The data presented here covers films produced in the United States from 1911 to 1940 adapted from literature (short stories, novels, plays and even songs) and authored by women. The primary source for this research was the American Film Institute’s Catalog of Feature Films, listing of American Feature Films, Volumes F1, F2 and F3, covering 1911 through 1940.
To be sure, there are myriad difficulties in translating the verbal (literature) to the visual (film), not the least of which is condensing a novel, with its broad canvas unbound by time, to fit the constraints of the screen’s two-hour time period. The dictates of both mediums, the written and the cinematic, virtually guarantee alterations of one kind or another. Such changes to the literary are not the basis for this research. The information gathered here was born from the question of what happens to the female author’s “voice” and/or perspective when her work is adapted to film.
Though reducing the novel to a few select elements is necessary, the decision of which elements are integral to the narrative, and therefore should be included in the film, is rarely, if ever, made by the author of the written work. Dorothy Arznar, one of Hollywood’s earliest directors, was aware as early as 1932 that a difference in “seeing” exists between female and male filmmakers. This database is a small effort to support her position, although the database can also be utilized as a resource to investigate other gender equity questions: for example, were there peaks in the use of women’s literature as a source for films, and were those peaks related to social changes taking place at the time? Which studios relied most heavily on women’s literature? Are there patterns of predictable changes made to women’s literature adapted to film? The hope is that other researchers and scholars will be able to use this database to investigate these questions and to continue and expand the study of women and film.
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This work was completed as part of the requirements for the Master's of Arts in Liberal Studies degree by Barbara Grant in 2008. Questions regarding the website should be directed to Barbara Grant (firstname.lastname@example.org).