Unfulfilled Expectations - the neglected classics we need to see

6 Apr 2023
Books and a camera on a shelf

“What? Not again?”

That was the reaction many viewers will have expressed as the BBC launched its latest Sunday night drama Great Expectations.

The Beeb has had four cracks at the Dickens classic in the last 25 years.

The most recent BBC TV version was in 2011 when Gillian Anderson took the role of Miss Havisham (currently occupied by Olivia Colman). Just a year later BBC films co-produced a big screen version with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.

Prior to those two takes on the classic, there was a 1999 incarnation starring Charlotte Rampling as Miss H and Ioan Gruffudd as Pip.

So, in a blog piece we have entitled Unfulfilled Expectations, some of the University of Winchester’s Department of English and Creative Writing suggest some neglected novels which they would like to see brought to the screen…


The Life of Charlotta Du Pont

Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Chris Mounsey champions 1723’s The Life of Charlotta Du Pont, an English Lady: Taken from Her Own Memoirs by Penelope Aubin.

“Penelope Aubin’s rip-roaring adventure novels were so famous in her day that she ended up as a one-woman comedy act, but the novels also took on serious issues, such as the developing slave trade and the treatment of women in marriage,” says Chris. 

This rollicking tale describes how Charlotta was trepan’d (tricked) by her stepmother who had her kidnapped and sent to Virginia. On the way Charlotta’s ship is captured by Madagascan Pirates and then seized by a Spanish man-o-war.

The story follows her marriage and adventures in the Spanish West Indies before her return to England. Along the way Charlotta meets slaves and survivors of shipwrecks.

 “Perhaps the most interesting gentleman and lady whom Charlotta meets is a biracial couple, Domingo and Isabinda, who are living in poverty until Charlotta helps them to move to St Domingue, where biracial marriages were legal,” says Chris.

 The novel is available on the University’s Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. 


David Blaize

Associate lecturer Stan Booth, who admits to not being a Dickens fan, picks EF Bensons’ David Blaize, published in 1916.

The first book of a trilogy, it follows the life of the title character, looking at his relationships and actions as he ventures through prep school then public school.

“Given the exploration of themes such as sexual and emotional development of a young male, I would see it as a useful cultural tool for society in understanding male development particularly through the sexual development of David who later in the series realises his sexuality. Though God knows what the BBC would do to it!” says Stan.


Parable of the Sower

Dr Matthew Leggatt, Senior Lecturer in English and American Literature, chooses Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower.

“Butler's novel is in many ways a literary precursor to Cormac McCarthy's much acclaimed 2006 The Road. It's just as gritty and given that the protagonist is a young African American woman who, for much of the text, must pose as a man in order to survive in a post-apocalyptic North America, the novel feels very of our moment,” says Matthew.

Butler's work beginning to receive deserved recognition with a TV adaptation of her ground-breaking 1979 science fiction novel Kindred appearing last year.

And we might not have to wait long for an adaptation of Parable of the Sower with production company A24, which was responsible for this year's Oscar Best Picture winner Everything Everywhere All At Once, having picked up the rights.



Glenn Fosbraey, Head of English and Creative Writing, throws his weight behind James Joyce’s Ulysses, published in 1922.

“Often lauded, along with T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, as the pinnacle of modernist texts, James Joyce’s novel is often given the dubious honour of being the book most people start but never finish,” says Glenn.

“It’s also a book which even the bravest of film and TV directors have avoided like… well, like an adaptation of Ulysses. In fact, so off-putting is the job of adapting this masterpiece for screen, that Joseph Strick’s 1967 undertaking remains the only significant attempt to date. But that doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t adapt it, and a lengthy TV serialisation - a la Twin Peaks: The Return, where David Lynch was allowed ample time to let the script breathe - could be the perfect format.

“The Nighttown ‘episode’ of the novel is already scripted, so some of the work is done, right? Although some of the character’s ruder nicknames might not get past the censors.”

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