In Its Own Light: A View of the BBC's North & South

David Kelly


Has the mini-series become the novel of today? The home entertainment revolution has had a profound effect not only on our viewing but, perhaps surprisingly, on our reading habits. Indeed, I know people who curl up with a good mini-series in a way they once would have done with a good book, and the reason is the same: because, now, they can. This reflection is prompted by my having viewed North & South, but not having read North and South. In doing so, I find myself unwittingly taken up in a kind of socio-textual experiment which, for educators in English departments, addresses a number of increasingly pressing questions. First, is there a danger that the novel might be supplanted by the mini-series as the preferred medium for an extended sojourn in a richly imagined and artfully stylized fictive world? For teachers, evidence of this shift abounds, even if a hard core of novel readers will probably always find their pleasure in the written text. Second, if the shift gains momentum, as indeed appears to be the case, is one’s concern over the loss of the novel, the textual origin, merely another case of a nostalgia which—along with so many other reversals in preference and prejudice—our recent cultural history has enjoined us to overcome? After Derrida and after Baudrillard, there is not much mileage in pining for lost origins. And so finally, still not having settled the first two queries, I am led to wonder: what is the meaning of literacy in a postmodern age?

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