The Gospel in Dickens
Click the image to order my book!

« Your cure for the post-'Little Dorrit' blues | Main | The Clennam family secret: FAQs »

April 26, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Loved the series...and your commentary was great as well. Thanks Gina!

I'm honored! Thank you so much.

I am quite curious about Davies' choices to deviate from the novel at certain places, especially since he is surprisingly faithful to the description and dialog most of the time. The unhappy encounter between Amy and Arthur after she returned to London is entirely an invention. I'm not sure exactly the purpose of the scene or the cause of Amy's harshness toward Arthur. Maybe the script had a longer explanation that was cut.

Dickens must be relatively easy to adapt because his writing is so visual and atmospheric.

Gina, you have done an absolutely masterful job in keeping all of us up to speed and following all of the delightful nuances in this beautifully done adaptation. In the main, I believe that Andrew Davies has done a very credible job in bringing this wonderful book to the screen. Yes, I agree that he used some artistic license that I might question, but all in all I thought it came off very nicely. My wife, who's never read the book (and is not likely too;>), loved this story from start to finish. I guess the way that we should all look at it; is if one more person is inspired to pick up the novels of Charles Dickens then this has been a resounding success.

Now, I'm off to buy the DVDs and watch it all over again! And get ready for "The Old Curiosity Shop."

Once again, Gina, well done! You are a priceless asset to the enjoyment of Dickens! Cheers! Chris

A final thought...

I kinda wish that Davies' screenplay had used the minister's words at the wedding of Little Dorrit and Arthur; i.e., something to the effect of "...the birth of Little Dorrit was recorded in the Church register's first volume; she rested her head on the second volume (when she was out at her 'party' with Maggy that long cold night), and her marriage to Arthur was recorded in the third volume..." It was a beautiful and simple summation of the plot of the book in my mind.

Here's the actual quote to the Registers referenced just after the wedding of Amy and Arthur.

"Little Dorrit's old friend held the inkstand as she signed her name, and the clerk paused in take off the good clergyman's surplice, and all the witnesses looked on with special interest. "For you see," said Little Dorrit's old friend, "this young lady is one of our curiosities, and has come now to the third volume of our Registers. Her birth is in what I call the first volume; she lay asleep on this very floor, with her pretty head on what I call the second volume; and she's now writing her little name as a bride, in what I call the third volume."

I just loved this when I first read it!

The novel was hasty enough in wrapping up, but the TV series rushed even more. I wish they spent a little more time and care to film this last part in the book, which I regard as the triumphant climax of the entire story:

'I have been anxiously waiting to tell you. I have been longing and
longing to tell you. You are sure you will not take [my fortune]?'


'You are quite sure you will not take half of it?'

'Never, dear Little Dorrit!'

As she looked at him silently, there was something in her affectionate face that he did not quite comprehend: something that could have broken into tears in a moment, and yet that was happy and proud.


'Yes! And it's all gone.--How much do you think my own great fortune

As Arthur looked at her inquiringly, with a new apprehension on him,
she withdrew her hand, and laid her face down on the spot where it had rested.

'I have nothing in the world. I am as poor as when I lived here. When papa came over to England, he confided everything he had to the same hands, and it is all swept away. O my dearest and best, are you quite sure you will not share my fortune with me now?'

That is a great quote, Jun. I like it too. :-)

There's something else I missed in the ending, and that was Mr. Meagles's playing a role. He came to be a father figure to Arthur, and goodness knows the guy could use one. I love the part where he showed up in the Marshalsea and "opened his arms and folded Arthur in them, like a sun-browned and jolly father."

