I had another piece lined up for today, but then realised that my posting slot coincides with Charles Dickens' two-hundredth birthday (well, it would be hard to miss that - Dickens is everywhere). He hardly needs another mention, but here it is anyway.
I'm reading Bleak House, enjoying the revelations as the plot unfolds, the slow grinding of the law court in the background, and of course the cast of characters - effete Mr Turveydrop, the neglected but spirited Caddy Jellyby, the birdlike and ever-hopeful Miss Flite, useless Mr Skimpole, Lady Dedlock doomed by her guilty secret. Esther Summerson's first-person narrative alternates with the chapters relayed more conventionally by an omniscient narrator, giving variety and freshness to a complex plot. (Is Esther Summerson the only female character in Dickens to be given her own voice?) Throughout, there are universal themes of finding the balance between happiness and duty, and of individuals striving to find goodness, purpose and love in a society indifferent to suffering.
As I read, I can't help seeing and hearing the superb cast of the excellent BBC adaptation of 2005 - Anna Maxwell Martin such a sympathetic Esther, Carey Mulligan - at the start of her career - bringing charm and personality to the anodyne role of Ada, Charles Dance unforgettable as the steely lawyer Tulkinghorn, and Burn Gorman ridiculous and oleaginous as the ambitious clerk, Guppy. But where to stop? Denis Lawson was perfect as John Jardyce, especially in the poignant scene where he frees Esther from her engagement; Gillian Anderson icy but vulnerable as Lady Dedlock.
I could watch it all over again, and again, with enormous enjoyment: the title sequence alone makes it worth buying the DVD. Although Andrew Davies pruned characters and episodes, his version aired in fifteen half-hour episodes, as well as omnibus repeats - such a treat for winter Sundays. His Bleak House was allowed the time and space for the characters to develop and resonate in viewers' minds. To my mind, it was the best and most satisfying Dickens adaption I've ever seen - so different from the recent Great Expectations, where we hurtled through the plot on fast-forward, hardly allowing us time to care what happened.
Please, let's have more slower-paced drama! Too much compression reduces great stories to nothing but plot. Accelerated Dickens, like breakneck Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte on speed, is about as satisying as reading Coles' Notes.
How about you? What's your favourite Dickens novel, and your favourite adaptation?