…is that he’s WORDY.
As my eighth graders and I struggled to get through Great Expectations, my college kids reminded us that “Dickens was paid per word.” Aha, so that’s why his books are so hard to get through!
But as it happens, Dickens was not actually paid by the word. In fact, according to The Dickens Project at U.C. Santa Cruz, Dickens was paid per 32-page “part.” It didn’t really matter how many words he wrote–his work was published in serial form, 32 pages per month.
So his wordiness is more a reflection of his style and the literature of the times. Still, out of the three of us, only one of us finished Great Expectations in time to discuss it for our literature class this year. And it wasn’t mom.
The truth is, mom didn’t try too hard because mom knew there was a terrific 3-part miniseries produced by the BBC that we could watch via Amazon Prime (Prime members can watch many movies and TV shows at no extra charge). But we also discovered a recent movie version featuring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes. Take a look at the trailer–it’s fantastic!
We watched both. The one of us who actually made it all the way through the book advised us on which parts were added, changed, embellished, deleted–it was quite a fascinating study of storytelling. You can’t include everything in a film adaptation. The miniseries version could include a couple of subplots that were missing from the movie, but astonishingly, had deleted at least one key character and subplot–so really, all bets are off when it comes to the creativity and narrative choices made by the screenwriter.
Illustration by Fred Bernard of Dickens at work in a shoe-blacking factory after his father had been sent to the Marshalsea, published in the 1892 edition of Forster’sLife of Dickens