Visiting speaker, 26 May 2015: Catherine Wynne on the Victorian stage

Catherine Wynne (University of Hull) will be presenting her paper, ‘Popular Fiction in Performance: Gaskell, Collins and Stevenson on the Stage’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 26 May 2015. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48.

2015.07.wynne‘In dramatising a novel, there are many advantages but many difficulties,’ notes Bram Stoker, the theatre critic for Dublin’s Evening Mail, after viewing Wilkie Collins’s adaptation of The Woman in White (1860) at Dublin’s Theatre Royal in April 1872. Collins, he observes, saw that ‘with the set of characters which had become famous in his novel, and with the general plot of that novel, a play of absorbing interest might be written, but that it would be necessary to modify many of the details of that story.’ This paper takes its cue from Stoker’s observations by examining three popular and ‘melodramatic’ Victorian novels. I examine three adaptations of Elizabeth Gaskell’s industrial novel, Mary Barton (1848), The most famous of these is Dion Boucicault’s The Long Strike (first performed in 1866), although the more interesting ones are John Courtney’s adaptation for the Royal Victoria Theatre, Lambeth in 1851 and William Thompson Townsend’s adaptation for the Grecian Theatre in October 1861. As outlined by Stoker above, Collins adapted his own sensation novel for the stage in 1871 but J. M. Ware’s adaptation for the Surrey Theatre in 1860 rivals in its sensation detail Collins’s later adaptation. Finally, I briefly discuss two adaptations of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1888)—Richard Mansfield’s famous production and Laurence Irving’s later adaptation. Through an exploration of the processes of adaptation and the stage performances of these generically different novels this chapter considers how each dramatic rendering manipulates the original text. The varied ‘translations’ of these novels from page to stage extends our understanding of the operation of melodrama in Victorian culture. The paper considers how gender and class politics are negotiated and re-negotiated and how the productions provide an insight into the power structures of Victorian theatre.

About the speaker
Dr Catherine Wynne is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of  Hull. She is author of the Bram Stoker, Dracula and the Victorian Gothic Stage (2013) and The Colonial Conan Doyle (2002). In 2012 she edited two volumes of Stoker’s theatrical reviews and theatrical writings (Bram Stoker and the Stage: Reviews, Reminiscences, Essays and Fiction) for Pickering and Chatto. She is editor of Bram Stoker and the Gothic: Formations to Transformations (in press). She co-edited (with Sabine Vanacker) Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multi-Media Afterlives (2012) and Victorian Literary Mesmerism (with Martin Willis) in 2006. She is currently completing the first biography of the British war artist and traveller, Lady Butler.


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