Monday, April 6, 2009
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
I love Dickens, but lately I think I love him for what he could have been rather than what he is. I love his intertwined plot-lines (even at their most convoluted). I love his eccentric, comic, and/or admirable secondary characters (Pancks, Daniel Doyce, Flora, John Chivery, Mr. Baptist, Mrs. Plornish, etc.). I love the nobility of his sentiments.
But I am always tweaking him in my mind.
For one thing, I want his female characters to be more developed. I expect a certain number of flat characters in any Dickens' novel because the very best Dickens is a marvelous mixture of the satirical and the sublime. Mrs. Plornish is probably not going grow and change, and who wants her to? I want to her to continue thinking that she knows how to speak Italian while she declaims in poorly structured English to Mr. Baptist. But Dickens' more "serious" female characters (particularly if they are young) are either unbelievably sweet and docile (Pet and Little Dorrit) or bitter and angry (Fanny, Tattycoram, and Miss Wade). Dicken's female heroines are not allowed to become angry (particularly about their own treatment), but must wait for other, preferably male, characters to stick up for them. Thus, the quiet Amy (Little) Dorrit is rewarded and the passionate (Tattycoram) Harriet is reproved at the end of the novel. And this isn't particular to Little Dorrit; compare the novel with Dickens' young female characters in David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, etc. and you'll see the same pattern.
But still, the seeds for more complex female characters are definitely there. Out of Dickens' hints, one can almost create a Little Dorrit who is both loyal to her family and resentful of them, and a Tattycoram (Harriet) who lashes out against real injustices. Yes, I think, this could easily be fixed--the ideas are still right.
Apparently, I love Dickens for his potential. Particularly his potential to inspire movies and mini-series.
I have been on edge ever since Masterpiece Classic announced their Tales of Charles Dickens series. (I had, at first, hoped that they would do all the tales of Charles Dickens, but then I realized that would involve over twenty novels--many as long as Little Dorrit--and numerous short stories. Even the most die-hard Dickens fan might balk at that.). Masterpiece's David Copperfield is an old stand-by, so I wasn't anxious about that. And I'd already seen several versions of Oliver Twist (this one wasn't a favorite). But I've been psyched about Andrew Davies' adaption of Little Dorrit ever since it was announced (so much so that I read the 900+ page monster, even though I had promised myself to avoid huge novels while fighting Ulysses).
So far, I'm pretty happy with the mini-series. The first episode was disjointed and had too many melodramatic violins and sea-sickness-inducing camera tricks (Dickens really doesn't need have the melodrama played up). But in the second episode, the mini-series hit its stride. The script makes me very happy--picking the best of Dickens' lines and sentiments and bringing them to modern audiences without seeming overtly "translated." The casting, in general, is superb. Claire Foy is all the things Amy Dorrit was meant to be, and Matthew Macfadyen keeps Arthur Clennam endearingly polite but not boring (in the novel, the conventional Arthur is often overshadowed by Dickens' other characters).
I'll probably continue to comment on Little Dorrit (both the series and the book) as the mini-series continues. If you missed any of episodes and are curious, you can catch up here (until May 3rd).
(Image from Cartoon Stock.)