Monday, May 25, 2009

Little Dorrit (2)

I kept meaning to complete my review of Masterpiece Classic's Little Dorrit while it was fresh in my mind, but... well, something about the best laid plans of rodents and bloggers.

Warning: This whole post is basically a spoiler. If you are planning to read or watch Little Dorrit, I suggest you skip this post.

The end of Masterpiece Classic's Little Dorrit was strangely rushed, but then so was the end of Dickens' novel. If the producers had just given themselves an extra half hour (and really, what's thirty more minutes to a five-part mini-series?) some points could have been clarified, certain scenes could have been more satisfying, and a lot of confusion could have been avoided.

Many of the flaws in the series were inherent to the work and would have been difficult to change without greatly altering the original material. For example, the romantic in me would have preferred to see better things happen to Flora, John Chivery, Pet Meagles/Gowan, etc. The writer in me would have simply preferred not to have had characters dropped off the edge of the world when they suddenly started to bore the author. Also, since Dickens is (or can be) a sucker for poetic justice/literary karma, I was disappointed that Arthur Clennam was allowed to save Amy from the Marshalsea, but Amy was not allowed to return the favor. (One could argue that because of property laws at the time, if Amy had money and Arthur married her, her money would have become Arthur's--so Arthur's refusal of finacial aid/romantic connections could be viewed as a refusal to take advantage of Amy's love. But his refusal to accept any sort of aid from her seems excessive and like a refusal to see Amy on equal footing with himself. He can play rescuer, but she can't.) Instead, Daniel Doyce must become the deux ex machina, returning from the Continent full of money and goodwill.

There were many changes that I appreciated:

Some characters were actually given a bit more time at the end of the mini-series than they were in the novel (i.e. Fanny, Mrs. Merdle, Sparkler--a nice scene there).

Harriet/Tattycoram returns but is spared the teeth-grinding speech on duty and suffering that Dickens forces her to submit to.

We get a nice wedding scene where we're allowed one last look at most of the characters we came to enjoy.

Amy doesn't burn the papers Mrs. Clennam gives her. I was disappointed when I read the novel that Arthur never got to know how much his biological mother loved him (or that he had any sort of mother who loved him), though I get the impression that Amy was trying to protect him from the stigma attached to being an illegitimate child.

But in many ways, the conclusion of the Little Dorrit mini-series was at least as confusing as the book's:

The scene where Pancks cuts off Mr. Casby's beard is a bit awkward in the book and more so in the series--largely because it happens too quickly. In the novel, the reader actually sees public opinion semi-gradually turn against Mr. Casby, as Pancks rants against the landlord while knocking off his hat. But in the mini-series all it seems to take is Pancks saying, "Hey, he's the one cheating you guys--not me!" and suddenly the scales drop from everyone's eyes.

In the novel, Jerimiah's body is never found, and it's suggested that he escaped before the house collapsed, but no one knows for sure. In the novel, this works. What doesn't really work, is having Jerimiah pop out of the rubble like a crocus, and wander off, dusty but undamaged, without anyone noticing.

The one thing I could not overlook, however, was how the last episode made the relationship between the Clennams and Amy Dorrit uncomfortably unclear. This is supposedly the big mystery of the tale. In the first episode, Fredrick Dorrit mentions running a boarding house for dancers (which, in the novel, is how he knew Arthur's biological mother, and the money owed to Amy is partially a result of Fredrick's kindness to Arthur's mother), but by the end of the mini-series this tidbit seems to have been forgotten, so we only know that Amy was mentioned in Gilbert Clennam's will. The viewer is left to sort out why.

The only reason I knew the connection between Amy and the House of Clennam after watching the mini-series was because I'd read the book first. In the "reveal" scene, there's a good bit of confusion in the dialogue about who exactly the illegitimate child is (or how many illegitimate children there are) and why Amy was supposed to inherit money from the Clennams (some of this confusion comes from unclear pronouns). Without that information, the conclusion seems to imply that Clennam and Amy are related somehow... which makes their wedding scene a bit squicky.

And I'm not the only one who thought so. In an effort to show that Little Dorrit is not about incest Masterpiece Classic offers a transcript of the explanation scene and then explains it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Writing Problems

Bit of blogger's block, but since there never seems to be a wrong time to post Frazz strips...Frazz

(Note: Click strip to see a larger version at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Two Things I Liked

I enjoyed this list of Ten Things Only Writers Understand on Strictly Writing.

