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.


  1. I like my version, where I thought Amy was the evil lady's daughter and Arthur was some random baby she stole because she wanted a son. it solves the problem of it sounding like they are related, but it's still strange!

  2. Did you see the very long feature film starring Alec Guinness and Derek Jacobi (sigh), from the early 1990s? How did the mini-series compare?

  3. Anonymous--I know who you are! Heehee!

    bats :[--Aw, no. I've never seen that version, so I can't compare the two. Maybe I will at some point though. Derek Jacobi is almost enough to make me sit through another long production of _Little Dorrit_.