect is to cast doubt on textual (authority)’. If the argument is made that adaptation is merely the translation of a piece of art into a different medium (and so, must be entirely faithful in order to be considered legitimate), this may be countered by an acknowledgement that the texts we hold to be strictly the author’s vision may themselves have been altered (as is much more so in the case with writers such as Shakespeare). Such a realisation grants the filmmaker greater freedom from the constraints of authenticity and thus, greater creative control. Primarily, adaptations come in two forms, those that seek to stay faithful to their source by retaining the plot, setting and details, and those that (for the most part at least) retain plot and character elements whilst changing the setting. The first, John Wiltshire states, seeks to ‘translate the original into another mode...under the rubric of fidelity’. In the case of Pride and Prejudice, this would be the ‘period-drama’ approach, which seeks to bring the novel to screen (be it cinema or television), conforming as closely as possible to the details expressed in the original text. Having already considered the impossibility of perfect translation from text to screen, one may see how even ‘faithful’ adaptations make some potentially significant alterations which may affect how we view the characters. Alan Davies 1995 BBC series added numerous scenes to an otherwise mostly faithful adaptation ‘to enhance Darcy’s (barely restrained) eroticism’ on the basis that he felt ‘all the previous adaptations had completely missed the fact that (the novel) is about sex and money’. Whilst these scenes may have exaggerated what was in the novel, it was merely bringing to the surface that which was already somewhat present. More interesting, is the fact that in adding Darcy’s scenes, one of which featured him symbolically shedding his clothes, a sign of his restrictions, and swimming in a lake, Davies sought ‘to give the audience a chance to see the story from his point of view as well as hers’. The significance of this is that it entirely alters the way the audience is likely to perceive the character of Darcy. Whereas in the novel, the reader’s view of Darcy is given through the eyes of Elizabeth, here they are allowed to see that he is a conflicted, complex character before Elizabeth is aware of such traits. As such, the ‘prejudice’ against Darcy, which in the novel is overcome by the reader and Elizabeth together, is never so securely instilled in the audience’s mind and so, the message of overcoming prejudice is somewhat lost. Such examples show that film-makers, rather than being simply translators, may be seen to be readers of the texts as well, and that the works they produce may be read as responses to the original texts. With the second type of adaptation, the audience may (initially at least) be mistaken into thinking that, through changing of setting, the story itself becomes drastically compromised. After all, the things which many associate with Jane Austen, rather than wit and dramatic dialogue, are grand estates and ‘pretty frocks’, associations largely reinforced by ‘faithful’ adaptations. In changing and updating settings, adaptations not only have the potential to retain the message of the novel but in some ways allow modern audiences a response closer to that of Austen’s original readers than period-dramas can manage. Bride and Prejudice, directed by Gurinder Chadha in 2004, brings the events of the novel to a modern day, international setting and in doing so allows us to view them without the preconceived notion of what an ‘Austen’ story consists of. Sutherland argues that ‘In establishing and moving across so many ethnic, geographical and cultural boundaries...Chadha has found a way to mimic and so communicate the lively difference of Austen’s social realities...to an audience who have all too easily reduced them to mere heritage consumables’. It is for this reason that Wiltshire states that adaptations which ‘can be said to destroy and then to remake the original’ are ‘more fruitful’. Although the novel’s message of not allowing first impressions to cloud our judgement may be a timeless one, in order for modern audiences to fully appreciate the social and cultural subtleties Austen explores, we must update the setting. Paradoxically, it is only through changing authorial details that the ‘spirit’ of a work