Sequel and Sequelae

Fitzhugh appears to have considered the story of Harriet essentially complete with Harriet the Spy. Nonetheless, she immediately turned to a sequel, possibly as a result of urging from Nordstrom. She managed this by making Harriet a secondary character and focusing instead on Beth Ellen, a minor character in the first book. She also changed the setting, making it impossible to read the second book as a mere continuation of the first.

Nordstrom had read the manuscript by February 1965, writing to Fitzhugh about it at the same time as the emerging fuss over Harriet the Spy (188-90). Nordstrom gave her notes, but Fitzhugh was less accepting of changes than she had been with her first book. “I thought the character of the preacher was a little too farcical, but Louise disagreed and for all I know she was right and I was wrong,” Nordstrom remembered later. (386)

This first sequel, The Long Secret, is the only one of the later off-shoots which can really be said to be an intrinsic part of the Harriet sequence. A third book in the series, Sport, was published posthumously, and it is not clear if Fitzhugh herself considered it either finished or good enough for publication. Books written by other authors, with permission from Fitzhugh’s literary executor, decades after publication of the first book and Fitzhugh’s death, are even further removed from the author’s intent. Adaptations in other media, such as film, also bear a dubious relationship to the original, but speak to the enduring place the character and the book hold in American culture. (footnote)

A different kind of adaptation is embodied by the other textual representations of Harriet. Translations, ebooks, braille, large print, and other formats attempt to convey the original to different groups of readers, with differing amounts of distortion. Braille, for example, can never capture the illustrations, while translations necessarily involve re-wording the author’s text. These adaptations respond to different desires and markets. Where sequels and off-shoots are aimed at the market segment which bought the original book, these adaptations look to expand the overall market for the book by enabling different groups of readers to take part in the culture of shared reading which forms part of the enjoyment of literature. It seems that as a book attains iconic status, its potential in these markets increases. “You know, your books will be selling well in 1985,” Nordstrom wrote Fitzhugh in 1965, recognizing this potential. (189) (She was cautioning Fitzhugh against including references to current affairs that could become dated). This longevity has served both to maintain Fitzhugh’s artistic vision as well as to undermine it.

Sources:

Nordstrom, Ursula. Dear Genius: the Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. Collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus. (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).

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