Adapting the Eighteenth Century: A Handbook of Pedagogies and Practices
This collection offers successful strategies for teaching eighteenth-century studies through adaptation. We are currently in what might be termed an age of adaptation, of remix culture and transmedial forms of narrative. The past few decades have seen the emergence of new kinds of adaptations across a slew of new digital genres, as well as adaptations across traditional generic platforms, and new versions of older analog DIY forms, such as handmade zines, clothing, individual art objects, and art books. The eigh- teenth century in England and France was also a “golden age of adapta- tion.” Classical epics were adapted to mock-epics, life writing adapted to novels, novels adapted to plays, unauthorized sequels abounded, and so forth. It is fitting, then, that the long eighteenth century is itself the subject of much current popular adaptation—eighteenth-century texts and culture appear in consumer products, comics, cult mashups, fan fiction, films, network and streaming shows, novels, theater stagings, and web seri- als. In adapting eighteenth-century texts, contemporary creators are work- ing in a particularly eighteenth-century mode.
Contemporary conceptions of prose narrative arise out of the long eigh- teenth century. It is difficult to think of a comparable historical period that has engendered as many adaptations. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Jane Austen's novels have been adapted so many times that they exist as clear cultural referents. Even when our students have not read the source texts, they apprehend the iconic role of the afterlives. Students also recognize the narrative structures and thematic points of eighteenth-century narratives with whose names or particulars they are entirely unfamiliar, such as John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress or Samuel Richardson's Pamela.
Western narratives—from pop culture to the law—are haunted by eighteenth-century narratives, whose often unexamined histories provide crucial archives to our students’ contemporary imaginations, even if they are not aware of them. It is a critical commonplace that the material and sociocultural changes of the long eighteenth century shape our conception of modernity itself: scientific and technological innovations, revolutions and resistance, the rise of capitalism, empire, the expansion and contrac- tion of rights, changes to the understanding of selfhood and the limits of the human, increased access to authorship and reading, tectonic changes in technologies of power and the business of everyday life, and the list goes on.