Victorian Popular Fictions 3.2 6 Smith

Stage Piracy in Victorian Britain:

Bleak House Adaptations


Julianne Smith

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Pirating novels for the stage was a staple of the Victorian theatre. There were many theatrical piracies of Bleak House in the second half of the period, but they all share a common feature: pirates had to decide how to reshape the narrative for audience consumption since the whole of this sprawling novel was impossible to stage.  Thus fidelity to the original text was out of the question.  This essay examines two Bleak House adaptations, an early and largely forgotten version and a later version that gained a global reputation.  It considers the range of challenges pirates faced when adapting Bleak House as well as how the narrative is adapted to audience expectations across time and genre in the late Victorian period so that, out of the novel’s multivocality, Jo emerges as the centre of the story.


Charles Dickens; Bleak House; Victorian Theatre; Adaptation Theory; Austin Lee; J.P. Burnett;  Jennie Lee; Jo

Date of Acceptance: 8 December 2021

Date of Publication: 17 December 2021

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Smith, Julianne. 2021. “Stage Piracy in Victorian Britain: Bleak House Adaptations.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 3.2: 98-115. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online)  DOI:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.