New Historicism and cultural studies have worked to reclaim the people, events, and narratives consigned to the trash heap of history, suggesting that what has been deemed unsuitable to a capitalist narrative of progress nevertheless has value and should be accounted for. Although the ethical intent behind such reclamation efforts is commendable, these efforts enact their own version of a capitalist improvement ideology—the imperative to turn all things, even “waste,” to profit or good account. This essay explores the tension between the desire to account for experiences that fall outside improvement's profitizing calculus and the choice to allow such experiences to remain unheard and erode away undetected. This tension informs Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) and Michael Winterbottom's Trishna (2011), a recent film adaptation of the novel set in twenty-first-century India. The author reads the male protagonists in the novel and the film and the film's implied viewers as improving subjects—characters and spectators that marry a capitalist's desire to turn waste to profit and a New Historical impulse to uncover hidden narratives and make them count. She argues, however, that both texts ultimately resist such capitalist improvement energies by using the female protagonists and minor characters to foreground moments of withholding, silence, and nonnarrativity that refuse to be incorporated into a profitable project of articulation. The essay aims to demonstrate that twenty-first-century film adaptations of nineteenth-century British novels can make newly visible latent critiques of improvement discourse in the source novels while at the same time deploying these critiques against new objects of analysis.

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