Monday, April 13, 2009

"Little Dorrit" and a Dickens Question

Watched Part 3 (of 5) of the BBC's presentation of "Little Dorrit" on PBS last night. This tale just gets better and better. Unlike, say, "Bleak House" which sucks you in from the get-go, "Little Dorritt" is a gradual story and, by the time you realize you're inrevocably hooked, you're in episode 2 or 3.

In reading the recent book by Dan Simmons, Drood, and listening to some interviews with the author, I know that Simmons did a lot of research. Many of the conversations his imaged Dickens had with his imagined Wilkie Collins were probably based on fact. One of the more intersting conversations is when Dickens pointed out to Collins that the latter's novel, The Moonstone, was a new type of genre, a mystery. Dickens himself was inspired to write one but, alas, never completed one.

Now, back to "Little Dorrit" as the prelude to my question. "LD," like many of Dickens' works, has a little bit of everything. It has drama, soap-opera-ish personal interactions, a mystery, and a murderer...and I don't even know how it's going to end.

Which leads me to the question for any Dickens scholars (or anyone who wants to posit an answer): why didn't Dickens write a story of a single genre (even if the term wasn't invented yet)? Why did he throw them all into the same pot and stir?

My personal take on it is this: a typical Dickens story, with all the different elements, is more like real life than merely a drama or a mystery or whatever. Everything happens, usually on top of each other. Was Dickens so infused with real life--and wrote books that mirrored that--that he failed to see that he could write a story of a single genre?


pattinase (abbott) said...

I am not a scholar by any means but I would imagine the notion of genre was not finely fixed. He added the ingredients he needed to make his stories sing. I think a lot of the novels from earlier times were more of a mix and many novels today would improve if this was still done.

David Cranmer said...

Your enthusiasm for this program makes me want to see it.

Scott Parker said...

Patti - I agree wholeheartedly with you. Just imagine if some 'literary' fiction were infused with some action and intrigue. Just imagine if some 'genre' fiction were infused with some drama. Honestly, I think we genre writers do this better in that we throw in drama/literary stuff. I don't think it happens too much the other way round.

David - This miniseries has hit as part of a Dickens zeitgeist for me. I'd love this show any time. But, that it's coming when it is is icing on my Dickens cake.

Barrie said...

My highschooler (a great reader but not a Dickens' fan) complains about the amount of unnecessary detail in Dickens' books. This doesn't answer your question at all, but how weird that I've had two "conversations" about Dickens so recently?!

Clare2e said...

There was only fiction when he was writing, if that makes sense. Genre-type names were used for description, but not so strictly for marketing, because we weren't trying to differentiate and market thousands of titles. It's only later that we say which and who was writing what.

Also, Dickens frequently wrote his tales as serials for magazines, which needed to appeal to every member of the family. A wide breadth of appeal included romance, humor, adventure, tragedy, mystery, and a range of characters so that everyone found something about the story worth following from issue to issue. I think that contributes to the kitchen sinky-ness, too.

Ray said...

I like the 'soap opera' thought - though shows like 'Eastenders' and 'Coronation Street' don't do the Dickens form justice.
Dickens was a crusader as well as a writer. Many of his books raised public awareness and influenced some of the Poor Law reforms.