Jason Mark Ward. the Forgotten Film Adaptations of D. H. Lawrence's Short Stories

By Franks, Jill | D.H. Lawrence Review, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Jason Mark Ward. the Forgotten Film Adaptations of D. H. Lawrence's Short Stories


Franks, Jill, D.H. Lawrence Review


Jason Mark Ward. The Forgotten Film Adaptations of D. H. Lawrence's Short Stories. Leiden: Brill Rodopi:, 2016. Pp. viii + 280. 72 Color and B&W illustrations. 82 [euro] ($106) (cloth).

Lawrence wouldn't necessarily approve of our theorizing about film and short stories, even though he was a literary critic and theorizer if ever there was one. Moreover, Lawrence hated the cinema for its mechanization and appeal to narcissism. Ronald Granofsky says it best, in D. H. Lawrence and Survival: "Film presents the illusion of life through moving picture. ... Cinema, then, is a symptom of a people who resist the life-enhancing experiences of otherness and blood knowledge in favor of sameness and ocular titillation." Yet, how much of Lawrence, and of his ever-relevant themes, are brought to us today by thirty minutes in a darkened room with Mark Partridge's Odour of Chrysanthemums, or Anthony Pelissier's The Rocking-Horse Winner! Jason Mark Ward's new book, The Forgotten Film Adaptations of D. H. Lawrence's Short Stories, also brings us pleasure in his analytical comparison of source materials and adaptations of three of the most popular of Lawrence's short stories ("The Horse-Dealer's Daughter" is the third).

I have only one negative criticism of this book. Its first two chapters are heavy on theory, which is a pity, because when Ward finally starts analyzing films and stories, at page 59, he grabs one's attention and holds it. Adding another chapter on adaptations of a fourth story, in place of the second chapter on theory, would be welcome to this reader. Ward's meticulous breakdown of everything in the mise-en-scene as well as the textual history of the adapted story is so well done that reading the two long introductory chapters is rewarded when we finally arrive at theory's application. Ward feels the need to justify producing another book on Lawrence film adaptations by proving that newer film theory replaces antiquated ideas of fidelity. His argument is sound, but it will never replace the average viewer's cry, "but it's nothing like the book, and the book is better!" Perhaps it is only in the academy that we can jettison that sentiment of fidelity to originals.

Nevertheless, the academic machine grinds on, and new adaptation theory (though tracing its origins to earlier ideas, such as reader response theory) asserts that a film adaptation is not able to recapture an original piece of work because a) the two different media necessarily render different products; b) an adaptation is never a version of the original text, but only of one's reading of the text; c) adaptations are products of their own times and creators; d) often the original text is fluid (has many versions) so it gives rise to various adaptations; and e) adaptations are evolutionary also in the sense that they adapt other adaptations. I have grossly simplified, but Ward's first two chapters expound the complexities. His thesis: "By acknowledging the role of the reader, responding to the text as a fluid entity and reconceptualizing adaptation as an evolutionary process, rather than a product to be judged, it is possible to challenge the existing critical discourse rooted in the retrospective models of fidelity, intentionality and value-judgements and chart an exciting new direction, forward."

Forward, after fifty-eight pages of theorization, means delightful close readings of several adaptations: one of "Odour of Chrysanthemums," one of "The Horse-Dealer's Daughter," and five of "The Rocking-Horse Winner." Each of these is followed by a set of color stills that amply illustrates the critical points of the chapter. With their explanatory captions, photographic clarity, and sufficient lighting (despite the Lawrentian darkness of many of the sets), these stills are laudable for their quantity, quality, and relevance to the argument. It is not easy to get a publisher to agree to print 72 mostly color illustrations, yet every film book needs them, both to make its points and to compete in the market. …

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