On “Lives and Afterlives of a ‘Victorian’ Text: Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge”, by Neelanjana Basu

“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed
and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”
With the above line from Milton, Dr. Neelanjana Bose began her
presentation. She entertained the audience profusely as she ventured
from Bollywood to Hollywood with Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of
Casterbridge as her vehicle. At various points during her presentation she
addressed the novel as a ‘sensational novel’, ‘agrarian drama’, of a ‘
Sophoclean unity and drama’ or indeed a ‘cinematic novel’, thereby
showing her deep engagement with the text which had enabled her to
have multiple viewpoints about the same. The Mayor of Casterbridge was
published 132 years ago. Yet, Dr. Basu portrayed that the book has had
several ‘afterlives’ in various forms. She cited several cinematic adoptions
of the novel including the silent film adaption of 1921, which indeed took
place in Hardy’s lifetime. She tried to show how Daag, the 1973 Yash
Chopra romance may have been influenced by Hardy’s book. She showed
two video clips from the movie bearing similarity of philosophy with The
Mayor of Casterbridge to prove her point. Interestingly, the movie does
not acknowledge the book as a source. She narrated almost a catalogue
of Indian print adaptations of The Mayor of Casterbridge beginning with
Nakarat Talaivar, the 1953 Tamil edition and coming as latest as the
Gujarati edition of 2016. She also didn’t forget to provide a tongue-in-
cheek mention of exam and student friendly editions of the book
available in Hindi. It was evident that the point of focus, mood and setting
varied extensibly within the adaptations. She discussed the 2000 film
adaptation of the novel, named The Claim in the end. This film shifts the
setting from Victorian England to the ‘rugged scenery’ of Sierra Nevada
during the turbulent times of California Gold Rush. It was worth noting
that all the versions of the original Hardy novel had retained some parts
of its flavour or thought while losing others.
The question of what is an ideal adaptation or what can be considered an
‘adaptation’ at all, lingered in the minds of the audience even after the

presentation. The presenter herself conceded that it is very difficult to
classify something as truly “Hardyesque”.

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