Martin Paul Eve bio photo

Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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This post forms part of my ‘aspects of the novel’ collection. Please do note that these entries, which may appear basic, are simply my own notes on the subject. The original encyclopaedia articles are far more comprehensive and worth consulting.

The novel is intricately bound to ideas of intertextuality. Many novels explicitly cite other works (consider Dickens citing Shakespeare in Nicholas Nickleby or George Eliot’s many epigraphs).

The novel has also historically worked to bring voice to marginalized figures. For instance, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) gives the persepcective of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre while J. M. Coetzee’s Foe (1986) takes a fresh angle on Robinson Crusoe. Sena Jeter Naslund crafts a story, Ahab’s Wife (1999), from fleeting mentions of Captain Ahab’s off-stage family in Moby-Dick. Marina Warner’s 1992 Indigo reimagines The Tempest from a freshly re-gendered perspective. Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (1997) gives a voice to Magwitch from Dickens’s Great Expectations.

So-called shadow-texts occur in which novels echo others. Zadie Smith has called her On Beauty (2005) a reworking of Howard’s End. Will Self’s Dorian (2002) rewrites A Pictyre of Dorian Gray. Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) famously riffs on Homer and Hamlet.

These appropriations and rewritings are sometimes confused with plagiarism; Graham Swift’s Last Orders (1996) pays homage to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), but some contemporary readers simply saw Swift’s re-use as copying and unoriginal.

Novels themselves, of course, are frequently adapted to other media. Film and televisual remakes are common.

Further reading: Sanders, Julie, ‘Adaptation/Appropriation’, in The Encyclopedia of the Novel, ed. by Peter Melville Logan, Olakunle George, Susan Hegeman, and Efraín Kristal (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), pp. 1–9