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Book Report: Little Dorritt

Your Humble Blogger finally persuaded the Best Reader of this Tohu Bohu to watch the Masterpiece/BBC Little Dorritt together. That’s the recent one, not the one that was released as two theatrical movies, a decision that still makes no sense to me. Although to be fair, I haven’t seen it. I would like to, but it was difficult enough to convince somebody to watch the more recent one with me, without having to get out the VHS machine like some wild animal in the wilderness.

Anyway. I enjoyed the production, although there were a few things I didn’t like—for one thing, Little Dorritt should really be little, child-sized almost—and it perhaps inevitably brought me back to the book. Which really is wonderful. I mean, wonderful. Reading it after watching the video reminded me of all the bits that didn’t translate well to the screen, in addition to the ones that did.

Old Mr. Dorritt, the Father of the Marshallsea, is one of Charles Dickens’ great monsters, which puts him in very good company indeed. Or bad company, I suppose. But what a part! Tom Courtenay was unsurprisingly good in it, although there were a couple of bits that I felt didn’t work as well as they might. Not all his fault, of course. But he had the requisite monstrosity with just the faintest tinge of a hint of a suspicion of self-awareness, just enough to make him tragic. I also really liked Andy Serkis as Rigaud or Blandois or whatever his name was at the moment; he wasn’t the character from the book, but he was fun to watch. Although he was in a different style than many of the other characters, which was a problem. He might have been more true to the book stylistically, in fact, but in this version, he appeared out of place.

The major and fundamental plot point of the book involves debtor’s prison, of course, which dates it terribly. We no longer have debtor’s prisons, and haven’t for long enough that they no longer make any sense to us. They didn’t make any sense to Mr. Dickens, of course, who had been inside them, but it’s different, now; the whole idea seems a preposterously implausible plot device. Which is too bad, because I could imagine a movie that took bits of the story and updated them—not a point-by-point modernization but a conceptual one—to tremendous effect. Pyramid scheme, bureaucracy, money and society, pretense and so on. Mrs. General, Mrs. Merdle, Mrs. Sparkler (as she becomes), Mrs. Clennam are all types that exist today, and it would be a lot of fun to show them in today’s clothes, doing today’s versions of those things. You would have to get rid of debtor’s prison, of course, and you would have to get rid of the surprise plot point at the end involving who is actually related to who (which I never remember anyway, as it makes no fucking sense), and you would probably have to get rid of—well, you could get rid of Little Dorritt, for one thing. You could make it Mrs. Merdle’s story, or even Young Sparkler’s story—the dimwitted but cheerful fellow, born to genteel poverty, who has one turnaround when his widowed mother remarries the financial wizard, who falls in love with an exotic dancer, and then falls in love with her again when she is an heiress (and her history is hidden).

You know, that might actually work. Although you would need some sort of ending. Hm.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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