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Adapting the Seduction Plot: David Copperfield 's Magdalens on the Victorian Stage

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This essay examines the very first dramatizations of David Copperfield and investigates their page-to-stage adaptation strategies. George Almar's Born with a Caul (1850), J. Courtney's David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (1850), and John Brougham's David Copperfield (1850)all struggle to adapt faithfully Dickens's bildungsroman plot, even as they amplify its melodramatic content. A dramatic shift occurs in the1860s, however, when playwrights abandon David's story altogether to prioritize the novel's sensational fallen woman plot. I illustrate how Francis Cowlery Burnand's The Deal Boatman (1863) and Andrew Halliday's Little Em'ly (1869)move beyond fidelity to Dickens's source text and instead prioritize correction, originality, experimentation, and sensation as the guiding criteria for adaptation. My conclusion argues that the significant tension between the bildungsroman plot and the seduction plot is finally reconciled after Dickens's death, when adapters begin a new cycle of corrective adaptation to commemorate the novelist's life through dramatizations of his most beloved novel.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2011

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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