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Title page for ETD etd-06152009-155713

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Neckles, Christina Maria
URN etd-06152009-155713
Title Defensive Adaptation: Managing Social Anxieties in Literature and Film
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jay Clayton Committee Co-Chair
Paul Young Committee Co-Chair
James Epstein Committee Member
Sam Girgus Committee Member
  • existential
  • mediation
  • defense
  • anxiety
  • adaptation
Date of Defense 2009-06-03
Availability unrestricted
In this dissertation I examine the relationships between textual adaptation and social anxieties. By looking at work by artists as varied as Jane Austen and Michael Powell, Patricia Highsmith and Ellen Wood, Anthony Trollope and William Godwin, and Robert Z. Leonard and Karl Riez, I suggest that there is a type of adaptation best understood as the defensive adaptation. These defensive adaptations manage social problems that have no legal or otherwise formal means of redress. They cluster around social problems that cannot be identified and corrected – problems that come with the very messy business of being human: the meaning of selfhood, the terms of social responsibility, the tragedy of unexpectedly interrupted lives, and the always obsessive nature of love.

By looking at a broad range of texts, I demonstrate how these problems become lodged in the gaps that form when a narrative moves among media. Defensive adaptations mediate these social anxieties, in both form and content, by discouraging attempts to see the anxieties for what they are. I get around this problem by looking at scenes of adaptation. A scene of adaptation is, at its basic level, a scene or scenes in a single text where a narrative is adapted. These scenes of adaptation remove one layer of defensive adaptation’s mediation, and thus provide viable models for the way defensive adaptations manage existential social anxieties in culture at large.

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