Well, yes, although I got a sense from the book that Dickens was somewhat conflicted about Mr. Meagles. He is one of Dickens' more ambiguous characters (like Mr. Micawber) with plenty of failings within his sunny disposition, rather than one of the more "purely good" characters. I am dying to know why CD would take such drastically different approaches to writing "good" characters: Some are clearly idealized (eg, Agnes in David Copperfield, Amy in Little Dorrit, Lizzie in OMF) while others he portrays with a ruthless objectivity on their endearing and exacerbating qualities. Same with villains -- some are portrayed as totally evil and others with the same ruthless objectivity of their ambiguity. Mrs. Clennam is a prime example. One must remember that it is she who set everything in motion by employing Amy Dorrit out of nothing but to help her and thus repent her past wrongs -- even though she absolutely refuses to acknowledge her wrongs.

As good as the TV adaptation is, the nuances in the novel are too many to name.

Gina, I totally and completely agree with you on the name issue! The novel made a big fuss over the pet-name "Little Dorrit" that sounds a bit demeaning and condescending. In fact, Davies' adaptation made a point of having Arthur call her "Amy" much more throughout the series than in the book. Along with other changes made by the filmmakers to level their respective positions, this is an effective and deliberate choice to make the story more palatable to modern audience, especially women. There is an unmistakable emphasis on the distance (age and class) between the two characters in the book (Arthur being the "protector" of Amy). It was perfectly fine in the 1800s but hard to swallow now.

Yes, that's one place where I can't see eye-to-eye with Dickens. Throughout most of the book, I don't mind the nickname in general -- it seems to me that it would be a logical middle ground, in a more formal society, between having to call her "Miss Dorrit" or "Miss Amy" all the time, which they were too close for, and calling her "Amy," which probably wouldn't have been considered proper. (That doesn't mean I don't like hearing him call her that in the miniseries! :-) ) But after marriage -- no way.

Dickens is funny about names. And everyone seems to have their own preferences and dislikes among them. In "Great Expectations," I'm rather partial to Herbert's nickname for Pip, "Handel." I don't know why, I just am. But John Irving, who wrote the introduction to my edition, hates it with a passion. In "David Copperfield," however, I can't stand it when Agnes calls David "Trotwood." It just sounds weird to me. But I've never heard anyone else say they have a problem with that one!

Gina, when I watched David Copperfield it jumped out at me for the first time how everyone (or each group/family) has their own name for him and how that's part of the story. Trotwood is an extremely weird name but I think it's part of the denial of the aunt perhaps that it isn't specifically a boy's name so it helps her not be continually confronted by him being the 'wrong' gender each time she says his name. As well as it linking David to her, showing her commitment to take care of him from then on. And quite quickly it comes to be a name said by her with great affection, weird as it is.

As for Little Dorrit, I suppose in the book it struck me as her wanting to keep the link to her first memories of him. I can understand it coming across as demeaning, but on the other hand, it seemed clear to me in the book that Arthur greatly respects Amy by the end, even if he does start out by thinking of himself more as her protector.

Anyway, about Little Dorrit - Gina, I just read your reviews of each part with great interest, having discovered your site after Oliver Twist aired (in the US) and enjoyed your comments on that.

I don't know why I waited until the end to read them. But anyway, as before I appreciate your detailed observations on the characters, scenes - the ones that were done well, the ones that weren't, the differences from the book and your opinions about that.

I read the book years ago and didn't remember it AT ALL. Part I on TV started out so dreary and sad I was wondering if I'd like this one (even though Dickens is my favorite novelist). But I stuck with it and by partway into Part II I was seeing the typical variety and color of Dickens coming out in the various characters and enjoying it.

I started the book last week because I didn't want to get ahead of the TV series (I've finished it now). On the whole I thought the adaptation was pretty good - almost all the characters were excellently portrayed and most of the important storyline was kept/portrayed closely enough. Exceptions: I agree that Tattycoram was weird. I think they should have cast a Caucasian in the part so that implicit racism wasn't a possible issue. And somehow it didn't quite work to have her first scenes be so explosive and her so sullen - I think she needed to be more repressed more of the time to make it believable that the Meagles missed how angry she was. In the book it's somewhat lame how she goes back to the Meagles at the end (although I was glad she got away from Miss Wade). In general about the rush to the end - I've noticed this in other Dickens books - he does wonderfully with suspense through the book (although some of his hints are so obvious the secrets are guessable - one neat thing about this book was that as you (?) said, the big secret wasn't guessable) then has a rushed ending where everything is suddenly revealed and wrapped up.

