Charles Dickens

A later update this week because my friend Penny and I just got back from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s wonderful going to the theater with a good friend who’s also a writer. Between performances we walked, shopped, lingered over meals at favorite restaurants, and analyzed the plays.

We saw a wonderful mix of plays. One favorite was Equivocation, a world premiere by Bill Cain in which William Shakespeare is commissioned (or rather commanded by King James’s right-hand man Robert Cecil) to write a play about the Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot. A brilliant, layered play about politics, writing, family–and theater. Another surprise favorite was Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. When Penny and I first heard OSF was doing The Music Man, we were a bit skeptical about a Broadway musical mixed in with OSF’s usual blend of Shakespeare, modern and older classics, and edgy new plays. We left the theater completely entranced. It was a wonderful, clever production that brought out how River City, Iowa, is changed by musical con man Harold Hill and how Harold Hill is equally changed by River City and its inhabitants.

Particularly Marian Paroo, the town librarian. The romance at the heart of The Music Man is delicate and heart warming. Con man Harold Hill who is looking for a “sadder but wiser girl” and librarian Marian Paroo who is waiting for her “white knight” seem complete opposites and yet you root for them to get together. More than that, you believe in their happy ending. Perhaps because, as Penny and I discussed, while Marian and Harold are both misjudged by those round them, they see each other with surprising clarity. Marian falls in love with Harold knowing he’s lied about his past. Harold sees past Marian’s frosty demeanor. Meredith Wilson’s clever lyrics point to the fact that this seemingly mismatched couple may have more in common than one thinks. In the song “The Sadder but Wiser Girl,” Harold refers to The Scarlet Letter and the goddess Diana. He may be the most well-read person in River City next to Marian, who shocks the town by reading Chaucer, Rabelais, and Balzac. And musically, their two signature solos, “Goodnight My Someone” and “Seventy-six Trombones” have the same melody.

This got me thinking about other favorite mismatched literary couples who are soulmates under the skin. Such as Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing (which OSF is doing later this year). Despite their war of words Benedick believes Beatrice without question when she swears to her cousin Hero’s innocence. Or Mulder and Scully who begin as skeptic and believer but become each other’s touchstone. Or in a different way Arthur Clenham and Amy Dorrit (I came home to watch the last episode of Little Dorrit). In their case the apparent mismatch isn’t personality it’s age and circumstance, which prevent Arthur from seeing Amy’s feelings for him or acknowledging his own for her.

Mélanie goes into her marriage to Charles knowing they are an impossible mismatch in ideology, loyalties, background, and life experiences. Yet when she realizes she loves him it’s because “though he might not know her true name or any details of her life, he understand her as no one else ever had”.

Do you like stories about mismatched couples? What does it take for you to believe they have a chance to be happy? Did you find Little Dorrit as engrossing as I did?

Inspired by fabulous theater, and particularly the scenes among the acting company in Equivocation, I wrote this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition as Simon’s update to David on the production he’s staging in Edinburgh.

Amanda Elyot had a wonderful blog on History Hoydens last week about meeting someone in real life who seems just like character from one of one’s books. I said I’d never felt as though I’d met one of my characters in real life, but “I have seen actors who seem uncannily like the characters I’ve written, both physically and in terms of the character I’m watching them play (this despite the fact that I had another character vividly in mind when I wrote the book).” Amanda asked me to expand on that, and the conversation turned into a fun exchange between Amanda, Kalen Hughes, and me that veered into the casting game, particularly relating to Charles. I thought it would be fun to repeat it here.

Tracy: I’ve always thought Matthew McFadyen would make a good Charles, but somehow I thought it particularly watching “Little Dorrit.” Not that Arthur Clenham is that similar to Charles, though they do have some things in common, notably mysterious family histories, difficult relationships with their parents, and attempting to sort out how to do good in world. But somehow watching it I could hear him saying some of Charles’s lines. It helps that the settings are so similar to settings in “Secrets”, as I said.

When I saw “Casino Royale”, I thought Eva Green would make a great Mélanie (and that’s not even an historical movie). Not just appearance (dark, fine bone structure, beautiful, French) but mannerisms, edginess beneath the elegance.

I absolutely knew Jeremy Irons was Raoul O’Roarke when I saw “The Man in the Iron Mask.” Now in that case, I was still plotting “Daughter of the Game/Secrets of a Lady”, so I wrote the book with him in mind, but his character clicked into place when I saw the movie.

Kalen: Tracy: I’ve always thought Matthew McFadyen would make a good Charles Nooooooooooooooooooo! Please don’t ruin Charles for me by saying this. *shudder* I still haven’t recovered from the horror of watching his greasy, somnambulant Darcy.

