Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Only Connect

In the quiet hours of the morning, I've taken to cleaning my room to a costume drama first thing. There's nothing like a vigorous re-placing of possessions - refolding the clothes on the floor (that I've sometimes perversely thrown around just so that I can refold them in the morning), making the bed, exorcising the stuffy night air by opening windows and lighting candles - accompanied by familiar faces and arch British accents.

I did not get very far into Brideshead Revisited before it had to be returned to the library, but I did have time to develope a crush on young Jeremy Irons. Now I am watching the 2005 production Bleak House, with Cranford (Judi Dench; 2007) in the wings.

Bleak House is one of the few Dickens novels I've read, and though I found the lawyerish talk of Jarndyce & Jarndyce soporific, and I didn't much like Esther Summerson at the time, I liked the book. (Though, in retrospect, this might be only because of the mysterious and very gothic figure, Lady Dedlock; gothic romances were my thing.) Watching the miniseries has convinced me to head back to Dickens and embrace his manic and silly cast of characters, his neglectful Jellaby-philanthropists, his sponging Skinpoles.

It seems, I said to Chris last night, that we've lost the kind of novel with a large cast of characters, where every one is important. No one writes like Dickens anymore. Or Gaskell.
Chris said that the Great American novels were largely - not always - about solo figures (Bellow, Roth, etc.)and couples on the East Coast (Updike). These novels are about individualism and self-determination. No manic philanthropists.
We agreed that Indians do Dickens now. In my (uneducated) opinion, Indian novels draw some potency from Dickens; it is difficult to find one which is not large and manic and overpopulated with characters in the Dickensian vein - Rushdie, Seth, etc.

And then, this morning in our fiction bin, waiting to be put on the front table, was Philip Hensher's Northern Clemency, which was - on the front cover - compared to both Dickens and Gaskell. So there. Serendipitous.

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