Recovering Meaning: 'Little Dorrit' as Novel and Film

C.A. Runcie


Nearly every discussion of film adaptations of novels warns about the risks of comparing two such different art forms. In his foundational work, Novels into Film, George Bluestone declares:
it is insufficiently recognised that the end products of novel and film represent different aesthetic genera, as different from each other as ballet is from architecture.

The film becomes a different thing in the same sense that a historical painting becomes a different thing from the historical event which it illustrates. It is as fruitless to say that film A is better or worse than novel B as it is to pronounce [Frank Lloyd] Wright’s Johnson’s Wax Building better or worse than Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

And now thirty-five years after Bluestone’s work, we have Brian McFarlane in Novel into Film warning against the ‘fidelity’ syndrome in such comparisons:

‘Is it really ‘Jamesian’? Is it ‘true to Lawrence’? Does it ‘capture the spirit of Dickens’? At every level from newspaper reviews to longer essays in critical anthologies and journals, the adducing of fidelity to the original novel as a major criterion for judging the film adaptation is pervasive. No critical line is in greater need of re-examination — and devaluation.

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