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!