Little Dorrit : With original illustrations Charles Dickens Author
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Rereading Little Dorrit this past summer, I was reminded of my diminutive maternal grandmother, born less than a decade after her beloved Dickens died, who liked nothing better than to spend wet afternoons reading his novels aloud to her granddaughters. I remember my mother, too, choking up over the last chapter of A Tale of Two Cites. But the tradition ended with me. I could never interest my own children in Dickens; they demanded Tolkien, or the television.So I belong, I suppose, to the last Dickensian generation, though I have no recollection of Little Dorrit from early days. Madame Defarge and Dotheboys Hall could be played for hours in the back yard, but I didn't read the great dark novels until I was in my teens when, instead of going to camp or waiting tables, I lay for entire summers in the swing on our screened porch in Ann Arbor, reading straight through my mother's bound sets of 19th-century fiction. It was a pivotal time for me, for I read steadily, dreamily and uncritically, making of Dickens' London a model setting for the heroine I would become once I was free of crass, boring, Midwestern America.Of course, by the time I had settled in England, I was (at least superficially) a modern woman, and my tastes favoured Henry James and Virginia Woolf. It wasn't until the early 1970s that I was urged by Philip Hobsbaum, then at work on his excellent Reader's Guide to Charles Dickens, to read Little Dorrit with a poet's understanding of its underlying symbolism. I returned to the novel in the 1980s when an enlightened BBC began to serialise Dickens on television. In fact, it was seeing an old video of Little Dorrit that set me writing about it. Despite a superb cast (Alec Guinness, Derek Jacobi) the film version is not a success. In part, a clumsy adaptation spoils it - many of the novel's characters are missing, together with half its plot. But now, having pushed myself to read every word of those 826 pages (no skipping!) I begin to wonder if these long, highly symbolic novels are not all but impossible to film.


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