Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What I'm (re)reading this week: The Old Curiosity Shop

My local PBS station promised a version of this (they've been running Dickens adaptations all month), and so I've been re-reading to prepare. Though, honestly, I skim a lot of the stuff with Nell and her grandfather. Nobody does the treacly sanctification of children quite like Dickens does. (Though Harriet Beecher Stowe, with her little Eva, certainly gives it her best shot.)

To cut to the chase: the adaptation was a huge disappointment. For some unfathomable reason they decided to cram the whole story into 90 minutes. So, no Punch and Judy. No saintly schoolmaster or dying little boy. No Sophy Wackles (later Sophy Cheggs). And no allusion whatsoever to the Marchioness being the illegitimate spawn of Quilp and Sally Brass.

Most disappointing of all was the short shrift given to one of my top five favorite characters in all of English-language literature, Dick Swiveller. I don't know, honestly, if his comic richness can come across without that distanced, commenting authorial voice Dickens used. I don't know if it's possible to make him as delightfully lamewitted in the more immediate medium of film, or even in the now-fashionable tight-third-person narrative voice. (Though it probably is. Dick is a sort of spiritual forbear to Bertie Wooster, and his foolishness is indelibly sketched in first person.)

At any rate large chunks of his story were cut out, as was his habit of speaking in verse. He was shown marrying the Marchioness at the end, and it sort of came out of nowhere. (He never got sick; she never saved his life.) He lost his wonderful arc, from borderline-villainous buffoon to improbable hero.

Oh, well. I'll finish the re-read. Then maybe I'll look for Little Dorrit, which was the previous PBS adaptation and which I've never read.

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