I was a bit disappointed how the Gowans just dropped out of the story after the birth, but then found out they also disappear in the book. I would have liked a bit more closure on that and to know how they reacted to Arthur and Amy's marriage.

I liked how Rigaud was played except I don't understand why he was turned into a mass murderer in the TV adaptation. It did make him very sinister; but I think it's more believable that he used people but only killed one - his wife. And that could have been somewhat accidental since they were fighting on a cliff top. His not caring about her death afterwards is believable for sure since he used people all the time. On the other hand his poisoning Lion is rather weird if he didn't go around killing routinely. So maybe the series was more consistent than the book. Speaking of Lion, I sort of thought the TV take on his name was that it was one of Henry Gowan's sarcastic jokes to give him that name.

The Dorrits, Clennams, Flintwinches, Merdles, Barnacles, Chiverys, Casbys, Mrs F's aunt, Edmund, Cavalletto, Pancks and Casby were all awesome.

I also thought the bank scenes and Circumlocution Office were very well done. And the house.

The plot change I liked least, along with Rigaud's nature, was Amy rebuffing Arthur on her return to London. I don't see what it added and it made her showing up when he was ill as if that scene never happened seem implausible.

I didn't mind the explicit proposals too much. It didn't change the spirit of things much to have John explicitly propose to Amy and I didn't think it was totally unreasonable to have Arthur propose to Minnie, given that she wasn't particularly outwardly demonstrative to Henry. Which fits with the book. I did enjoy the book's theme of Arthur's denial about caring about Minnie, but I don't see how that could have been portrayed on TV.

I also loved Arthur's face when he first saw Flora again - priceless :)

I enjoyed Mrs General leaving as soon as Mr Dorrit's mind started going. And the scene where Amy finds the two brothers both dead was very well done.

On everything else I didn't comment on I probably agree with you :) Thanks again for sharing your observations. Reading them helps a little with with the post-series let-down!

Good points, Helen. But the strange thing is, I don't mind it so much when Aunt Betsey does it -- just when Agnes does it. Maybe it's just that *I'm* being weird.

Or maybe, again, it has to do with the romantic relationship. Maybe I just have some sort of a feeling that no matter what the rest of the world calls you, your beloved ought to use your real name! Perhaps it has something to do with the idea of "knowing and being known" that I wrote about in the "Further thoughts" post yesterday.

More commentary on the difference between now and the 1800s -- it seems to me that Arthur always respects Amy even when he does think of himself as her protector, though he later comes to respect her in a different way. Trying to look at the situation through his eyes, I see it just as a man trying to show kindness to a young woman in need without being too forward about it. (Now if he'd been trying to be a "protector" in the "sugar daddy" sense, that would be a whole different kettle of fish.) The main flaw in his perception is not looking at her condescendingly, as in "I know way more about the world than you, so your opinions have no merit," but simply looking at her as a little girl when she isn't -- and that comes from a mix of (a) wanting her to trust him and be able to confide in him, and thus giving her a lot of "just look at me as a father figure" talk, and (b) trying to recover from the Pet debacle by persuading himself that he's a decrepit old geezer who never had a chance at romance anyway.

It's true that Amy herself shows an inclination to take his opinions as gospel for a while, but I don't think it's because he encourages her to do so. I think that's just HER flaw, and a sign that she needs to develop more self-confidence.

Anyway, going back to Arthur's perspective, I think the movie did a good job of showing how he at last comes to see his mistake and to realize that he loves her as a woman.

