The Gospel in Dickens
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« 'Little Dorrit' in brief | Main | Hope and renewal »

March 29, 2009


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Your observations are nearly as entertaining as the show...and spot-on as well.
Nice work Gina!

I want to see more of Mr. F's Aunt...she's a hoot in the book!

Thanks for your comment! I would love to compare notes once I get around to "House of Fallen Women."

I enjoy reading your blog, as my exposure to Dickens has been pretty limited. Just curious - have you read "Mister Pip" by Lloyd Jones? I just finished it, and found the rewriting of Dickens really interesting.

Jen -- no, not yet, but I've heard a little about it. It does sound pretty interesting.

David -- Isn't she awesome? My mom, who was watching with me last night, let out an actual hoot when she appeared onscreen with that scowl all over her face. :-)

Thank you both for the nice words!

Gina, you are a beast! (My teenager daughter assures me that is a complement.) I watched it last night thanks to you, and enjoyed it very much. It started a bit slow for me, trying to get the gist of the story, but it didn't take long to fully entrance me. I was bummed when it ended. I don't know if I've ever read Dickens, so this is a nice intro into his other stuff (other than you know what). It's great reading your comments because it gives me more context.

So far, so good. For me, LD rises and falls with Tom Courtenay's performance: you have to walk a fine between loathing Mr. Dorrit for what he's done to his family (and his absurd clinging to gentility) and seeing what Amy sees in him. Otherwise, she's pathetic, which she is not.

An aside: is Matthew MacFayden capable of anything less than a great performance? Apart from the circumstances of his marriage to his "Spooks" co-star, I can't recall anything he's done that I haven't liked.

I am so glad that I've found your Dickensblog and intend to keep following your musings. I have been on a Dickens jag for a bit now, and have just begun reading "Little Dorrit." I have watched episode 1 on PBS as well, and am absolutely smitten! Also, if you not read Dan Simmons' new book, "Drood", I highly recommend it. To really appreciate Simmons' novel, I think you've got to have some of Dickens' later novels under your belt, as well as Wilkie Collins', "The Woman In White" and "The Moonstone." Anyhow, please keep up the great work! Cheers! Chris

I posted this on the PBS blog today:

By making Tattycoram black and (apparently) a slave and Mr Meagles (apparently) a slave master, you have perverted Mr. Meagle's charitable act of rescuing Tattycoram from an orphanage into an act of oppression. Why? I'll grant you small liberties like a Pancks sans hair as long as the spirit of the character is preserved (which in Pancks' case well done and bravo), but to needlessly present Tattycoram thus is to (apparently) stray into what Harold Bloom would term the "School of Resentment": foisting your agenda onto an unsuspecting public who in the majority will never read this masterpiece and thus will never know the true Dickensian portrayal of Pet's maid and Mr. Meagle's noble heart. As Ms. Morely said above this is truly "more than Dickens intended: Fie! Fie! for shame: but for all the other wonderful elements of your portrayal I'll be watching anyway: can't help myself!

Thanks very much for sharing your PBS blog comment with us, Kevin.

Although I don't mind the casting of Tattycoram -- especially because the actress is so good -- I've heard others make similar observations. The worst was someone who said that because Tattycoram was black (and because of what that meant) the Meagleses had better apologize to her for their treatment of her! Sigh.

I think they could have overcome this impression by emphasizing the Meagles' genuine care and concern for her, but they haven't really done that, which makes it seem likelier that they were aiming at the School of Resentment. Which is exactly what Dickens did NOT want, judging by the chapter "The History of a Self-Tormentor" and other indications. We can only hope that the hysteria she's been displaying leads people to realize -- as it did with my mother -- that there really is something the matter with her that isn't the Meagles' fault. (From this characterization, in fact, my mother has decided that Tatty is probably bipolar, which may actually be pretty near the mark!)

OOOOh, nice blog! I just recently started reading Little Dorrit, thanks to the TV series. How very interesting. There are many similarities with Our Mutual Friend, which I have loved since childhood. (What strange taste for a child, you may think.)