may fully be retained, something which seems to entirely contradict the Leavises approach to critical reading whereby ‘each word or mark of punctuation can and will give rise to a critical insight’ and so ‘there must be no unintended (non-authorial) interference, no betrayal of textual spirit’. Adaptations such as these appear to show that it is the message conveyed by a story which is most important, and that though this message may be the author’s, strictly adhering to everything the author’s work risks endangering this message. The story seems almost to exist separately from the author. The idea of who a piece of art ‘belongs’ to becomes even more distorted when one considers works which borrow already existing artistic creations and make them their own. Such an appropriation may be seen in the television series Lost in Austen (ITV, 2008). Rather than simply updating the story to a modern setting, this series shows a twenty-first century self-confessed Jane Austen addict, Amanda Price, switching places with Elizabeth Bennet as she is thrust into the plot of Pride and Prejudice. Although the plot for the most part (at least at the beginning) loosely follows that of the novel, notable changes, such as Jane Bennet’s marrying Mr. Collins, exist. More significant, is the change to what the audience are expected to see as established characters. Whilst it is highly unlikely that Austen ever intended Caroline Bingley to be a secret lesbian as portrayed here, the novel never directly contradicts such a statement and so, the reader is forced to consider whether these characters may have lives of their own. Furthermore, the revelation in the series that Wickham, rather than the manipulative rake portrayed in the novel, is in fact an honourable martyr who lied about attempting to elope with Georgiana in order to preserve her honour, subverts the idea that the protagonists of the novel had learned, by its conclusion, not to let appearances deceive them. The characters in the series simultaneously belong both to Austen and to the series’ producers, undermining the idea that there is a single authority over artistic creations. Paula Byrne makes a point about the originality of Austen’s work, as she compares the similarity of Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas’ relationship, notably Elizabeth’s shock at Charlotte’s marrying of Mr. Collins, to one found in Hannah Cowley’s 1779 play Who’s the Dupe?. Byrne states that Austen ‘not only echoes this plot line’ but ‘even keeps the names of Elizabeth and Charlotte’. Whilst this may be weak evidence to claim plagiarism (especially considering Austen was four years old at the time of the play’s debut), Austen may well have drawn some inspiration from the play. Yet even if she wasn’t, to claim her characters are totally original is to deny that inspiration is inevitably absorbed through experience, experience which includes that which we have read. There is no artistic creation ex nihilo, but merely the adoption and variation of already existing components to create something new. As Wiltshire argues, ‘Texts...only partially belong to the original author...Redesigning and plundering the creations of the past, indeed, rather than their preservation, is a process so continuous and endemic, that it is arguable that it is the central motor of artistic development’. Absolute adaptation, the complete, uncompromised movement of art from one medium to another, is impossible, thus even the most ‘faithful’ of adaptations are in themselves signs of creation, separate from the author of the original source. In this sense adaptations are both the work of the original author and responses to this author’s text. No art can be truly original. If only on a subconscious level, the artist has been given the ability, the tools as it were, to create, thanks largely to art which has come before. All art then, is indebted to its predecessors and with adaptation this is especially the case. Yet drawing inspiration from sources (as is explicitly the case with adaptation), does not mean that credit for the new work created belongs solely to these sources. The original author is largely responsible for the adaptation, yet in making even the slightest change, whether this be dialogue, character, plot or simply the changing of medium, the new creation which arises no longer belongs strictly to the original author but to the new artist as well.