Amanda: I’m with Kalen on this one, Tracy. Particularly with regard to his painfully execrable Darcy.

And besides, I’ve always seen your Charles as a man and MacFayden just looks too young and green to me. Not a man with experience and mileage, but a pup.

Tracy: I think it’s so fascinating how people see characters differently! Kalen and Amanda, who would you see as Charles? I actually think one reason I thought he’d work as Charles in “Little Dorrit” was that he seems older and more world-weary, though what originally made me think he’d make a good Charles was MI-5. He isn’t my image when I write Charles, but I still think he could play the part.

Amanda: Since (a) he can do the accent; and (b)can play dark, tormented, with a lot of life experience behind him; and (c) because everything he does is always interesting to watch … Robert Downey Jr.

Kalen: I could see Robert Downey Jr. Though he has a comic/light edge that I don’t see in Charles. He wouldn’t have come to mind for me right off the bat . . .

I could see Richard Armitage (North and South). And I could totally see Anthony Howell (Foyle’s War and Wives and Daughers), or Julian Ovenden (Foyle’s War). I could also see Christian Bale. The intensity and intelligence work for the role.

I love the “casting game” because it gives such fascinating glimpses into how different readers see characters (and often reveals sides of the characters I hadn’t considered) and really goes to my blog a while ago about how each reader reads a slightly different book.

I wouldn’t have thought of Robert Downey Jr. either, but he’s a very interesting suggestion—must think about that more. He could play pretty much any part, I think, but he has the light edge Kalen talks about… I’m not sure he’s as “inward” as Charles.

Kalen, Christian Bale is actually someone else I’ve thought myself would make a great Charles. I could maybe see Richard Armitage too (I think Christian Bale has more of the “inward” quality, somehow). Who do Anthony Howell and Julian Ovendon play on Foyle’s War?

Kalen: Anthony Howell is Sgt. Milner (I love his eyebrows; they’re very straight and there’s something slightly sad about the expression they give his face).

Julian Ovendon plays Folye’s son, Andrew.

Tracy: Thanks, Kalen! I don’t have a clear image in my head of either one–must watch some more Foyle’s War episodes. I’m trying to work out why Christian Bale seems more “right” to me than Richard Armitage and Robert Downey Jr….

Amanda: Armitage is the man of the moment for me; I was utterly taken with his performance in “North and South.” I agree with either guy from “Foyle’s War,” too, though they seem a little light. I’m thinking temperament as well as looks when I cast, even for fun — though I’ve done it plenty of times for real.

I’ve seen Downey give some very tortured and dark performances (check out his resume on and you’ll see some of the dramas he’s done.) He also brings his own demons (as well as his vulnerability) to the screen with him, which I think it particularly compelling vis-a-vis Tracy’s character of Charles. Watch for him to play Sherlock Holmes (though the producers have buffed him up). Gee, why do I think the guy might know something about the seven percent solution?

There’s a good actor under all the trash Bale has performed lately, but it’s too well hidden these days for my taste, eclipsed by bad material. So he’s no longer a standout in my mind. Colin Farrell does dark and tortured well, but he has a bit of an attitude for my taste so too often I feel like I’m watching the actor and not the character.

Tracy: Amanda, I think of temperament as well as looks when I cast for fun as well–in fact, as a writer, it’s the temperament when I mentally cast that often gives me a sense of the character. Sometimes I’ve found a character won’t click on the page until I have the right (or right for me) actor in mind. (Does anyone else find that?).

Downey has an amazing range as an actor, and a character actor’s ability to disappear into the part. When I said he had a light edge, I wasn’t thinking of his comic roles (which he does brilliantly) so much as that even playing dark, tortured characters there’s a lightness underneath in a sense. On the other hand, that would actually be an interesting quality in someone playing Charles. Now I’m intrigued imagining some of the scenes with him in them…

I’m very exited to see him as Sherlock Holmes. (Which actually may make him seem more Charles-ish to me).

What do you think of the latest casting suggestions for Charles? Have you ever seen a movie or television show and felt you were looking at a character you’d written or read about?

Who else is watching Little Dorrit? Who’s seen the 1988 Christine Edzard movies of the story? Little Dorrit and the Edzard films were my inspiration for the Marshalsea sequence with Hugo Trevennen in Secrets of a Lady. I watched the Edzard films a lot when I was writing those chapters. But the Marshalsea scenes in the current Andrew Davies version also look just like what I imagined when I was writing the book. And there’s a scene between Arthur Clenham and Amy Dorrit in a coffee house in the first episode that really looked like my image of the coffee house Charles, Mélanie, and Edgar take shelter in.

In keep with the theme, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from David to Simon in which David writes about Charles and a bill Charles has introduced to reform debt laws.