Tres mis over Les Miz

Laurence Inman says: “Don’t get me started on Les Misérables.”

Les Miserables by Victor HugoI’ve been reading Great Expectations, for the third, possible fourth, time. Once again, I am astounded at how much I didn’t notice before, how relentlessly Dickens pokes the open wounds of my emotions. This is not a defect of memory; I think it is yet another example of reaching a stage in life when I am ready, qualified, to see what a great artist wants to reveal.

I won’t be going to the film. I wish all the performers well in their gong-quest, but I’ve just had enough of coming out of films thinking ‘Well, that was quite nice. Reminded me of a novel by Jane Austen. Nice countryside. Weather was nice. Women look nice in Regency get-up. Nice nice nice.’

The fact is this: novels are novels and films are films. They operate in different ways. A seal shoots through the water like a beautiful torpedo, but on the beach it flops around like a ton of blubber. Ever tried to teach a butterfly to swim ? Of course not. When Dickens writes about Mr Wemmick’s mouth looking like a letter-box, and being ‘at his desk, lunching – and crunching – on a dry, hard biscuit, pieces of which he threw from time to time into his slit of a mouth, as if he were posting them,’ he has made something out of words, which in turn produce something in our minds, which cannot be translated into a picture. Even if it could, there would be masses of other things which would have to be in the picture for the picture to make sense. It’s obvious.

Don’t get me started on Les Misérables.

I once probed the brain of a Glums fan and found that, right down in the puddle of sludge which was her literary sensibility, she thought that the revolution in France around which the action stumbles was ‘the one with old women in big caps sitting round the guillotine, cackling and knitting.’

1789 then. No. There were two later French Revolutions, in 1830 and 1848. But the end of ‘Lez Miz’ (for ****’s sake!) is actually set in the Paris rebellion of June 1832.

Read the novel. Don’t go to the musical. Or the film of the musical.

The novel is great. In the other thing there’s good man we all like, a nasty man who’s after him, a sweet little girl, lots of singing about freedom and fighting, some nice tunes you might whistle on the way home, that’s it. A panto.

One more literary hate-in. last night I saw a pile of shit-stew on the BBC which was supposed to be P G Wodehouse. It wasn’t. it was something dreamt up by Oxbridge graduates in TVC as a ‘vehicle’ for would-be ‘national treasures.’

I recognised bits from The Code of the Woosters, Meet Mr Mulliner and Blandings Castle, without paying too much attention.

Now, this isn’t right. Wodehouse was a genius. He re-created the world. His books will outlast most of the media-whores who caper about in this puny age.

I say to those pups at the BBC: telly is telly and books are books. Each art form operates within the constraints and possibilities of its medium, its time and the context in which it is consumed. Coronation Street, Fawlty Towers, The Killing – they are brilliant telly and they can’t be books. So put that goldfish back in the bowl; you’re never going to get it to fly.

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