I feel somewhat conflicted about Macfadyen's age. It does bother me a bit that he seems too young. Not that I think older (eg, 50) is more appropriate either. Still, this image of Arthur Clennam is not exactly what I get from the novel. I suspect that Davies had deliberately wanted to make Arthur appear younger, livelier, less passive, and less depressed than the book. On the other hand, Macfadyen's performance is spot on. This performance can be immediately transplanted to John Harmon in OMF and it would be perfect.


Well said.

Another parallel: while Chas D. decries class system injustice, virtue isn't enough for his "lower" class heroines: they must be educated ("improved")before being "acceptable" to "gentleman": without any LD plot spoilers think Lizzie and Eugene in OMF...

True, but the hero often needs some sort of "re-education" as well before he can be matched with the heroine, namely to be brought down from his previous (relatively higher) position. Lizzie is finally "fit" for Eugene Wrayburn not only after she was improved but also after he is battered and crippled. Arthur Clennam must also be brought down (would this be a spoiler?) to become acceptable for Amy Dorrit.

I don't think the underlying issue is as straightforwardly class matching as, say, Austen or Bronte. Class is one concern, but there is also the constant vexing about money and its influence on love. I have a theory. The heroes (Eugene and Arthur) must be broken at some point in the story so that the heroines can prove (to Dickens' own mind) that they really love their men for richer or poorer. I have a feeling that Dickens himself could never be entirely sure whether the women he loved would have loved him if he were poor. The example of John Harmon/Rokesmith is a more blatant expression of this anxiety -- Is she mercenary or devoted? He went as far as deliberately testing the woman of his affection, Bella Wilfur, on this question. Lizzie and Amy are also "tested" by the author's twisty pen, which spares the heroes from the act of Harmon that may be a little disturbing to modern readers.


Hmm . . . brought down, or reborn?

But we'll get into that later -- in fact, I foresee the possibility of some interesting conversations on that topic next week. As you indicate, Jun, it won't do to give away TOO much just yet. :-)

In any event, your point about both parties needing to go through some sort of change still stands, and it's a common theme in literature of the period. ("Pride and Prejudice" is probably the quintessential example, but "Jane Eyre" might actually run it a close second, because Rochester is forced to change on so many levels -- spiritual, moral, financial, and even physical -- and because Jane so much gains in strength and confidence while he gains so much in humility.)

As for OMF, I confess I haven't read it in FAR too long, so I can't weigh in much there. But you two go ahead without me -- this is a great discussion! And my friend Roberto recently told me about the BBC adaptation of recent years, so one of these days I'll have to take a look at that.

I don't think the transformation in P&P (both characthers) is nearly as profound and dramatic as OMF and LD, or even Jane Eyre, because neither Elizabeth nor Darcy underwent more change than an attitude adjustment. Jane Eyre was clearly "elevated" in class and fortune to become suitable for Rochester. :)

What are Jell-O shots?
I agree with you about Andrew Davies. He can take me to the heights of delight with his work and then make me want to throw things at him.
And yes, I'm reading your blog backward.

A Jell-O shot is . . . something I probably shouldn't even be talking about, given the number of minors we have here!

Basically, it's a kind of alcoholic drink that's made with Jell-O.


I am very glad to have come across your blog, even though I'm eight years late to the Little Dorrit party! I borrowed the DVD from the library, discovering your incredibly helpful insights into the adaptation after Googling "Little Dorrit Don't Cramp My Style." Yes, I too was flabbergasted when I heard Fanny's comment! I will be returning to your entries as I watch the remaining episodes. Many thanks.

Since writing my comment, I've learned that the phrase "cramp'd his vig'rous style" appears in a fan letter written to John Dryden, probably around 1697! [Source:]. Even so, I don't see why Andrew Davies would use something that sounds so anachronistic (even if it's not) when the novel itself doesn't contain it.

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