What the Dickens. Or rather what to do without Dickens now that the BBC has finished its 15-part adaptation of Bleak House. This mid-Victorian masterpiece has been the hit of the BBC season. Millions of homes have worked their evenings and set the recorder so they could find out the next twist in Dicken's great novel of avarice, betrayal and the remorseless, blood-sucking monster that is the law.
All credit to a fine cast and a brilliant adaptation by Andrew Davies. You can moan at the blandness of Esther Summerson, doubt the niceness of John Jarndyce, wish that Lady Dedlock had more than one look, hate the music, get irritated by the portentous editing and think that Smallweed is grossly overplayed. You can debate the addition of the character of Clamb, balk at the liberties taken with the script and despair at the ignorance of the distances that need to be travelled.
But week after week the story has gripped. Will Miss Flite free her birds, will young Richard Carstone come to his senses at last, can Smallweed get away with it or Mr Tulkinghorn be quite so evil, will it all end happily for Esther? Can anything so old be so exciting.
Of course it can. This is Dickens after all. Every generation takes him for granted, pigeon-holing him as a sentimentalist and overblown, only to discover anew just what a master story-teller he is, what a genius he had for character and plot.
And if you are bereft without Bleak House, panic not. David Copperfield is on Radio 4, A Christmas Carol is playing in London's West End and Great Expectations is on in Stratford. Very superior soap operas all - for their age and ours.