Saturday, February 12, 2011

Heroes and Villains

There is a new BBC show called Faulks on Fiction which looks at the British novel through its characters, heroes, villains etc. Don't let me put you off watching it, but the first episode (Heroes) was one of the laziest pieces of television I've ever seen. Faulks is obviously a bright guy, (with an even brighter shirt), and has sold mountains of books, but really, this was the Ladybird book of the novel made into a film (and I'm being unfair to Ladybird there.) An odd line or two of Defoe or whoever aside it was Faulks in an exotic (or not so exotic) location, with some old film clips. Read the books.

Not that there's anything wrong in concentrating on certain characters - however great novels overturn archetypes not repeat them into cliche. The second episode is on villains, and I imagine Heathcliff* will get a run out. He's a great case in point, because he remains one of the most ambiguous characters in fiction. Loved by teenage girls pining for a dark stranger, whilst being one of the great psychopaths in English fiction. Whereas some dark characters are misunderstood, Heathcliff is rarely viewed with ambiguity. The two halves of the book give us the two Heathcliffs, the abused child, beloved of Cathy, and the pathological adult wreaking revenge on everyone. If the Brontes saw their brother Branwell in Heathcliff and Rochester they are somewhat frightening portraits. Yet, in Heathcliff there is motive, however extreme his revenge; whilst in Rochester we have a weak, broken man, who has made disastrous choices in his life, and hardly deserves the love of Jane Eyre to look after him after he has become blind. The other great man in the Bronte sisters life, their father, outlived all his family, and is a remarkable figure, rising from abject poverty in Ireland, to a position of importance in the Northern English church. As ever, thinking of their great creations, only sends one back to the books, the morality of the Bronte's characters never to be entirely quantified.

* apparently Heathcliff finds it into the "lovers" episode of Faulks on Fiction. My mistake.


EmD said...

I am so glad you made this comment. I found it boring, lazy journalism. Particularly as it enabled the BBC to show numerous clips of old series. The tv critics have raved about it which I can't understand....

Adrian Slatcher said...

It sounds so awful to complain about a book programme on TV, but this is the BBC at its worst - celebrity focussed crap. If I'm not watching it - target audience - then who is?