Characters migrate

full name / name of organization: 
Université de Caen, France - ERIBIA
contact email: 
armelle.parey@unicaen.fr

This international conference follows the two previous ones organized by ERIBIA on Happy Endings and the Unfinished in 2009 and 20111: next we shall deal with these characters that “live on” beyond the endings written by their authors and who overstep the limits of the work in which they have been created.

“Characters migrate,” Umberto Eco wrote2, explaining that some characters (by no means all of them) leave the text in which they were “born” to migrate to a space in a universe which is very difficult to delineate. Thus Little Red Riding-Hood, d’Artagnan or Ulysses “become individuals with a life apart from their original scores” and “even those who have never read the archetypal score can claim to make true statements about them” (9). They have become “true for the collective imagination because over the course of centuries we have made emotional investments in them” (10). Some form of fixity is necessary for these migrating characters who can become “role models for our life” (10). In the postmodern novel studied by Brian McHale, borrowing a character is used for breaking the realist framework and highlighting the intertextual dimension of a text.
For Eco and McHale, these migrations do not alter the literary entities since their very characteristics, known by everyone, inform the text and/or the reader. The question of this transposition as a writing strategy will be addressed. The conference will also study characters that evolve as they migrate from one text to the other and will also discuss what is at stake when a fictional character is thus revisited or rewritten. Papers will focus on the different transformations or non-transformations of these migrant characters. These can appear in another text by the same author at another stage of their fictional lives, like Federica Potter in the universe invented by A.S. Byatt in her tetralogy (The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, A Whistling Woman) but also Juliet, the protagonist in Alice Munro’s three short stories in the collection Runaway. While being part of the same narrative universe, some characters can also move from the foreground to the background: this is the case for Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp, the main protagonists in Changing Places, who reappear in a minor role in Small World, a Romance and Nice Work by David Lodge. Conversely, Jane Gardam makes one of her secondary characters in Old Filth the main protagonist of The Man in the Wooden Hat.

Characters can also go on evolving within their own narrative universes but in allographic texts. Thus sequels, the function of which, according to Genette, is to exploit the success of a work often considered as complete when it was first published, and to set it going again with new episodes (Palimpsestes, 223), to the adventures of a famous character take up endless pages of contemporary novels: for example, some of Emma Tennant’s many novels, but also more recently, Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean and Death in Pemberley by PD James. In the same vein, new insights and interpretations on canonic characters abound: the March sisters’ father in Geraldine Brooks’ March, Jane Eyre’s pupil in Emma Tennant’s Adèle. For its part, Ronald Frame’s Havisham puts the spotlight on the most famous of Victorian fiancées. The migration to an allographic text can also take the form of a “trans contextualization” (Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody, 12), when a character reappears in another context, in another period, like in Will Self’s Dorian, another place or even another sub-genre, like Elizabeth Bennett as a zombie huntress in Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Character migrations can also be studied in filmic adaptations and their successive remakes. Within the framework of this intermedial praxis, as director Patricia Rozema said in an interview about her Mansfield Park, “interpretation is impossible to avoid. It must be openly declared by the filmmaker (writer and director) but 'imposing meaning' is impossible to avoid”3. Thus the choice to have two coloured actors play Heathcliff in the latest Wuthering Heights by Andrea Arnold is a good example of this somewhat radical re-interpretation of the main character in Emily Brontë’s novel when he migrates to another media.

Papers on one of the above-mentioned characters or other migrant-characters in contemporary anglophone literature are especially welcome, as well as those dealing with the following topics:
- the character in a cycle or series,
- the character in a prequel/sequel/coquel,
- the character in a transposition/rewriting,
- the character in a cinematic adaptation.

Abstracts of about 300 words, preferably in English, are to be sent with a short biography (200 words maximum) to armelle.parey@unicaen.fr and isabelle.roblin@univ-littoral.fr before September 1st, 2013.

cfp categories: 
childrens_literature
film_and_television
twentieth_century_and_beyond