Yesterday, there were two versions of Charles Dickens’s ‘Tale Of Two Cities’ on TV. In the evening on Star Movies, there was the more modern version, in colour, widescreen, modern technology, and a largely unknown cast, except for Dame Flora Robeson. And late in the night, at 1.15 a.m., on TNT, there was the original version, made in 1936, starring Ronald Coleman. I saw both; the first because I went home early because I went home early, the second because I could not sleep.
Dickens has been my favourite author among the English classics, though I cannot stand his ‘Pickwick Papers’, except in illustrations of overloaded stagecoaches arriving at old English inns, with fires blazing, roasts steaming, tankards of ali spilling over, the cherubic Mr. Pickwick, looking like a Johnie Walker label, in the middle of it all. However, I do not much care ro read ‘Pickwick Papers’, I prefer the more precise Wodehouse.
My favourite is ‘Great expectations’. Its opening chapter, where Pip meets the convict, I read in my earliest and formative years, as the first lesson in a primary school text-book. I though the story ended there. Later, when I learnt that there was a whole book attached to it, I went for the book.
Both ‘Nicholas Nickelby’ and ‘Oliver Twist’, I also read in my school years, re-reading them in college, with newer insights. Oliver asks for more – remember that!
J. Arthur Rank, probably another British studio, made a whole series of films on the Dickens’s novels. They were like today’s Merchants-Ivory productions, only on a large scale and with less affectation. What I do not care about the Merchants-Ivory productions is that they make cinema into art – cinema is cinema.
Many years later, I met Mr. Emlyn Williams, the actor who impersonated Charles Dickens on stage and read from his books. British Council had brought him to Bombay for a few performances and I interviewed him. At that time, I considered it a major interview.
I have read a large body of the English classics, and I am glad I did so when I did. I would have bever read them now. I have read almost all of Thomas Hardy: ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, ‘Jude The Obscure,’ ‘Two On A Tower’ and, of course, ‘Tess Of The d’Aubervilles’, which is not only his best novel but possibly one of the best in literature. Anytime I can close my eyes and see his Wessex, the still silent music of humanity.
I have read Bennett and Fielding and Galsworthy, down to Oscar Wilde and Graham Greene. In concentrating on these, I am afraid I have missed out on French, Russain and American literature, and even out own great epics. I am afraid, I am ignorant about ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’.
Mr. Thackeray may not approve of this. But who is he to disapprove when he himself is named after William Makepeace Thackeray.