Guest Post by Catherine of restlessviolet.com
Installation 3 of Dickens’ workaholic machine made into a movie! I was pretty stoked from last week’s preview of this episode. Fortunes would be restored! People would get new clothes! The handsome Mr. Clennam would smile some more! Perhaps Fanny Dorrit would lose the makeup!
But alas, Installation 3 reminded me very much of my friend’s waitressing shift today. “Everyone was crabby and mean and nobody tipped well,” she reported after escaping from Red Lobster hell.
And speaking of hell, what’s with Monsieur Rigaud? (I can’t keep track of his new incognito name in this episode.) I might have taken French all through high school but when he speaks, I just strain. (“Huh?” Rewind. “Oh.”)
But moving on to the real hell… Dear Dad Dorrit got his earthly reward for suffering through debtor’s prison: money, a house and Mrs. General. He’s continuing on in a sort of King Lear stupidity (before the madness set in), dragging all assorted baggage with him which includes children, brother and Mrs. G. Last week’s ominous scene of Dad Dorrit being to afraid to stroll out of debtor’s prison when the chance was offered hinted at so much badness. He does his bad well in this episode, being generally insufferable and pompous (but more on that later).
And to counter him is his daughter. Though Amy is portrayed as our heroine, a woman without a speck of wrong in her heart, I have some major doubts about her. Andrew Davies claims he toned down the goodness of Dickens’ Victorian Amy and no doubt he did. Our post-deconstructionist ears and eyes could hardly bear it if he had not. Still, though…despite taking in account that Amy is a product of her times, I have serious doubts on Little Dorrit.
This came to light quite early in the episode. Dad casts Clennam out -- the man who went to some lengths to restore him -- and throws the most painful rant about paying him the measly 20 something pounds Clennam gave to him in the past. Clennam doesn’t want it but Dad insists on payment and receipt. Which is all so ludicrous in the face of the thousand pounds owed to Mr. Pancks for the work he did to discover the Dorrit fortune. Pancks will never see the light of that from Dad Dorrit, and Clennam will undoubtedly pay, but we’ll see less smiles from Matthew MacFayden because of it. You suck, Dad.
But yes, anyway. To continue, Clennam leaves rather insulted by Dad and Amy rushes off to try and make amends. And what happens?
“Stay here, Amy. Are you going to do as I say?”
“I will, Father, but it is hard.”
Oh Amy, how wonderful you are. You obey your narcissist father and you also throw the button away of a man you love when you think you can’t have him (cue Harriet Smith). You meet self-sacrifice with a few tears but mostly smiles.
No doubt about it, Amy is all about the duty. But this tears at me because the Victorians were all about duty and they fully embraced the frightening self-abnegation of it all.
Dickens, duty and women bring us to someone else who was on the screen a few years ago: Bleak House’s Esther Summerson. Esther’s a good girl too, and she does her duty as well. She too is surrounded by circumstances beyond her control; circumstances that control her situation in life fully. And while Esther submits with grace, she does so without seeming weak. There’s something strong in Esther and one gets the idea that despite her difficult circumstances, she deliberately thinks out her choices and resolves to do whatever she thinks as best, no matter how hard that choice is.
Amy, however…she’ll do her duty because she’s the good character. I never believe that Amy is weighing her choices; she just does the seemingly-good over and over to the point of mindlessness. Yes, father, I will obey you because I must honor you as I always honor you. I am your favorite because I rarely, if ever, cross you and always comfort you after your raging monologues that only serve to reveal your insufferable pride.
Amy Dorrit: Daughter who honors her father, or the enabler of an arrogant old man? Or are these really just the same things, one being an euphemism... As you can see, I’m full of a doubts about Little Dorrit.
With Miss Wade however, there aren’t doubts, just mysteries. She may just be the balance to Amy’s automaton “good girl” behavior. Is she a Victorian Feminist Fury or merely someone bent on making Mr. Meagles red in the face? If she gets Mr. Gowan shived in the gut by Rigaud, I may love her forever.
Finally, yes there are new dresses (thank God). And no, Fanny Dorrit doesn’t lose the makeup. Le sigh.
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