The Lady in the Frame: Two Portraits by Henry James and Jane Campion

David Kelly


Before looking at two portraits of the same lady by different hands, executed in different media and at different times, I would like to consider an historical coincidence which provided a point of intersection for those media, and take this as my point of departure. Just over thirty years ago, as American film writer Andrew Sarris was popularising his notion of the Cahier du Cinema’s ‘auteur’ theory, French literary theorist Roland Barthes was elaborating his polemical ‘theory’ of the death of the author — or, rather, ‘le morte d’auteur’. So just as Sarris was importing into the discourse on film a serviceable model of textual production and interpretation – and importing not simply from France but equally from an international tradition of literary discourse — Barthes was challenging literary discourse to jettison that model. The theoretical friction implicit in this coincidence bears some reflection, and might prompt some further reflections on the subject of the text as it is shaped in turn by literature and by film.

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