Waugh and “Dickensian”

A reviewer in the Guardian has written a survey of earlier reviews of a new BBC TV series. This is Dickensian which began with 4 of the 20 episodes earlier this week. The idea, conceived by Tony Jordan (of East Enders),  is to take some of the more memorable characters from various Dickens novels and create a “mash-up” in which they interact in a new plot having little or nothing to do with the original novels.  It sounds like a bad idea, and your correspondent’s viewing of the first episode confirmed that. The characters were hard to identify and distinguish from one other and there were way too many plot lines. This was made worse by the overall darkness of the scenes and muddiness of the sound track.

The initial reviews were decidedly mixed, and the Guardian’s commentator, Stephen Moss, was also skeptical. But he watched all 4 of this week’s episodes and now is hooked. He thinks the characters are developing new depths not achieved in their original surroundings. He also thinks Waugh’s ending of A Handful of Dust (originally published separately as a story entitled “The Man Who Liked Dickens”) supports the idea of the mash-up. The production:

has reminded [him] why, at the end of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, the illiterate Mr Todd is so determined to keep Tony Last at his settlement in the Amazonian jungle forever, reading Dickens’ novels aloud to him (apart, that is, from the unnamed two that have been consumed by insects) on what amounts to a continuous loop.

Waugh was dismissive of Dickens’ emotionalism, and inflicting the latter’s novels on the doomed Last as an eternal punishment might be seen as part of that critique. Mr Todd is a madman, yet perhaps in his unquenchable devotion to Dickens he is more perceptive than those who, adopting an austere adult sensibility, grow out of him. “It is delightful to start again,” says Mr Todd. “Each time I think I find more to enjoy and admire.” Truly, the occupation of a lifetime.

Well, maybe it’s worth a look at the other episodes (or at least a few of them). They are available online to stream on BBC iPlayer for the next 3 weeks. A proxy server is required to watch them online outside the U.K. but they may end up on a U.S. channel later on.


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