Posted by: chloecivin | October 11, 2011

Ms. Honoria

Gillian Anderson stars as Lady Dedlock in BBC’s adaptation of Dickens’ Bleak House. Her description of Lady Dedlock’s character was “ded” on. What she said was uncannily similar to our discussions in class. She spoke about the Dicken’s strong visual imagery, which provided a template for her understanding of the character.

Gillian Anderson, Paying a Visit to Bleak House


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this clip. You’re right about Gillian Anderson’s description: I like what she says about revealing character based on how one holds and presents oneself physically. Deportment is a crucial part of the adaptation from text to stage or screen, it provides a way for the actor to translate extensive physical and emotional descriptions to the audience. Dickens of course satirizes this notion of self-presentation with the elder Mr. Turveydrop, but it is also a useful window into Lady Dedlock’s character, especially in conjunction with her portrait. In viewing her portrait, both the Dedlock family and common viewers like Mr. Guppy feel a connection to it. “’It’s unaccountable to me,’ [Mr. Guppy] says, still staring at the portrait, ‘how well I know that picture!’” (Dickens, 111) The keyword here is “picture:” knowing a picture well does not always equate to knowing the person in the picture well.

    In class we have discussed Bleak House as a novel that begins to note the transition from domestic to detective fiction. The relationship of deportment and self-presentation to character reflection is an important seed in both kinds of fiction. Anderson tells Scott Simon, “One can reveal a lot simply by the way one holds oneself, the way one moves one’s mouth, one’s eyes…” Anderson describes choices that are made to further emphasize or dramatize certain emotions – the character Lady Dedlock makes such choices throughout the novel just as Anderson, as an actor, makes similar choices in her portrayal of Lady Dedlock. Dickens connects domestic to detective fiction in his grasp of the notion of biasing presentations so as to sway the viewer in his or her understanding of their revealed truth.

    Portraits, deportment, and photography all provides ways in which the artist and the person pictured create a presentation of the latter, not a representation that reflects reality. This key difference between presentation and representation is the basis of W. J. T. Mitchell’s 1995 article “Representation.” John Tagg similarly writes about this disconnect in The Burden of Representation (1993). In Chapter 3, “A Means of Surveillance,” which we read for our second discussion of Bleak House, he descries the coupling of the development of the police force in Britain with photography usage. The 1877 allegations against Thomas John Barnardo’s Photography Department in the “Home for Destitute Lads” stood out to me. “He is not satisfied with taking [the children] as they are, but he tears their clothes, so as to make them appear worse than they really are. They are also taken in purely fictitious positions.” (85) This blatant manipulation of the image subjects is not so much misrepresentation of reality, but a presentation of a certain version of reality. It is no different from any other kind of art, or the discrepancy between Lady Dedlock’s portrait and actual character, but it is seen as a crime because the photographs in question were written off as being true.

    • The Tagg is 1988, not 1993. Sorry.

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