This is a tv post, but it's linked to books. See, in January I got hooked on PBS's Masterpiece Classics series when Tess of the D'Urbervilles aired. Tess was followed by Wuthering Heights, a book I have still not managed to read in spite of the fact that I really want to. So I was dying in suspense as far as where the story was going. And it was a great film in my opinion.
After that was a remake of Sense and Sensibility that I thought was fabulous. And now they're into Dickens. Oliver Twist and David Copperfield (starring a young Daniel Radcliffe) preceded Little Dorrit, the fourth episode of which aired last night. Just one more to go and I really want to know what's going to happen. Course I cheated and read some Cliff's Notes-like info about the book already. And I've had more than one moment's temptation to run out and purchase the book itself so that I can find out without waiting until Sunday. Unfortunately, or sadly, I don't have time. Little Dorrit is an 800+ page monster! For now I'll have to be happy with the movie version. And I must admit, even though I know literature freaks everywhere are rolling their eyes and throwing up their hands in despair, that I think this is a great way to become acquainted with some literary works that you may otherwise never consider reading.
I mean seriously. I have had the speeches from my English major friends (I was a minor so maybe that's my issue), but I have fought with Dickens ever since Great Expectations was shoved down my throat freshman year in high school. I'm not averse to re-reading this one thanks to some comments by my friends, and Jasper Fforde's rebranding of Miss Havisham, but Dorrit is one that I'd never even heard of (even after 6 years of working in a bookstore) and therefore was never planning on reading. I'm loving it! I'm consumed by the story, which is how it should be with great literature.
I have my own opinions about literature and all that, and one of those is not only how it is presented to the reader, but also the age at which we're exposed. Great Expectations may not be a bad one for high school freshmen in the grand scheme of things, but I definitely, book lover that I am, was no old enough to appreciate it yet. The curriculum seems to have changed some in the past years because my sisters had to read Tale of Two Cities one I definitely think should not be a freshman title. I mean c'mon. First off if the book in question is presented in an exciting way, you as a reader are going to be more likely to enjoy it. Add to that the fact that anything you discover on your own is much more tempting that something you are forced into and you have a conundrum. Given the percentage of readers out there (we are going strong but could use more forces) the chances of some of us ever tackling what are considered great works (I will not go into this qualification because it does bother me, we'll just say that works that have stood the test of time) are slim in most cases.
I know I'm an odd one. I never had to read Rebecca, which I consider great literature even though it's modern lit, in school. I read it on my own and fell in love with gothic lit. Jane Eyre was one I read in college and loved equally. I read Les Miserables on my own and thought it was wonderful. Meanwhile, just about every book I had to read in high school was torture for me.
My newfound appreciation for the Masterpiece movies could be an age issue, sure. But I will say that I read Romeo and Juliet on my own in 9th grade and loved it. I also, at that point, loved Franco Zeffirelli's film, which I saw on my own and prompted me to read the play. Kenneth Branagh helped with my Shakespeare fascination as well. The man singlehandedly (probably not singlehandedly, but it sure seems that way) brought I don't even know how many of the plays to film around that time. Yes, I was watching Much Ado About Nothing at age 14. My point is that I really can't knock film adaptations to begin with.
The Masterpiece movies have a lot going for them. They are really well made for one. The production and casting are fantastic. They all have some fairly recognizable leads in them. Case in point, Little Dorrit is the one currently airing and Freema Agyeman (Martha from Dr. Who) has a part. Matthew Macfadyen plays Mr. Clennam, the male lead and love interest of Little Dorrit. Andy Serkis (Gollum/Smeagle) plays one of the baddies, and Eve Myles (Gwen from Torchwood) even has a role.
And another thing is the fact that they air on PBS. They are available to watch for free on a channel that EVERYONE gets! Plus, you can watch them online for a period of time around when they air, and they're all on DVD. I've got my rental queue packed with 'em right now (Mike's gonna love that).
So I guess my point is that if you are like me and you have this profound sense of guilt that I think most readers feel as far as "classics" are concerned, and you find you have free time on Sunday's to watch some great movies, check out Masterpiece Theatre. I would have to say that I am more likely to seek out a Dickens tale in the near future than I was before becoming enthralled with Little Dorrit. They're fun to watch and they may just prompt you into squeezing in time for some of these works that have stood the test of time -- though I would still encourage you to read the ones you want to read rather than the ones that are forced at you. I personally lean towards gothic and Victorian lit, but that's just me. Or they may just provide you with a few hours of great entertainment. Either way, I think it's a win/win situation.
And, check out the PBS shop for your own copies of the DVDs and books. They're not really all that pricey when you consider many of them are upwards of 2 hours (meaning multiple discs).
And if you're thinking shame on me for watching rather than reading some of these, at least I've got some exposure to it and am enjoying it in some form. I have no guilt over my Sunday night date with PBS.