The OxStu office was a hive of excitement this week as leaks began to emerge from our favourite-boy-band-of-all-time-like-ever’s new album. ONE DIRECTION ARE BACK!!! We’ve had YOLO anthem ‘Live While We’re Young’ on repeat since September. Youtube started to get suspicious at the number of times I’d clicked repeat on the video. They clearly don’t understand the joy of seeing Niall frolicking topless in a paddling pool! But the wait is finally over!
Some old fuddy duddy critics slated their last album as a bit immature, but Take Me Home shows that they’re, like, super grown-up now. Harry Styles may still look about 12, but he’s got tattoos and Liam’s shaved his head so now they look like proper tough guys. Yum! And not only can they spell really big words (“R-o-c-k me again”), the OD boys will also have English students seduced by their literary references. They’ve clearly been so keen that they’ve already read all of Dickens and have moved on to Victorian fairytales. Check out the quoting from Three Little Pigs on ‘Kiss You’: “I just wanna show you off to all of my friends / Making them drool by the chinny chin chin.” dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip may have taught us that, “Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants,” but we’ll make an exception for such beautiful lyricism!
The chat-up lines get even better though. Ever the gentlemen, One Direction don’t mind if we’re a bit impatient and want to skip the whole dating thing: “If you don’t wanna take it slow / If you just wanna take me home…” Cheeky minxes! Given their confidence that they can “turn your light on / You can get anything that you want” (ooh- er!), I wouldn’t say no!
But if you aren’t feeling your best after gaining the Freshers’ 15, ‘Little Things’ shows that there’s no need to worry. Written by our 2nd favourite ginger (after Rob Weasley, obv!), Ed Sheeran, the monochrome video features them looking all sexy and arty gazing into the camera and flicking their hair and stuff…Can’t. Breathe. Just. Thinking. About. It… Where was I? Oh yeah, One Direction healing the crippling insecurity that all girls are obviously beset by: they’ll love, “Your stomach or your thighs…endlessly.” Just listening to them crooning about how they don’t mind if you have to “squeeze into your jeans,” I already feel more gorgeous! Plus they stay up all night listening to their girlfriends talk in their sleep, keeping the “conversations” like “secrets.” Some might say that that’s, like, mega creepy, but we know they’re just being über-adorable and romantic! Awwwww!
I’ve only listened to a few tracks, and apparently I’m only allowed to give 5 stars, but I can tell already that it’ll deserve 99,999,999 x infinity +1 stars!
7 February 1812. In the seaside district of Landport, Charles John Huffam Dickens is born to an unremarkable Victorian family, the second of eight children. He will not only change the face of literature, but of all the arts. Two hundred years later, he is still one of the greatest and most recognisable names in the world. But how has film contributed to the spread of Dickens mania?
Even in the nineteenth century, the works of Dickens were superbly adaptable. After all, he himself was many things: author, journalist, husband, father, social reformer and boot-blacker, to name but a few of his faces. This was a man whose voice spoke not for one, but for many; a man whose protean personality seeped into every word and every page. His serial publications were routinely used in stage adaptations, sometimes before they were even finished — and without the help of a fully developed Copyright Act, which only came into force in 1842, he was forced to let well-meaning rascals run amok with his ideas, making not a shilling from their efforts. Doubtless he wouldn’t have liked The Pirate Bay. Nonetheless, my instinct tells me he would have been delighted to see his works reproduced in the ultimate modern medium: film.
The Victorians are well-known for their love of spectacle and image. In the pre-cinema days they used smoke and mirrors to create phantasmagoria and light shows. The idea of ‘film’ was understood primarily in the context of the Lanterna Magica, or magic lantern. This nifty bit of hardware is thought to have been developed by Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens in the seventeenth century. It was used to project a single image on a slide using light — usually from a candle — and a concave mirror. The quality of the image improved progressively with the invention of stronger light sources like the Argand lamp and the limelight. Mass production of slides was enabled by the copper plate process, which allowed the outline of an image to be printed directly onto the glass. Previously they had been hand-drawn. The first ‘motion pictures’ only appeared in 1879, when Eadweard Muybridge developed the zoopraxiscope. This worked like a flip book to create the impression of motion using rotating glass disks. By the end of the Victorian era, one of the first ever films, Sortie de l’usine Lumière de Lyon (1894), had been released by the Lumière brothers using the new cinématographe, and the world’s first cinéma had been opened in La Ciotat. By the time the first cinematographic screenings took place in Paris, however, Charles Dickens had been dead for over 20 years.
Living in the city, Dickens would have been constantly bombarded by the Victorian fascination with image; he referred to London as ‘that magic lantern’. His novella The Haunted Man (1848) was used in a lantern show, as was A Christmas Carol (1843). Dickens gave many public readings for which he edited his own stories, highlighting the most pivotal scenes, which were then used in lithographic lantern slides. After his death, adaptations of his novels filled the world of film. Around a hundred were made across the world during the silent era alone. The first full-length Dickensian feature film, David Copperfield, was produced in 1913, closely followed by Barnaby Rudge (1915), which has sadly been lost. The last silent adaptation was A Tale of Two Cities (1925).
Two centuries later, Britain is still in love with the inimitable Boz. From Carrey to Disney, Kingsley to Polanski, everyone seems to have dipped into Dickens — and this year, Helena Bonham Carter will fill the role of notoriously nutty Miss Havisham for BFI’s Dickens on Screen season. Let’s hope she meets our expectations.
