‘Great Voices Speak Alike: Orson Welles's Radio Adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables’

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


Orson Welles’ 1937 radio dramatization of 'Les Misérables' has to date received scant critical attention. Such a critical blindspot both in the history of Welles’ storied career and in the international reception of Hugo’s epic novel itself demands to be investigated, not least as an illustrative test case that demonstrates the importance of reception theory and translation to the field of adaptation studies. Notwithstanding the narrative instances of dirt and abjection which Welles adapts, including Fantine’s squalor and Jean Valjean’s flight through the Parisian sewers, more figurative understandings of filth bring into focus the appeal of Les Misérables for him. In the socio-economic sense of degradation, and in the moral sense of corruption, Hugo’s novel offered Welles the opportunity to engage the American public with the despair of the 1930s.
Not only did his appropriation of Jean Valjean’s plight reiterate the scope of Hugo’s novel to stimulate public debate around the issues of economic misery and social depression, but it also exemplified what Neil Verma has elsewhere theorized as radio’s ‘theater of the mind’, itself an often ignored media form in adaptation studies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Adaptation
EditorsDennis Cutchins, Katja Krebs, Eckart Voigts
Place of PublicationLondon; New York
ISBN (Print)9781138915404
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • adaptation studies
  • Victor Hugo
  • Orson Welles
  • radio


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