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!

The Culture of the TLS

Why do I read the TLS?  Who is its ideal reader? Is she a professor emerita with a Proust monomania, or an Eastern European immigrant barista who haunts Bloomsbury bookshops?

No, I am my own demographic. (We all are.) As a cranky, working-class, state-university-educated feminist, I have constructed a fantasy world of the TLS.  The poorly-paid critics and editors smoke hand-rolled cigarettes as they type on old-fashioned typewriters, wearing twin sets, buns, and ballet shoes, like Anita Brookner’s spinsters,  or chatting pretentiously like the poet Dorothy Merlin and her savvy bookseller husband Cosmo in Pamela Hansford Johnson’s  satiric novel, Cork Street, Next to the Hatter.  They are all, in short, living in the mid-to-late 20th century.

Yes, I love the worlds of Brookner and Johnson, but I understand that the TLS is nothing like that.  I subscribe to the TLS for three reasons: (a) the  reviews of books on classics, (b)  reviews of and features about women’s literature, and (c) the entertaining literary column, “N.B.”, by J.C.

Last week the critic Dwight Garner at the New York Times explored the  TLS culture in an entertaining profile of  Stig Abell, “A Scrappy Makeover for a Tweedy Literary Fixture.” Abell, 38, is the editor, a Shakespeare enthusiast, and author of a new book, How Britain Really Works: Understanding the Ideas and Institutions of a Nation, which has just been published in the UK.

Garner writes, “When Stig Abell was named the editor of the venerable Times Literary Supplement, or TLS, two years ago, the baffled reaction among book people was nearly audible. Stig who?”

A former editor of  the Sun, which is apparently a tabloid, Abell does have literary qualifications:  he earned a double first in English from Cambridge and had written reviews for the TLS, the Spectator, and other newspapers.

Stig told Garner, “We want to keep our core audience.  But there are many others out there — they do all sorts of things professionally — who remember a time, perhaps in college, when they fed their minds and stretched themselves. They want that feeling again. We want those readers, too.”

Abell is hiring more women writers and writers of color. Sales are up.

I shall keep my fingers crossed and hope they continue to use correct grammar (they’ve had some wobbly pronouns) and publish brilliant articles.  Details, details!

And good luck!

The TLS, The Last Trojan Hero, & Adventures in Stationery

tls the_times_literary_supplement_16_january_2015_1I have just renewed my subscription to the TLS,.

It is a guilty pleasure: I end up buying many scholarly books on classics reviewed in this publication.

Right now I am finishing up Philip Hardie’s  The Last Trojan Hero:  A Cultural History of Virgil’s Aeneid, an entertaining overview of Virgil’s influence on literary works ranging from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to  Michel Butor’s nouveau roman, La Modification (which my husband has promised to translate–we’ll see!).

But even the TLS has its lighter side.  I enjoyed Catharine Morris’s recent review of James Ward’s Adventures in Stationery: A Journey through Your Pencil Case.   Are you as enchanted by stationery as I am?  I  have added this book  to my TBR list.  (By the way, Ward has a blog called I Like Boring Things.)

image-adventures-in-stationery-a-journey-through-your-pencil-case-james-ward-mainMorris’s review is filled with charming quotes.  Ward writes, “It’s only a slight exaggeration to say the history of stationery is the history of human civilization.”

And I also like this.

The physical means something,” writes Ward. “People like it.” You can’t beat a handwritten letter, it’s true; and, as Ward points out, the materials we use have symbolic power: “Visiting a stationery store, you are surrounded by potential; it’s a way of becoming a new person, a better person.”

Few write letters, but I do correspond with a few old-fashioned friends.  Before the stationery store in town closed, I stocked up on stationery, fountain pens,  and Apica notebooks.  I also adore going to office supply stores on New Year’s Day.    My favorite episode of The Gilmore Girls is “Help Wanted,” when Lorelai and her father, Richard, stock up on post-its at an office supply store.  And of course The Office is set in a corporate paper supply business.

Did you know there is a blog called Letters of Note?

If you want to read some Roman classics, try Cicero’s Letters, Pliny’s letters, and Seneca’s letters.

I am fond of  Fanny Burney’s Evelina, the letters in Ausen’s novels (I especially like Lydia’s in Pride and Prejudice), Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross, Cathleen Schine’s The Love Letter, and there’s a lot of e-mail in Gary Shteyngart’s comic masterpiece, Super Sad True Love Story.

And then there is all that correspondence by favorite authors, Keats, Emily Dickenson, Thomas Hardy, Katherine Mansfield, etc.

What are your favorite books on/with letters?