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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dickens and cinema

As noted yesterday, the plot of Bleak House doesn't really stand up to close scrutiny - but that's not the point. As we near the conclusion, there's a great dramatic, two-chapter sequence that probably makes no sense at all when you think about it - Lady Dedlock, feeling humiliated and mortified that her husband will learn of the child she bore out of wedlock (Esther) and perhaps - I can't quite figure this one out - believing she may be arrested and charged, wrongly, with the murder of Atty Tulkinghorn - leaves a note behind and takes off into the stormy night. Sir Leicester Dedlock (Baronet), learning of his wife's sorrow, suffers what appears to be a stroke - but then in the first note of kindness and humanity he's ever shown, indicates that all is forgiven, Lady Dedlock should come home. Well and good, that's just plain old-fashioned melodrama. But how to get her home? Inspector Bucket hires a horse and driver, picks up the always ready Esther, and rides off into the night - and he follows her for two days, along the Thames, into the countryside, then a reversal and back to London, and finally Esther finds Lady Dedlock (her birth mother, one whom Esther seems to have strong feelings for, though only someone as unrelievedly good as Esther would have these feelings - although, yes, I understand her yearning for the mother who had been absent for her whole life) in disguise lying (she traded clothes with a brickmaker's wife so that Bucket would lose her trail) just at the moment of her death. It's a completely needless and improbable scenario - and yet, and yet - such a great one, too! Entirely cinematic - notably the visit to the men on the banks of the Thames whose job it is to recover the bodies of the drowned, and the crossing of the Thames by night and the dark reflections in the water. If Bleak House were not essentially impossible to film (although it made a good TV miniseries), this scene would be a classic - much like the great opening scene of Great Expectations, captured so well in the David Lean (I think?) movie. Dickens, like Shakespeare - O, for a muse of fire! - was a writer far ahead of the media of his age.

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