Good points, Helen. But the strange thing is, I don't mind it so much when Aunt Betsey does it -- just when Agnes does it. Maybe it's just that *I'm* being weird.

Oh, I missed that you said Agnes. I should read more carefully :)

Or maybe, again, it has to do with the romantic relationship. Maybe I just have some sort of a feeling that no matter what the rest of the world calls you, your beloved ought to use your real name! Perhaps it has something to do with the idea of "knowing and being known" that I wrote about in the "Further thoughts" post yesterday.

I think this is about association and symbolism. To me, nicknames aren't necessarily a sign of not knowing someone. In a way I think they can be more intimate than someone's given name because they say - this name came about because of a particular connection I have with you. Isn't David's stepfather the only one who calls him by his given name David - and he is also the one who has no relationship with him, highlighted by his comparing his discipline of David with that of a rebellious dog or horse.

I can see that "little" in particular is problematic because it sounds patronizing/condescending. I can't see liking a nickname such as that.

Anyway, going back to Arthur's perspective, I think the movie did a good job of showing how he at last comes to see his mistake and to realize that he loves her as a woman.

Yes, I think they did that well - although if it were truer to period I assume they would have held hands as a sign of their new understanding rather than kissed. But I realize they weren't trying to be true to the period in those sorts of ways.

I also agree that Arthur failing to see he loves Amy as a woman is a lot to do with his shift after Minnie's engagment to perceiving himself as older than he is and beyond the time of life where he would succeed at romance. Maybe Dickens was also thinking the lack of love between his parents in his upbringing - so, nothing close to a role model of happy marriage - made it hard to know his own feelings in that area.

I was hoping the book had Arthur's revelation about loving Amy result from John telling Arthur Amy loved Arthur, after seeing it on TV. Because that's the sort of thing I'd rather they didn't take adaptation license with. I was glad the book did have it that way (although the details of the words and setting were a little different).

On the one hand, I think Davies made a good decision to close the "gap" between Amy and Arthur in the TV version, making her a little more forceful/less submissive and him a lot less "fatherly". On the other hand, I wish they had also ditched "I'm twice as old as you" line, which made me chuckle. I'm sorry, Macfadyen gave a great performance, but he simply does not look 40.

"I don't understand why Amy stands there for so much of this looking blank. It's what the director wanted, I guess, but it comes across pretty poorly and is very un-Amy-like."

The dramatic realization of this scene seems to me at least, to rather faithfully reflect the description of it in the text, although within the dramatic compression of the scene, Amy only says "Father... Father" in trying to soothe him.

" 'My child, ladies and gentlemen. My daughter. Born here!'

She was not ashamed of it, or ashamed of him. She was pale and
frightened; but she had no other care than to soothe him and get
him away, for his own dear sake. She was between him and the
wondering faces, turned round upon his breast with her own face
raised to his. He held her clasped in his left arm, and between
whiles her low voice was heard tenderly imploring him to go away
with her."

'Born here,' he repeated, shedding tears. 'Bred here. Ladies and
gentlemen, my daughter. Child of an unfortunate father, but--ha--
always a gentleman.' "

"Holy CRAP, a reunion scene! Poor Arthur isn't getting her sarcasm, I'm afraid. At this point he isn't getting much of anything -- except hurt. This scene is turning out to be horrible. It could have been good, but it's horrible. If I might slip into psychiatric parlance for a moment, Amy is meant to be Arthur's "safe place," the person he can trust and be comfortable with when he's beset from all other sides. And she would never speak that way to someone whom she loves and respects and who's been nothing but kind to her. Bad, bad, BAD idea."

I completely agree with this. I had never read the book before I watched the miniseries, but I think I checked the book out from the library during the series and had it finished by the end of the series, so I knew this part was wrong. It was just so wrong. Arg!
I must say, I loved the characterizations of Young John, Mr. Pancks, and Flora. They were all brilliant, especially Flora.

Little Dorrit wore a purple wedding dress because she was still in mourning.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)