Friday, August 15, 2008

if I blinked it

Charles Dickens to W. Wilkie Collins

Gad's Hill Place,
Higham by Rochester, Kent,
Tuesday, Ninth July, 1866.

My dear Wilkie, ---I have gone through the play [a dramatization of Armadale] very carefully. The plot is extraordinarily got together; its compactness is quite amazing; and the dialogue is very excellent in all the rare essentials of being terse, witty, characteristic, and dramatic.

But insuperable and ineradicable from the whole piece is--Danger. Almost every situation in it is dangerous. I do not think any English audience would accept the Scene in which Miss Gwilt in that Widow's dress renounces Midwinter. And if you got so far, you would never get through the last act in the Sanatorium. You could only carry those situations on a real hard wooden stage, and wrought out (very indifferently) by real live people face to face with other real live people judging them--you could only carry those situations by the help of interest in some innocent person whom they placed inperil, and that person a young woman. There is no one to be interested in here. Let who will play Midwinter, the saving interest cannot be got out of him. There is no relief from the wickedness of the rest; and in exact proportion to the skilful heaping up of it the danger accumulates.

I know as well as you do that this is merely one man's opinion. But I so strongly entertain the opinion that the odds are heavily against an audience's seeing the play out that I should not be your friend if I blinked it. I see the piece before me on the stage. Then I change my point of view, and act Midwinter, and act Miss Gwilt. A perfect terror of the difficult and dangerous ground oppresses me in both positions, and I feel my inability to carry the situations myself as strongly as I feel the inability of any professed actor or actress alive to carry them for me.

In reference to your two questions, I have no doubt whatever as to the first--that the substitution of the Manuscript for the marked printed pages is a decided improvement. As to the second, I think that any advantage to be gained from acting those events instead of narrating them would be more than counterbalanced by lengthening the play. They don't take long to tell, as they stand, and seem quite clear. Again, I think they would be much more difficult to act than to narrate. . . .

I will send the play-book to you to-morrow by the hands of one of the office people. Next week I purpose being at the office on Saturday at 1. At ten minutes past 2 on the said Saturday in next week I purpose coming down here. Can you come with me?
Ever affectionately, C. D.
-from the Letters of Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins edited by Laurence Hutton (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891) p. 132-34.

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