Still no real argument in my dissertation, but the prospectus is done, and now I’m trying to continue my thinking in preparation for my qualifying exam. So, right on schedule, I think I have a new direction for my argument-less dissertation. As one of my committee members pointed out, it looks like I’m partly interested in writing a reception history of sensation novels and their theatrical adaptations. In fact, adaptations are part of reception, so this could be a focus I should pursue more deeply.
I don’t have any specific ideas about this yet, but I want to record this thought, since it’s something I want to come back to. And it reminds me of the origin of my interest in this project. When I first decided to research sensation literature and adaptation, I was thinking of one of my groups of friends, who all had newly-minted master’s degrees in English, but who were all–gasp!–reading the Twilight series. I read the series, too, when I needed some brainless reading right after having finished my master’s thesis. And why do I feel the need to preface my reading of Twilight with the peer-pressure excuse (all my friends were doing it!) and the “look how smart I usually am” excuse (I have a master’s degree!)??? Because of the backlash that attends any hugely successful pop-culture phenomenon. And maybe the rhetoric of the backlash is something I should take more seriously for my project. (As it relates to sensation fiction, not to Twilight, of course.)
Here’s some of that backlash against Twilight:
But, just like with sensation fiction, there’s always a backlash against the backlash:
And since Twilight is also embroiled in issues of adaptation, I think it’s an apt enough parallel to my project. I’m not particularly interested in Twilight as a novel, a cultural object, or anything other than entertainment, really. What originally interested me about the entire phenomenon was the reactions and conversations of a group of well-educated adults who found themselves connecting with this bizarre, scoffed-at teenage fantasy. I’m interested in the jokes my friends and I told as we watched the movies (yes, in the theater), good-naturedly making fun of ourselves for watching something so…. what? Childish? Unrealistic? Feminine? I’m interested in the justifications we used, the conversations we had about the books/movies, and of course, the sensations that the movies evoked. Because, like it or not, this is a series about courtship, marriage, unregulated sex/sexual desire, the care of children, love triangles, appetite, and the grotesque body. This is the progeny of Victorian melodrama, so I think it’s as good a reason as any for starting a project on Victorian popular fiction, adaptation, and sensation.
Stay tuned for more on…. the rhetoric of the backlash!!!