Subject: English as a Second Language

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Question:

Explain what discourse markers are, how they function in English and provide an example of their use.

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Sean D.
Answer:

Discourse markers are features of high-level English fluency that are designed to direct conversations or discourse towards a certain point, or in other words, to try to "control" communication. There are a wide range of discourse markers, such as "Oh", "right", "well", "so" or "anyway". Here we can see the such example of a dialogue involving discourse markers. "Right, it's 9 o'clock. We need to go." "Well, I'm not going, I'm too tired. Anyway, do you know where the remote is for the TV?" Here, the initial "right" is used by the first speaker to state that there is a need to leave in a more emphatic manner. The second speaker's use of "well" at the beginning of their statement is used in a similar matter and is employed here as a way of attempting to prevent any potential disagreement from the first speaker. In the final sentence, "anyway" is used to signal a change in the subject of the conversation.

Subject: US History

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Question:

Assess the view that the federal government was more of a hindrance than a help to the development of African Americans' civil rights in the period 1865 to 1992/

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Sean D.
Answer:

From the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to the state's support of the 1950s civil rights re-emergence and subsequent passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the federal authorities continued to reflect the general mood of the country in particular moments of African American history. Yet the time in-between these two benchmarks and during the period 1865 to 1992 show that whilst progress was eventually made, the federal authorities were not always entirely keen to bring it about. In terms of presidents, perhaps the greatest successes, at least during the 20th century, came under Democrats, most notably JFK and Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy, despite coming from an established white family, was seen by many as the hope for minority equality and it may be argued that there was pressure put on him as a result to pass civil rights legislature. Yet whilst there was a general move towards more equality under Kennedy with the deployment of federal troops to protect students at universities and his condemnation of the racist Southern governor’s actions at Birmingham, there was no great legislative change until Lyndon Johnson came to power. Johnson was able to exploit national sympathy over Kennedy’s assassination to pass the civil rights legislature in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which banned public segregation and the 1965 Voting Rights Act to guarantee equal terms on vote registration. This was arguably the epitome of Presidential support for civil rights. Before this, only minor work by Republicans to support Reconstruction and efforts in the New Deal made by FDR were put in place to assist African Americans yet both were faced with too great an opposition to make any real progress. After Johnson, support for civil rights slowed and save for a policy of affirmative action supported by Nixon and Gerald Ford which lost momentum under Reagan, little more of great note was done. The major issue which all presidents seemed to bring up when justifying their failure to bring in anti civil rights legislature is the same as that which was adopted by the Supreme Court, that being the States’ Right to rule its citizens without interference from federal authorities. Although some Presidents such as Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson were openly racist, the majority hid behind the idea of ‘state rights lay down in ‘Plessy V. Ferguson’ to allow everything from sharecropping to public segregation to continue in the South. The Supreme Court then, perhaps more so than the Presidents are to blame for the failure to bring about greater civil rights. In ruling that segregation was constitutional in the 1896 Plessy V. Ferguson case, the Court gave the often racist Southern State politicians the freedom to impose their bigotry on a legal scale. This policy of ‘States’ Right’ was maintained in the Supreme Court until the Gaines v. Canada case of 1938 in which it was ruled that by refusing to offer a well-qualified black student a place, the University of Mississippi was violating the Constitution’s ‘equal protection’ clause. That it took a clear violation of the Constitution and the pressure of the well supported NAACP for the Court to bring about a change is a clear sign that there was real reluctance among the judges to grant African Americans civil rights. Although their actions in Plessy v. Ferguson did a great deal of harm to the African American community, they did very little to help them besides perhaps the Griggs v. Duke Power Company case of 1971 which reflected the Presidential policy of affirmative action. The Court, for so long dominated by right wing thinkers, Republican and Democrat alike, did not greatly change its stance until the appointment of 7 liberal thinking judges by Roosevelt between 1937 and 1941, yet even then the ruling of State Rights stood firm. Another large opponent of civil rights for a good deal of time was the Houses of Congress. In the initial period of Reconstruction, Congress appeared to be the most progressive of the three branches with African American members such as Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens standing as members alongside the Radical Republican base, going so far as to over ride President Andrew Johnson’s attempt at vetoing civil rights legislature and attempting to impeach him. Yet as time went by, following the Compromise of 1877, Congress made less effort to pass civil rights legislature and by the time of the New Deal it was mostly ruled by White Democrats who were willing to unite with Republicans to oppose FDR’s New Deal and civil rights work. Congress remained fairly quiet during the civil rights ‘explosion’ of the fifties and seemed willing to allow the Supreme Court and the Presidents to over-rule State decisions. Southern state governments stand as the most obvious opposition to civil rights. It was they after all who used the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling to introduce Jim Crow Laws and from the authorities’ leniency towards the Klan in the early twentieth Century up to racist governors attack on the peaceful protestors led by King, it is clear that, at least in the South, very little was done to support civil rights for African Americans. Yet whilst they acted in such a way it is only because they were allowed to do by federal authorities that blacks were allowed to be ill treated for so long. Lyndon Johnson’s actions in intervening in the South and the Supreme Court’s eventual overturning of the ruling that segregation was Constitutional show the power the federal government had if it chose to make a difference. It was the fact that the federal authorities chose so rarely to make a difference that means they are at least partly to blame for the slow progress of the civil rights Movement. When they chose to intervene, the federal government were responsible for greater change being brought about than any other group. Yet their willingness to hide behind ‘State Rights’ for so long and that it took such pressure to be put upon them by African American groups and mass movement for change to be brought about means that, although they did eventually prove a great help, their prevailing hindrance cannot be forgotten.

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