16 Pages


The contemporary spectator and student of literature in performance has at least one great advantage over his or her predecessors: the invention and mass production of relatively inexpensive video cassette recorders. The proliferation of recordings of performances that are now sold or hired has made the systematic and close study of these works possible for the first time. There are approximately 7,500 video-software shops in the UK and many more than that in the USA. Most of them have for sale or hire copies of adaptations of novels made for screening in the cinema or on television. Surveys undertaken in 1991 by the British Videogramme Association reveal that 70 per cent of households owned - that is, owned outright or rented - a video cassette recorder (the figure is even higher in the USA). This accessible library of tapes -- coupled with the mechanical means to read them - is an increasingly important cultural phenomenon. In the United States, for example, Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple is on the syllabus of almost every High School and Junior College (causing the cultural right to cry out in protest that more students are now reading/seeing Alice Walker than are studying Hamlet). The Dutch screenwriter Menno Meyjes's adaptation of Walker's novel, filmed by Steven Spielberg, is available across the USA for less than fifteen dollars. In Britain and America English literature students studying the novels of the literary canon - Jane Austen, Dickens, Hardy, Lawrence - can just as easily pick up a video cassette and watch the novel images as pick up and read the novel itself.