The Missing BBC Adaptations of George Gissing

It’s no secret that I subscribe to the TLS.  It’s no secret but it’s expensive. And why subscribe?  Well, the best thing in the TLS is J.C.’s column, “N.B.”

J.C. is well-read, snarky, and opinionated.  He muses on poetry, obscure novels, reference books, literary trends, and subjects like cultural appropriation.  (The latter is so controversial that I am horrified to think of the hostile mail he must receive.)

Although I avoid the crowd, as Seneca would say, I know from experience that some “users” of social media pounce on opinions they disagree with. They attack points taken out of context, because they don’t read entire articles. I was astonished when what I deemed a harmless post about book club rip-offs–which I had assumed readers would agree with!–triggered a storm of virulent comments. (I deleted them.)  Taking on cultural appropriation would be far beyond my strength.

Oh well, J.C. probably deletes his email, too.  But back to his column: he is a hard-core George Gissing fan, and I, too, love Gissing.  I have read Gissing’s best known work, New Grub Street (which I wrote about here) and The Odd Women, several times, along with more obscure books that I’ve had to buy second-hand.  In J.C.’s latest N.B. column, he quotes a piece from the Gissing Journal by Markus Neacey, who  says the BBC has never adapted a novel by Gissing.  And J.C. thinks they would make good films.

J.C. writes,

Since 1948, there have been nine British TV adaptations each of David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights, eight of Treasure Island, seven of Great Expectations. Sir Walter Scott was popular in the 1950s – serializations or spin-offs of Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, Rob Roy and Redgauntlet – but had begun to fade by the end of the 70s. The last Scott drama, according to the Neacey list, was made in 1997 (Ivanhoe, again).

Think of a well-known nineteenth-century novel, and you are likely to find it on the list. There have been ten dramatizations of novels and stories by Elizabeth Gaskell – three of Cranford alone – and the same number of works by Wilkie Collins. Seven Hardy novels have been filmed a total of thirteen times. Trollopes and Eliots abound. There was even a four-part series derived from The Ordeal of Richard Feverel by George Meredith in 1964.

J.C. recommends that the BBC adapt the following:

It takes no feat of the imagination to visualize Thyrza, for example, on the screen: a novel intended to “contain the very spirit of London working-class life”, starring the Lambeth hat-trimmer with the beautiful singing voice. Serious versions of The Crown of Life or In the Year of Jubilee would have audiences switching over in droves from the usual rubbish. If it’s relevance you want (that specious quality), then get to work on The Odd Women.

Bravo!  I can’t wait to see a TV series of my favorite Gissing novel, In the Year of Jubilee.  Many years ago I noted in my book journal:  It is Gissing’s best book, the story of a smart heroine, Nancy Lord, and Gissing takes on the subjects of New Women, upper-class seduction, class snobbery, yellow journalism, and secret marriage.

Which of your favorite Victorian novels are missing from the BBC canon?  I can’t wait to hear!

10 thoughts on “The Missing BBC Adaptations of George Gissing

  1. I hope I live long enough to try all the 19th century authors I have missed out on in a conventional mid 20th century education. Everybody reads Dickens, Trollope, Eliot, Gaskell, the Brontes and I love them dearly, but why did nobody ever tell me how good Arnold Bennett and H. G. Wells are! I also recommend Margaret Oliphant and some of the less familiar Wilkie Collins. I finally overcame a prejudice formed in 8th grade and read a Sir Walter Scott with pleasure. Then it was on to a Disraeli “condition of England” novel. That was perhaps better politics than literature, but well worth my time. But I still haven’t read Meredith of Gissing. Who else have I missed?

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    • You’re right! These are such good choices. And I often feel I’ve missed out on many great writers, because it depends so much on what is in print. I thoroughly agree with you about Margaret Oliphant, and you know what? I had forgotten her! I need to read Sir Walter Scott and Disreaeli.

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  2. How about Thackeray? something other than Vanity Fair which has, IMO, been Done to Death with various screen and TV adaptations. I get it, we loves the Becky (Scarlett O’s Grandma) but The History of Henry Esmond was admired by Trollope, and its continuation The Virginians takes the family in the next generations to the developing US/Colonies (similar to recent Outlander). It would (being set in a most photogenic period (Restoration, Queen Anne)) be quite beautiful to look at, even if one has issues with its style (18c pastiche but done well). Just a suggestion! Or Charlotte Yonge’s The Daisy Chain or Ellen Wood’s East Lynne?

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    • Yes, these would be great! Thackeray doesn’t seem to be read anymore, except for Vanity Fair. I love the idea of The Virginians! Your description has me sold on the book and the TV show! I’ve never seen a copy of this book. Oh, and I’m all for the Yonge and East Lynne too.

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      • Henry Esmond is more available than The Virginians, to obtain a copy of which I had to buy an Edwardian Complete Works of WMT (12+ dark sage green volumes!). Esmond was published in the 60s by Limited Editions Book Club and in pb by Peguin, so ebait for sure! Just saw that a print on demand Virginians is available on Amazon. Modern reviewers seem to have issues with the importance of Duty and Honour in both books, but thats not surprising given the mad times in which we live.

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        • I have a Heritage Press copy of Henry Esmond with illustrations by Edward Ardizonne! ($3 at the Planned Parenthood book sale.) So I’ll definitely get that out and read it now. Thanks, Gina. And I don’t mind Print on Demand, except sometimes the print is too small. If I could just figure out which POD books have normal-sized print!

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  3. I’d be keen on seeing BBC adaptions of Grant Allen. The Woman Who Did seems the obvious choice, but the one I’d like most of all is The Devil’s Die. Its hero is a Muslim physician named Mohammed Ali, who discovers that his colleague, Dr Harry Chichele, is a psychopathic murderer. Though written in 1888, it seems particularly timely, touching upon religious and racial discrimination. Late in the story, our hero travels to the United States, where he encounters white supremacists. The novel is said to have influenced George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer.

    Though not a novel, I would also like to see Robert Barr’s Revenge!. A collection of short stories, it reminds me of nothing so much as Tales of the Unexpected. Perfectly suited to the small screen.

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    • I’ve never heard of either of these writers, but both sound due for a TV adaptation! It would be wonderful to see new dramatizations, plus tie-in editions of the books.

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