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French literature on screen is a multi-author volume whose eleven chapters plus an introduction offer case histories of the screen versions of major literary works by such authors as Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, Françoise Sagan, and George Simenon. Written by leading experts in the field, the various chapters in this volume offer insightful investigations of the artistic, cultural, and industrial processes that have made screen versions of French literary classics a central element of the national cinema.

French literature on screen breaks new scholarly ground by offering the first trans-national account of this important cultural development. These film adaptations have been important in both the American and British cinemas as well. English language screen adaptations of French literature evince the complexity of the relationship between the two texts, the two media, as well as opening up new avenues to explore studio decisions to contract and distribute this particular type of ‘foreign’ cinema to American and British audiences. In many respects, the ‘foreign’ quality of master works of the French literary canon remain their appeal over the decades from the silent era to the present.

The essays in this volume also address theoretical concerns about the interdependent relationship between literary and film texts; the status of the ‘author’, and the process of interpretation will be addressed in these essays, as will dialogical, intertextual, and transtextual approaches to adaptation.

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Screening French literature

1 Introduction: screening French literature Homer B. Pettey and R. Barton Palmer French literature on screen relies upon investigations of the processes of artistic, cultural, and industry adaptations. The French film industry has always cherished the national heritage of classic literature and has adapted to the screen the works of Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Émile Zola, and Marcel Proust. Hollywood has also been keen on adapting these authors’ seminal works, often adapting a French cinematic version of the novel. So, too

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modelled on the films. The first advertisement was titled ‘Jacques de Florette’. The story A brief summary of the events of L’Eau des collines, common to the book and films, is germane to the discussion that follows. In Jean de Florette Ugolin Soubeyran conspires with his uncle César to obtain the property ‘Les 152 French literature on screen Romarins’ where Ugolin intends to grow carnations. Although the land in question ostensibly lacks a water source, there is a neglected spring known to César and other older villagers. Ugolin and his uncle approach the owner

in French literature on screen

literary and cinematic forms, but also among transmedial forms of computers, video games, and messaging systems. The subject of these intertextual forms of adaptation always remains rape and its consequences. These provocations reveal how Elle admirably, if quite disturbingly, plays with conventions of contemporary femininity by taking the emotionally and politically fraught subject of violent sexual assault and rendering it graphically and satirically. Elle, then, serves as an outré, contemporary model for the process of adaptation. 212 French literature on screen

in French literature on screen
One novel, two films

safely married. Section one: authors and narratives Thérèse Desqueyroux – reconciling the unreconcilable Before considering the two film adaptations of François Mauriac’s novel Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927), and because it stands as a fulcrum of so many 184 French literature on screen narrating voices, themselves constructed out of obsession, desire, repression, suffocation, and a sense of futility, it behoves us to lift the layers away one by one, as one would uncover a palimpsest, to understand these meanings, first, before proceeding further. So let us begin. By

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most! If this continues, it will have to [move to] the Champs de Mars.)8 Such enthusiasm was not limited to France. Four months later, in London, the popular success of the French Théâtre Historique travelling company’s production caused a nativist riot in the Drury Lane Theatre on both nights of its attempted staging.9 The London Observer printed a letter from the director of the Théâtre Historique complaining that their simple attempt to bring to the stage the works of Alexandre Dumas was met with ‘numerous 14 French literature on screen obstacles and

in French literature on screen
A tale of three women, if not more

’s editor René Julliard) suggests that any French producers were interested, despite the obvious fact that the novel enjoyed an unparalleled popularity, especially with young adults, who constituted what was arguably the most influential section of the national film audience.6 Perhaps French filmmakers would not touch the property because they were fearful that a film version would arouse a profit-killing controversy. In 1954, Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Blé en herbe (Ripening Seed, 1954), based 132 French literature on screen on a Colette coming-of-age novel that focused

in French literature on screen
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Stardom and literary adaptation

Orfèvres on the Île de la Cité – the world of his male colleagues – and his home on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, the domain 166 French literature on screen of the patient Madame Maigret. The coherence of Maigret’s characterization was reinforced from the start by its close association with Simenon. There are similarities in terms of physical appearance but also biography: both came from a modest background and dropped out of medical studies; biographers also point out echoes of the author’s own father and grandfather, described in his 1948 autobiographical novel

in French literature on screen
Madame Bovary and Les Misérables in 1934

history and into the core canon For the first time on screen together 49 of French literature, where both are still listed as among the ten or even half-dozen greatest masterpieces in the language. As such, and as different as they may be, they have had a place beside each other in all good French homes; students the country over have read, discussed, and been examined on them. And so when sound film had definitively saturated the country in the early 1930s, these novels imposed themselves as ripe for adaptation. At a moment when Hollywood was running roughshod

in French literature on screen
Darryl F. Zanuck’s Les Misérables (1935)

early in its literary history), as a poet, and a political figure, but now the author was feeding his Belgian publisher, Lacroix and Verboeckhoven, press releases, saying that it was ‘the social and historical drama of the nineteenth century’ and ‘a vast mirror reflecting the human race, capture on a given day of its enormous existence’. And this: ‘Dante made a hell with poetry; I have tried 74 French literature on screen to make one with reality’.7 The publisher’s careful and aggressive advertising campaign proliferated in shop windows, store fronts and edifices

in French literature on screen