The Gospel in Dickens
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February 23, 2018


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I can't tell you how happy this makes me. I was afraid we were about to have another horror (along the lines of Great Expectations,1998, starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow), inflicted upon us.

I'll never understand why anyone would feel the need to create a contemporary adaptation of any of Dickens' works. I've always considered the settings, the times and the places, to be indispensable enhancements to the romance and suspense of the stories.

Imagine David – in his enthusiasm, chopping down all the metaphorical trees that stood between him and Dora, while only being allowed to see her for a few hours at a time on the occasional Sunday, and only receiving word of her through Julia Mills – suddenly thrown into the twenty-first century. He would have been texting her all day long and could have seen her any time he chose on Skype.

The only good reason I can think of for setting the story in modern times would be to have Betsey Trotwood spray the Murdstones with her garden hose.


Your comment makes me wish Gina's Dickensblog had a "Like" button.

One of the reasons I DIDN’T object to the Hawks/Paltrow version of “Great Expectations (and DON’T object to modern interpretations of great literature in general) is that a really good story is a timeless thing... it’s structure... it’s intrigue... it’s communication of what Faulkner referred to as the verities of duty, honor, justice.

I do love steeping myself in the period of Dickens as well, but that is certainly not the only thing that makes Dickens’ genius so accessible... so timeless. I also enjoy seeing how a writer translates the past into the present and the challenges of how to interpret—using modern truths— what might otherwise be obscure to present sensibilities.

But my deepest wish for this modern interpretation of Copperfield is that they not screw up the casting of Mr. Murdstone... and the pinnacle of the book (for me) his interchange with Betsey Trotwood at David’s moment of salvation.

I'm not opposed to old stories set in modern times per se. But a major plotline in David Copperfield is Steerforth and Emily's illicit relationship. Modern society wouldn't really consider cohabitating out of wedlock immoral like David Copperfield's society did. (Though they might look down on her for cheating on her fiancé.) It's true that there are still some people who consider Emily and Steerforth's behavior immoral but it isn't the disapproval of a subculture which makes Emily's story so dramatic. (Her family is pretty ready to forgive her.) It's the disapproval of society at large.

Betsey Trotwood's character would also be less interesting in a modern context. Don't get me wrong. It would take more than a setting update to make as awesome a character as Betsey Trotwood boring. But relatively speaking...she would be kind of boring. Part of what makes her interesting in the book is that she's kind of a rebel. But now her initial stand that marriage always lead to abuse has more powerful supporters than it did when the book took place.

I honestly think the story would be only half as dramatic if it were set in modern times.

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