The afterlives of fictional characters
Whittaker, Lynn Elizabeth Page
MetadataShow full item record
In the 1960s and 1970s, a form of novel arose that flourished in the late twentieth century and remains popular today. This literary form results from a reading-to-writing, interpretive-creative process in which writers borrow a character from an earlier text and make her or him the protagonist of their novels, giving those characters an “afterlife” in which they exist anew. Whether these novels change the source text’s character/s only some or a great deal, the fictional personae are thus “recharacterized.” My dissertation claims that this form constitutes a definable genre that I call the “recharacterization novel,” and my aim is to present a theory of its cultural production, circulation, and consumption, focusing on the changing conceptions of authorship, reading, publishing, and fictional characters in the postmodern period. After defining the genre’s poetics, I tell the story of its development as the result of an ongoing confrontation between liberating/motivating forces and limiting forces, in which a postmodernizing momentum forward that seeks to free characters from their source texts is countered by legal and economic restrictions. Chapters address key postmodern theories that articulate an environment in which readers are liberated and motivated to write this type of novel; the interaction between reader and character that generates the recharacterization impulse, a relationship I theorize as the staging of an ethical encounter defined by Emmanuel Levinas; and selected ontological and analytic philosophy approaches to fictional characters that support the idea that recharacterization novels keep characters “alive.” After exploring how publishing requirements act as both motivating and restricting forces when these novels become material commodities in an economic system, I turn to the major limitations posed by copyright. I first provide a historical overview of intellectual property law and define the tests for protection of fictional characters and fair use exception applied to derivative works. I then explore what happens when these motivating and restricting forces go into battle against one another, presenting three case studies of copyright infringement suits brought against recharacterization novels. The dissertation concludes with my thoughts on the future of the form.