...Also, this article on Elaine Showalter's book about American women writers.

Introducing: Paducah Reads

If you live in western Kentucky (or even if you don't), I invite you to check out Paducah Reads, my new blog promoting local literary news and events: writers' group meetings, poetry readings, open mic nights, book signings, etc.

(I know, I know, like I need another blog.)

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled blog.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Things to Do Instead of Writing

  1. Check e-mail for responses to submissions sent last week.
  2. Read a chapter from Be a Better Writer... Yesterday!
  3. Check e-mail. Again.
  4. Go get the mail. (Pretend this is not because you're hoping for a snail-mail response).
  5. Read the junk mail.
  6. Fill out the "send me more information" card for correspondence courses. Check "Private Investigator."
  7. Eat a sandwich in front of your computer screen, while casually checking e-mail.
  8. Plan National Book Award acceptance speech.
  9. Load the dishwasher (now you're getting desperate).
  10. Look up stuff on the internet about what other writers do instead of writing.
I like this advice from Neil Gaiman:

It's amazing how much time you can spend not writing, without even trying. Make a rule that you can either write, or not do anything at all. (No TV. No long baths. No reading New Scientist. Staring out of the window is okay.) Pretty soon, you start to write, because it's more interesting than staring vacantly out of the window. (I think I got it from a Daniel Pinkwater essay in Fish Whistle, and it's a wonderful concept.)

I don't know that I'll follow it, but I like it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Writers' Name Resources

I've just made my way through Clans and Families of Ireland: The Heritage and Heraldry of Irish Clans and Families by John Grenham, which, besides being a good, basic guide to Irish surnames, is also a "pretty" book: full of photos of the Isle and drawings of coats of arms. (I love coats of arms with strange things on them. A cross and a red hand: okay. A cross, a red hand, AND a gold hedgehog standing on a unicorn: perfection.)

This made me think of other name books I've read. When I was younger, I used to spend days going through Best Baby Name Book In The Whole World by Bruce Lansky (possibly still my favorite baby name book).

Then I'd have huge lists of characters with amazing, meaningful names, who I'd never write any stories about. (Plot wasn't my strong point.) When I started writing stories on a deadline, I'd tack "temporary" names onto my characters, hoping to come up with something more purposeful later. Eventually, I'd turn the stories in with the temporary names still in place.

But I'm easing my way back into name-meanings--not just the literal definitions of characters' names, but the cultural connotations too. (For example, in Susan Glaspell's play The Verge, the main character has relationships with three different men--Harry Archer, Richard Demming, and Tom Edgeworthy--they become "every Tom, Dick, and Harry," a sort of Greek chorus for the socially acceptable.)

Literal name definitions, however, still fascinate me, and I've collected a handful of baby name books. I thought I'd see if anyone had a favorite name book or website that he/she'd recommend. Suggestions?

(Images from and Mommie Books.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's Wrong with Puns?

Remember that article I linked to on puns in March? Well, here's another one, this time defending puns and questioning why Americans hate them so much.

I don't know. I like puns (though some of my Dad's puns... heaven help us). And I seem to be surrounded by them: puns appear in the comics, in book titles, newspaper headlines, e-mail forwards, and restaurant names (i.e. Thai One On). If Americans hate puns, then we sure are a masochistic society.

I think we're both addicted to puns and ashamed of our addiction. Is this dislike a mild sort of classism? Most puns can be understood by anyone who speaks the language, so they're a populist form of humor, linked to "lowbrow," commercial texts.

Of course, specialty shops continue to sell t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags adorned with jokes for their niche market. Is my Dad's t-shirt with the ancient mathematician and the slogan "Here's looking at Euclid" a more acceptable form of humor than your garden variety pun? Or just as groaning-inducing?


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In Defense of Strunk and White

I was going to let the fiftieth anniversary of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style slip by without comment, but then I stumbled on this article by Mark Garvey. As much as I enjoy Language Log's embrace of the complexity of English, I'm happy to see someone call Geoffrey Pullman on his disproportionate hatred of this slim writing handbook.

I have not used Elements of Style in a long time--my dip into the editing arena made me a Chicago Manual of Style girl (another book Language Log doesn't love)--but I still keep a copy on my shelf. I know there are better books on English grammar available. But for nervous writers just dipping a toe into the murky waters of English usage, there are very few volumes as concise, affordable, and (most importantly) non-scary as Elements of Style.

(Image from Better Know a Book.)