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Emancipating Madame Butterfly (W/T) Queer adaptation by Pamela Damory. Chapter 11.

Bamford, N., 2018. Emancipating Madame Butterfly (W/T) Queer adaptation by Pamela Damory. Chapter 11. In: Cutchins, D., Krebs, K. and Voigts, E., eds. The Routledge Companion to Adaptation. Los Angeles: Routledge.

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DOI: 10.4324/9781315690254-17


In his book The Celluloid Closet Vito Russo argues: “It is an old stereotype that homosexuality has to do only with sex while heterosexuality is multi-faceted and embraces love and romance.” (1987:p.132). In an attempt to redress this I embarked, many years ago, on a project to queer iconic heterosexual love stories. My intention was to demonstrate that love affairs between men can be as rich, as complex and as romantic as those between men and women, even if they are intrinsically different. In this essay I will examine the process of creating the most recent of these – a contemporary screen version of the story immortalised by Puccini in his opera Madama Butterfly. This was the artefact for my PhD by practice, completed in 2016, entitled Emancipating ‘Madame Butterfly’: Intention and Process in Adapting and Queering a Text. The adaptation required me to remediate what had been a novella, a play, an opera and a musical into a screenplay, with all the attendant issues, as well as to relocate it from the 19th century to the 21st. But the most profound change came from the queering process. With two men now loving each other the heteronormative mould which constrains the original story was broken, and the consequences of this were far more pervasive than simply changing the gender and sexual identity of the protagonists. Making the love affair homosexual also presented problems, not least the requirement for there to be an offspring from the relationship. But in those very problems lay opportunities which, in the end, led to a complete change of theme as well as context. For example, in the original the 15-year-old Butterfly asks her older lover Pinkerton to ‘love her like a father’ (1904:Act 1), but this theme is not explored further. In my version I was able to move this to the centre and explore the frustrated paternal instincts which sometimes lie behind relationships between older and younger men. So, whilst the story remains a child of its parents, it has its own life in its new context With reference to Queer Theory, as well as to Pearce and Wisker’s (1998) concept of ‘romantic subversion’ and D.H.Hwang’s utterly subversive version of the story, M.Butterfly (1989), I will argue that queering is a profoundly liberating kind of adaptation with a real power to enlarge and to enrich a text.

Item Type:Book Section
Number of Pages:406
Uncontrolled Keywords:Adaptation; Queer
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:30213
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:17 Jan 2018 08:59
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:09


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