Adaptation of War and Peace seems unstoppable. Louis Menand muses about this at The New Yorker, prompted by the BBC’s recent 6-part television adaptation. Getting it down to 6 parts represents a lot of compression of course. In the Telegraph, scriptwriter Andrew Davies, unsurprisingly, says he’d have liked to make it longer. Length obviously presents a problem, but I wouldn’t agree that the 20-episode BBC adaptation from 1972 “is like watching paint dry”. Prokofiev gave us the story in opera form with libretto by Mira Mendelson. Interestingly their split point between Part One and Part Two corresponds to the break between Parts 5 and 6 in the recent BBC series. But I guess Russians would care more about Borodino than Brits. Now “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” by Dave Malloy, billed as an “electropop opera”, is due to come to Broadway next September, staring Josh Groban.
I’ve been wondering how few pages one might have to write to do an abbreviated version of War and Peace which got the full story across. A lot of fascinating history could be omitted, but I don’t think we’re talking about 128 pages. Or what about a War and Peace in Pictures? I can’t believe it wasn’t done as part of that Classics Comics series I remember from my childhood. Actually Wikipedia points out that there were two such series: Classics Comics and Classics Illustrated. I can’t tell if War and Peace made it into either series: Wikipedia appears to be promising complete lists, but nobody has written them yet. But if they could do Les Misérables, surely War and Peace would be manageable. But War and Peace has made it into the picture-book format: Amazon tells us that Chronicle Books’ Cozy Classics edition does it in 24 pages. “Cuddle up with a classic! In twelve needle-felted scenes and twelve child-friendly words, each book in this ingenious series captures the essence of a literary masterpiece.” Can they really mean twelve words? Whether or not, there’s a target for the author willing to take up the challenge of an abbreviated version omitting no plot elements.
Now comes news of a graphic novelization of A la recherche du temps perdu, or at least of the first volume, Swann’s way. The Economist gave it a rather favorable review, including a reproduction of the madeleine bit. Their reviewer notes “the layout of the pages often makes it difficult to know the order in which the drawings are supposed to be read—from left to right, or up to down? As in the original book, the reader is thus encouraged to view the plot not as something that evolves chronologically, but as an experience of fleeting, sometimes confused images. A graphic novel this may be, but it captures the essence of Proust beautifully.”