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Charles Dicken’s Bleak House is considered one of the most complex and greatest novels of the English language. The novel has many characters and sub-plots being told by two different narrators. This 750-page novel satires the English judicial system, which helped promote legal reforms in the 1870’s. How could Andrew Davies possibly translate this novel into just an 8-episode T.V. series. Making Bleak House into a show has already been done before in the year 1985, where most of the audience said that it was superb and one of the greatest adaptations of the novel that they have ever seen. How will Andrew Davies differentiate from this series? Is it even possible for him to have a better adaptation of the novel then the 1985 series did?
Every time that a literary work is translated into a movie or show, most of the audience believes that a lot of things were left out and that the book will always be superior. Movies and shows only give a slight insight into the world that is perceived by the literature. It is impossible for every image, feeling, and effect to be translated from a novel into a movie or show. Individuals that have read the books and go see the movie will always be disappointed because the book is always the original and correct way of presenting the literature. People have their own interpretation and image of what the book is supposed to look like. 500 different readers of the same book may have 500 different ideas of a character’s appearance. On top of that, if the actor doesn’t live up to what the reader expected, then the reader will be disappointed. There is also a limited amount of storytelling in a movie or show, and the script may not do the story justice. This comes with the questions of why directors and writers still try to adapt novels into movies and shows. Why do these writers still take the huge task of disappointing and letting down the audience who read the novel? Through this thinking and my love for the novel Bleak House, I created the question: To what extent did Andrew Davies adapt Charles Dickens’s novel into his T.V. show series Bleak House?
A serial in literature is when a larger single work, often a work of narrative fiction, is published in smaller, sequential installments usually in the newspaper. During the 19th and 20th centuries serialized fiction grew in popularity, which was during the Victorian era. Novel serialization was T.V. before T.V. Readers would wait for the newspaper and or magazine to come out so that they could read the next serial of their story. The first major success of a serialized piece of literature was Charles Dickens’s, The Pickwick Papers, in 1836. Many authors were inspired by Dickens way of serialization. This new way of storytelling continued and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes stories originally for serialization in The Strand magazine. Overtime, this British way of doing things translated over to America. The first significant American works to be released in serial format is Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
As time progress into the late 20th and early 21st centuries, serialization of novels began its slow decline because of the rise in broadcasting. Newspapers began focusing more on entertainment and television. Serializing, this way of breaking a large piece into parts translated into television. Television broadcasts were being separated into episodes like novels were broken up into small pieces. This is one way how Andrew Davies Bleak House T.V. series was like Charles Dickens’s novel. This breakdown of the story has a very important effect on the reader/watcher. After each episode or serial, the audience is left with suspense and curiosity. They want to know what is going to happen in the story, so they are left wondering until the next episode or serial comes out. This keeps the audience on their feet and draws them in. In an interview with BBC Andrew Davies said that he hopes that his half-hour format will leave viewers wanting more. “The thing that was uppermost in our minds was to tell the story in a way that made people absolutely die to know what happens next.”
After saying that, Andrew Davies clearly made the show episodic to be like the serial feel of the novel. After entertainment became popular, serialized novels became quite unpopular, however, some writers still serialized. Recently writers began serializing their novels on the World Wide Web. In 2011, pseudonymous author Wildbow published Worm, which remains one of the most popular web serials of all time. As of the week of April 17, 2017, 170 thousand unique people have read Worm Many aspiring authors also use the web to publish free-to-read works in serialized format independently as well as web-based communities. Many of these books receive as many readers as successful novels; some have received the same number of readers as New York bestsellers. Bleak house was serialized in this fashion
Andrew Davies left out more than ten characters in his adaptation of the novel: The wife of Snagsby, the law stationer; the wife and grandson of the moneylender Smallweed; the law clerk Tony Jobling; the bankrupt Jellyby; Sir Leicester Dedlock’s several cousins; and the Bagnet family, friends of the ex-soldier Sergeant George. Andrew Davies has never made it clear why he has erased those characters from his adaptation of the novel. These weren’t characters that were just in the background of the story and didn’t have an impact. They were very important to the plot and storyline of the novel. The storyline concerning Mrs. Snagsby’s paranoid jealousy of her husband is omitted altogether. This is because wife of Mr. Snagsby isn’t even in the adaptation. In the novel, the possession of Lady Dedlock’s letters involve Tony Jobling and Smallweed junior. Since Davies left these characters out, he used Mr. Crook, a landlord, and Mr. Guppy, a clerk at Mr. Kenge’s law firm, as the characters involved in the possession of her letters.
The final plot that was portrayed differently in the show was the reconnection of George and his mother, which in the novel was brought about by Mrs. Bagnet. In the show there was no Mrs. Bagnet, so Esther Summerson and Mr. John Jarndice found his mother and told her where her son was. These are all examples of elements left out of the show that were in the book, however there is one example of a sub-plot that was part of the show but not in the book. Mr. Tulkinghorn is Sir Leicester Deadlock’s lawyer and the lead attorney of the Chancery Court. He is the mysterious antagonist that Dickens and Davies choose not to solve. Throughout both works that reader/viewer is wondering what Mr. Tulkinhorn’s true intentions are up until the end. He is the devil figure in the story and has sinister intentions to hurt Lady Deadlock.
In the novel there is a narrator that shows the motives and deeds of Mr. Tulkinhorn. In the show there is no narrator, so Andrew Davies created a character known as Mr. Clamb. He is the Clerk of the foul lawyer. Mr. Clamb is sort of the confidante of Mr. Tulkinghorn. The confidante is someone that a character reveals his/her main thoughts, personality and motives to. The casting was a gift unto itself with BBC’s most talented actors playing in every role. Every actor portrayed their respective characters in a perfect way that would make Dickens proud. One of the most mesmerizing performances was Phil Davis as Mr. Smallweed.
In the novel Mr. Smallweed is desribed as an angry, paralyzed many whose only emotion is greed. The only thought that is ever on this man’s mind is profit. His body in the novel is described as barely human. He is paralyzed in a chair 24/7 and on top of that his granddaughter, Judy, must fluff him up like a pillow every few minutes. He is a nasty old man who is as foul on the inside as he is on the outside. In literature a monster is described as someone or something that brings sensation of disgust to the reader. On top of that, the monster has no redeeming qualities and has no heart. Mr. Smallweed is nasty in everything he does: screaming at everyone including his granddaughter, trying to extort George and Sir Leicester Deadlock, and trying to keep and sell the final will that would solve the Jarnidice and Jarndice case. Phil Davis executed this role in a way that made you feel disgusted and creeped out every time he was shown on the screen.
The set and the costumes add another dimension to the story. Charles Dickens’ works were associated with London, which is the setting of many of his novels. Dickens didn’t use London as a backdrop, instead he centered his works about London and its characters. No character played a role as important as London itself. The unique ways that he described London with all five sense brought a new perspective to the city. This description became known as Dickensian London. Dickensian London is a character in itself. Charles Dickens had a son named Charles Dickens who wrote a popular guide book to London, using his father’s description of the city. The book was called, Dickens’s Dictionary of London
This is the map that the guidebook is based around. In the legal district behind the courts on Chancery lane, is Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which in “Bleak House” are described as “the perplexed and troublous valley of the shadow of the law.” Dickens used words like dull, dingy, and dusky when describing the square. Andrew Davies perfectly portrayed Dickensian London in his adaptation of “Bleak House.” The city is always covered and fog and the lighting is minimal. Every outdoor scene consists of heavy rain and lightning, adding to the gloominess of the setting.
In chapter one of the novel Charles Dickens uses this imagery to describe the setting “Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwhich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck.
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