Friday, 6 July 2007

What the Dickens

Dickens has found me rather late. Mum read The Old Curiosity Shop to me when I was very young, and of course it made me cry. But I never really liked Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, or even Great Expectations, which I watched bits of growing up. The nastiness of some of the characters really put me off - the injustice was too much to bear.

GCSE English gave me A Tale of Two Cities, which I did rather enjoy. A very good book for a teenage boy, and I didn't guess the final twist, which comes almost on the very last page, so it really made an impression on me. (I am very good at not guessing the final twist sometimes - just as I failed to spot whodunnit in Robert Altman's Gosford Park, despite it being quite obvious to most of the people I went with, and despite my extensive background in golden age detective fiction!)

Now that I'm grown up, I seem to be coping slightly better (though I still didn't watch OT) as Kate and I are making our way through various BBC adaptations. The Pickwick Papers, from the late 70s, was tremendous: not so much the iron fist in the velvet glove as the painful plum pit in the bowl of trifle. Bleak House and Martin Chuzzlewit were both superb, in their different ways, but I am enjoying Our Mutual Friend almost more than any. (Or possibly I can remember it best because I'm in the middle of it... I like that one... no, I like that one... I mean, I like that one... um...)

The hardship and the grinding poverty shock even through the double veil of fiction. And even though it may be sentimental literature, I love it. As Old Betty says, rebuking large portions of today's Britain,

"Don't you worry about me. To earn my own bread by my own labours, and keep the deadness off - what more could I want?"