The adaptation Barry Lyndon (1975) by Stanley Kubrick cannot help but be different from the novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray in the nineteenth-century. The alterations are due to a number of factors, including the difference in media, the number of individuals working on the production, and those viewing the film, or even time periods. Such factors are the especial focus of intertextuality theory. Approaching a text with intertextuality is liberating. It can make use of several theoretical stances without binding the scholar to any. For instance, the structuralist approach of theorist “Michael Riffaterre’s work can be said to straddle structuralism, poststructuralism, semiotics, psychoanalytic theories of literature and various other theories of reading” (Graham, 111). These other theories of reading include audience reception theory, which does not limit the focus on the intended audience of the film itself, as it should include the filmmakers who adapt the work from literature. It should also consider the timing. The adapter’s interpretation of Thackeray’s novel has a direct effect on what is produced. Thus, theorists like Riffaterre may insist they belong to a rigid system of theory, but in finding their meanings in the examined text they are required to use multiple theories.
Despite the numerous perspectives used, intertextuality is not a haphazard means of examining a text. Serious scholars have written on the topic and work to give the theory a more definitive structure. Alan Graham, in his work Intertextuality, defines his meaning of text and work, which are essential notions to the theory. “Work is primary, the text secondary” (Graham, 62). What he means is that the work is the physical object and the text is the meaning found in observing the object. The work must also exist first, before meaning can be made. Graham reversed the formerly accepted idea, which made the object the text (whether it be a song or film, painting or novel) and the meaning the work (Graham, 64). In addition, Graham’s intertextuality ascribes more of an artistry to the work than any other theory (Graham, 73). He sees the author much like a textile weaver, drawing the threads of various texts together to create meaning. “The text, after all, is a plural phenomenon; it has structure, yet also an infinity of meaning” (Graham, 80). Graham is stating that the nature of the text is to have many meanings, which will reveal themselves over time and multiple readings, because they are dependent on the understanding and knowledge of the reader. In the novel Barry Lyndon, a modern reader is required to have a certain understanding of history to access some of the novel’s meanings, while other meanings remain universal. Much of his meaning, the nuances of the period, and the mental image would be limited without some historical understanding. However, limited may not be the best choice of words. Without historical understanding, the reading would be different, along fewer lines than what is possible.