David Anderson

Panel 6D: Adaptation and/as Transcodification/3
Session 6 – July 3, 15:30 – 17:30

Novels on Screen: Brideshead Revisited, Heimat and Anglo-German Cultures of Memory in the 1980s

This paper explores the adaptation from page to television screen of two canonical works of German and British culture: Berlin Alexanderplatz (Döblin 1929 / Fassbinder 1980) and Brideshead Revisited (Waugh 1945 / Sturridge & Lindsay-Hogg 1981). On an immediate and local level, the paper examines formal continuities and interruptions produced in the transcodification of each text from novel to television series, taking the latter works as exemplary forerunners of a form (i.e. the long-running television serial) that has since become culturally pervasive – albeit consumed in a manner the directors could not then have envisaged. The paper then looks at how Fassbinder and Sturridge/Lindsay-Hogg’s desire for profound authenticity meant that the act of adaptation itself constituted a blurring of the lines between historical fiction and historical fact, thereby significantly modulating perception of the original texts and producing new works that fed into other kinds of debates concerning the representation of history, ‘heritage’ and national identity that continue to reverberate in the present. In so doing, the paper takes time to situate the original novels and the television series both within their respective national cultures as well as in terms of intercultural relations, highlighting key trends and comparisons between British and German cultures of memory and attitudes towards the representation of the twentieth-century past in the 1980s. The paper draws on my Leverhulme-funded postdoctoral research project on history, nostalgia and narrative in postwar Britain and Germany, as well as a module I have designed and will teach in 2020-21 in QMUL’s Department of Comparative Literature and Culture. It is apt to the themes of the CLAM conference in its use of a comparative cultural perspective to study two key examples of transcodification across parallel timeframes, drawing out and interrogating aesthetic issues with profound wider cultural and political ramifications in the contemporary period.


David Anderson is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Comparative Literature and Culture, Queen Mary University of London, where he is also affiliated with the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations. He previously studied and taught in the Department of English Language and Literature at UCL. His first monograph, Landscape and Subjectivity in the Work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair, will be published this summer by Oxford University Press. In 2019, in association with UCL’s Urban Lab, he co-curated the symposium and screening series City, Essay, Film. He is also involved in on-going British Academy-funded research projects with the UK-China Humanities Alliance.