Esther Goes to High School

The Little Professor has been watching the dramatization of Bleak House.

I battered my head against the wall when Esther described Ada’s and Richard’s lodgings as a “damn poky little place.”

Oh, ya. I know that battering. It happens when it becomes suddenly abruptly clear that the people doing the dramatization simply don’t realize that people a century ago didn’t do everything exactly the way we do. That things were, you know, different then? Not the same? Otherwise? Dissimilar? Not identical?

I can think of a few examples that made me want to batter. The tv dramatization of Middlemarch, when disagreement first started to surface between Dorothea and Casaubon – and the way it surfaced was that Casaubon said something unpleasant and Dorothea immediately shouted at him at the top of her voice. That’s not quite how it was written, and not quite how a person like Dorothea would have behaved in 1830. The movie (originally tv) dramatization of Persuasion, when Anne shouted at her father at the dinner table. Not how written; not how a person like Anne. The movie dramatization of The Wings of the Dove, when Kate and Milly wander up to the roof of the country house at dawn in their nightgowns – their thin, limp, transparent nightgowns – and are joined by a man and all three stand around chatting idly for quite a long time. Err – no. Later in the same movie, when Milly says irritably, ‘Do I look like I could climb up the stairs of a church?’ and we’re suddenly violently shunted from Henry James world to a high school lunchroom circa 1999. The perky way Elizabeth 1 hops into bed with Dudley and Viola de Lesseps hops into bed with Shakespeare. The way Marguerite de Valois in the movie dramatization of Dumas’ novel ran down the stairs of the palace and into the street, grabbed the first man she found, and humped with him against a wall – a scene not found in the novel. That kind of thing. Just, a weird deafness for the difference of the past.

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