There’s a whole slew of scholarly opinion to suggest that, if you’re celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th, you’re probably handing out the congratulations a few months to early. As far as I know, though, there’ve not yet been any plans to shift the date of Christmas in the hope of being more factually correct. On the contrary, this year, we have a whole other set of premature birthday celebrations to make a song and dance about. Despite the fact that the actual date’s not until February, this Christmas the BBC is kicking off the festivities for Charles Dickens’ bicentenary in true yuletide fashion – that is, a few months too soon.
Despite the fact that we’re not even in the right year yet, on all other accounts the timing couldn’t be better. What with all recessionary doom and gloom, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this winter we’re s a little light on the best of times and a little heavy on the worst. Good timing for Charlie then, to make his mark again, and spread a bit of good, old-fashioned, orphan-bashing, bonnet-wearing, preposterously-monikered, Victorian cheer.
Cultural commentators never get tired of saying how, in times of economic uncertainty, we turn to the comfortable, familiar, and traditional. The classic example is the tendency of theatres after ticket sales to drum out another production of Shakespeare, but anyone who’s seen Hamlet knows that any comfort we get from a familiar premise is wiped out by the unsettling quality of the actual play. In contrast, Dickens, with his domestic angels, soft comedy, and villains of pure caricature, is basically a comfy sofa and a tartan blanket inherited from your granny, but in prose form. And that’s just his books. What we’re being treated to this winter is more recession-beating than any stimulus package and/or austerity scheme (delete as ideologically appropriate) could ever hope to be – a multi-million pound, BBC-produced adaption, of Great Expectations, a book so entrenched in the British cultural psyche that it’s sits on equal footing with Romeo and Juliet on the GCSE curriculum. If the novel is a sofa and a blanket, then turning it into a festive serialisation is more-or-less equivalent to adding into the mix a roaring fire, and a big tin of Quality Street. I can’t even begin to describe the levels of comforting tweeness that we will reach if they had decided to show it on a Sunday evening.
A three-parter, which kicks off on Tuesday December 27th, the new adaptation stars relative newcomer Douglas Booth as Pip, Ray Winestone giving a brilliantly typecast turn as Magwitch and the X Files’s Gillian Anderson as a suitably ethereal Miss Havisham. As if the original source material itself wasn’t enough to mark it out as a piece of ‘classic TV’, the writer behind it is Sarah Phelps, who’s best known for her work on that Christmas Day stalwart and British institution, Eastenders.
Who needs to be bothered about all those nasty little things like the eurozone crisis, rising unemployment or a structural deficit that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere but northward, when we can spend an hour or two in a world where the biggest problems are comic displays of child abuse, and working out why Estella is such a bitch. Alright, so we might stray dangerously close to the real world when we see Pip get into debt, when he hits London (remember the good old days when young men of great expectations made themselves, rather than their country, bankrupt when they went a bit too wild in the city?), but the joy of a classic adaptation is that we know that it’s all going to be alright in the end. As any good English student knows, there is – of course – a darker side to Dickens, but for all the tortured identity politics of Esther Summerson, and the grim ‘Elsinore’s a prison’ sentiments of Little Dorrit, but all generally comes good in the end. Lessons are learnt, morals are affirmed, and all us blessed by God, every one – exactly what we want from a costume drama, if my Dad (10% man, 90% sentiment) is anything to go by. Poignant makes-you-think endings do not, in his opinion, a good costume drama make. He still hasn’t got over David Morrisey falling off a cliff at the end of South Riding.
Whether the world needs another adaptation of Great Expectations is a moot point. The fact that the BBC can find money for a big, safe Dickens spectacular when it can’t find the change to maintain the same levels of quality at the World Service is also, sadly, another issue which most people who watch the new drama won’t be devoting much thought to. Costume dramas have always seen us through the dreary, long nights of winter – when the economic climate has wiped the sun out of the sky for the foreseeable future, a good dose of Dickens is exactly what the doctor ordered. And anyway, even without the financial misery and the shuttling from one lot of bad news to the next, we’re surely entitled to a bit of shameless sentimentality purely based on the time of year. It is, after all, Christmas, a holiday which Dickens practically invented in its modern form. And, to paraphrase one of Mrs Joe’s pleasingly odious dinner guests in the new adaptation, ‘If you can’t beat a boy flog a dead horse at Christmas, when can you?’
Without meaning to disparage the fascinating tomes that other students get to read over the summer, it’s fair to say that it’s English students who have the highest chance of striking reading list gold. This 19th Century epic is one such example.
While BBC Big Read voters might only have rated this as Dickens’ fourth best novel (behind Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield), there’s a strong case to be made that this is his masterpiece. The backdrop of the French Revolution lends an epic edge, the trademark comedic caricatures provide a dash of humour, and the central characters are invested with a humanity that is sometimes lacking in Dickens’ other works.
Fundamentally though, whether you are an English undergraduate or someone who hasn’t read a novel since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the real strength here is the story. The action builds steadily from an opening loaded with mysteries, culminating in a final third that is almost deliciously put together. Whereas many Victorian novels fall back on absurd coincidences to resolve their plots (how many times can someone be secretly related to the hero without anyone knowing?), here the characters’ arcs fuse together in ways that are both comic and tragic, in all senses of the words.
Overall then, this is so much more than something to let everyone else on the beach know you’re a pretentious Oxford undergraduate. It’s just a mystery why no-ones made a TV series of it recently…
You know what we’ve read this summer? is an ongoing series of articles for OxStu Online, giving you our top tips on books of all shapes and sizes that we think you should be reading this summer. Check in soon for the next update, and if you have your own suggestions or opinions let us know in the comments!