Adapting Affect: Cognition, Emotion, and Identity from Novel to Film




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Affect and emotion are modes of human communication that help us convey and receive meaning. Literature and film are two of the major art forms that allow such communication as each medium is composed of formal choices and possibilities that express, evoke, and negotiate emotions that appeal to the cognitive and affective faculties of the human mind, body, and brain. One of the greatest capacities of film is its ability to adapt other media, but the relationship between film and literature has been ambivalent and confrontational as well as mutually enriching.

Each medium has unique conventions and possibilities, and yet both are able to create and manage deeply affective experiences. My study aims to show the practical potential of affect and cognitive theory in their application to literary and film studies—in particular, how a study of adaptation from novels to film via affect helps to shift the debate away from adaptation studies’ usual concerns with originality and fidelity, style, and narration by refocusing on the formal construction and power of art works in their unique capacities to engage our feeling brains and aesthetic minds.

By bridging science and the humanities, this project adapts key ideas from related fields such as biology, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology in conjunction with traditional theories from and studies in the humanities. By joining the on-going conversations exploring the approaches we take when evaluating the relationship between literature and film, I expect to inform our understanding of how scientific research on emotion and affect can shine light on and provide a valuable framework for rethinking issues of adaptation from literature to film.

Through comparative discussion and evaluation of five nineteenth-century British novels—Emma (1816), Persuasion (1818), Jane Eyre (1847), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1892)—and their selected film adaptations, I investigate how films manage a translation of affect by exploring the full potential of cinematic techniques that are inspired by original literary sources. In the final chapter of my project, I inquire into how my proposed framework might spark interest in studying other forms of adaptation such as the biopic. I use Ron Howard’s film A Beautiful Mind (2001)—an adaptation of the biography A Beautiful Mind (Sylvia Nasar 1998)—as a case study. I conclude that an interdisciplinary approach is key to investigating the core factors in each art form (literature and film) that shape our narrative reading and viewing as well as how such aesthetic experiences might, in turn, affect our understanding of the self and our relationship with others, socially, culturally, and historically.



Affect (Psychology) in literature, Emotions in literature, Emotions in motion pictures, Film adaptations, Science and the humanities, Austen, Jane, 1775-1817. Emma—Film adaptations, Austen, Jane, 1775-1817. Persuasion—Film adaptations, Brontë, Charlotte, 1816-1855. Jane Eyre—Film adaptations, Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894. Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—Film adaptations, Hardy, Thomas, 1840-1928. Tess of the d'Ubervilles—Film adaptations, Nasar, Sylvia—Film adaptations


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