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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dickens' Women - Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes

Considering that CharlesDickens enjoys a reputation that is second only to William Shakespeare, it isn’t surprising that his bicentenary has passed by with the usual hagiographical homage staged mainly by the British establishment – the British Council and the BBC.  

These feel-good programs are what they supposed to be – giving us a glimpse of the man’s greatness, and his undoubted excellence.

Then, yesterday I saw MiriamMargolyes perform a series of women characters from Dickens’ novels.

It was a stunning revelation about a writer who the world admires for nuanced portrayals of characters and situations that retain their originality and immediacy since he first began to write in 1836-37.

Margolyes says – and with well-researched evidence – that there is “an important gap in (Dickens’) repertoire of females – I would argue that he never portrayed a woman whom we would recognise as a mature sexual and emotional partner for his heroes. And I venture to suggest this is because his own relations with women were all damaged, incomplete or destructive. As his daughter, Kate Perugini, remarked: ‘my father never understood women’.

Margolyes then analyses Dickens’ women characters into stereotypical archetypes – “the pre-pubescent child, usually described as ‘little’ (Emily, Nell, Dorrit, Dora, Ruth Pinch); the unattainable sexual object (Estalla, lady Dedlock, Edith Dombey); the grotesque, sometimes evil (Madame Defarge, Mrs. Squeers), sometimes comic (Mrs. Clennam, Mrs. Nickleby); the spinster longing for a man (Rosa Dartle, Miss Tox), but never was he able to draw a complete believable, fully realised female – because the women in his life never offered him the opportunity.”

All this is in the book, and reading about it isn’t half as enjoyable as watching Margolyes perform on stage.

Margolyes brings to life Dickens’ women with a range of emotions that are at once enthralling and yet strangely disturbing.

You laugh with her as she entertains you, but you’re also simultaneously changing your deep-rooted perceptions of one of English language’s pre-eminent men (persons / people) of letters.

It’s an unending series of virtuoso enactments. Her voice is unsure, child-like when she is Nell, impervious and almost arrogant as Estella, bitter and ironic as Miss Havisham, hesitant, submissive and yet coy and coquettish as Mrs. Corey. The list is endless, and two hours slip away quickly and before you know it, it’s curtains.

I saw the performance at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, which is in Toronto’s Distillery District.

Yesterday was my first visit to what is unarguably a unique – albeit touristy – Toronto location. Coincidentally, the district is celebrating Christmas by holding a traditional European Christmas market. 

I was alone in a place overflowing with people, and the place exudes old-world warmth. 

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