Blame it on “Little Dorrit”

27 May 2010

I have dived into Dickens.  It started, of course, with the 2008 BBC miniseries a few weeks ago; now I’m reading the copy of David Copperfield I found in my summer rental apartment.  Meanwhile, I’m scouring Google Videos for a Dickens back catalogue available online — and have found a muddy copy of what is obviously an excellent four-part version of “Our Mutual Friend” (1998) on YouTube, disappointing only in that I have to ingest it in 9-minute increments.

Ordinarily this would strike me as strange — doesn’t Dickens sound more appropriate for a winter break?  All those hungry children, conniving lawyers, brittle old women, and cold garrets.  Maybe if I were in sweltering Texas I’d find this too much.  I think the appeal of Dickens right now reflects the fact that doing research makes one strange.

I’m looking around the research library right now, noting how many of them are of the same type:  disheveled (I’ve counted five with bed-head hair), shabbily dressed, poor posture — and absolutely preoccupied with their work.  Don’t get me wrong:  I am exactly the same, sans the bed head.  The woman across the desk from me has an expression on her face as if she’s simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the materials she’s reading. The woman next to me whispers unselfconsciously as she reads aloud over her magnifying glass.  The man on the other side is surely a grad student — he can’t be more than 26 — yet he already has the perceptible disappointment and self-defeat of a 50-year-old.  An atom bomb could go off and these people’s eyes wouldn’t lift from their books.

Given this cast of characters, it seems entirely appropriate that I’d be watching a show about a family that made its fortune in the dust business, and an “articulator of bones,” Mr. Venus (Timothy Spall, whose face guaranteed him a lifetime of Dickensian parts; he’s also appeared as Peter Pettigrew/ Wormtail in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and the uxorious Nathaniel in “Enchanted”).  The faces of the people in the library with me aren’t that different than those of Noddy Boffin, Betsy Trotwood, or Sloppy.

So here’s to a summer of talking to myself in the library, and then racing home to consume another couple hundred pages of social satire and condemnation of society obsessed with money and status — by an author who knew that no matter how much he criticized the world around him, the worthy man and virtuous woman would always marry in the end (and probably wind up with piles of money), and that his readers would weep as a result.

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4 Responses to “Blame it on “Little Dorrit””

  1. servetus Says:

    Love the connection between reading Dickens and living Dickens. It seems especially appropriate to libraries, which really are filled, the world over, with very odd people, including us.


  2. […] Tenant of Wildfell Hall” (1996), a great BBC adaptation of the Anne Brontë novel.  Earlier this summer I overdosed on 19th-c. novels, but it’s hard to stay away when it comes to the Brontës, especially if one has watched this […]


  3. […] Mutual Friend (1998), which I absorbed in an unholy moment of costume-drama overload while on an overseas research trip. You’ll never look at actor Stephen Mackintosh again […]


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