It is great to see a Victorian creation winning awards and I am sure that the latest series of Sherlock thoroughly deserves them. However, I am interested in the way that the latest TV adaptation plays with the original material. Would Conan-Doyle recognise his central characters? I think the answer to that is yes. But what of the updating to the present day? I think this is one of the great strengths of this latest adaptation. We see mobile phones, the use of the internet and modern devices. These refresh the stories while the human element remains constant.
Would the same be possible with Trollope?
It is taken as a given by Trollopians that The Way We Live Now provides as valid a critique of contemporary society in the 21st Century as it did in the 19th Century. And I subscribe to this point of view. This is, I think, because it focuses on the people. Human greed, and desires and needs are unchanged whatever the surrounding technologies and how these wants might be fulfilled.
But where I think that Trollope’s works might suffer from a modernising adaptation is in the way that society, and its constraints have changed almost beyond recognition since the books were written. The UK is no longer a rural economy with an industrial engine. Ours is a largely service economy with financial services central in that equation. Certainly no-one understood the power of money as a motivating force better than Trollope (“beside whom even Balzac is a romantic”). Would Barsetshire be credible in the 21st Century? Would women be so powerless and be forced to pursue marriage as the only “career”? I think these plot-springs would be difficult to sustain.
However, I think that the financial problems of Mark Robarts in Framley Parsonage might be credible if transformed into debts run up on credit cards. The comic possibilities in the same vein for a treatment of The Three Clerks or The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson are also apparent.
So maybe I am coming round to the view that, in spite of my reservations about the adaptability of The Barchester Chronicles or the Political novels (who would give credit now to a politician of such unbending principle as Plantagenet Palliser?), Trollope’s novels, particularly perhaps the lesser known one-offs, might actually be well-served by a modernisation in the same way that the Sherlock series on TV has revitalised that brand. (And there is a controversial way to end – is Trollope a brand?)