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Faulks On Fiction: Exploring classic characters in literature

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Mary Sackville-West Mary Sackville-West | 11:22 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011

Historically television has tended to focus on the relationship between the author and their work. This has always worked well - think of Bookmark, Arena, and Omnibus - and is a very accessible way into literature.

From the outset, we wanted to do something different and came up with an unusual and original approach: to focus on the characters.

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Great literary characters have a life beyond the page. You don't need to have read Wuthering Heights or Robinson Crusoe to know who they are and to care about them.

By looking at these characters we get a better understanding of how our ideas about heroism, love, snobbishness and evil have been shaped.

Faulks On Fiction is an exploration of the connection between characters in the novel and how they are shaped by their times, and how they have shaped us.

By choosing an author to present the series we get a privileged perspective from a real practitioner.

We were very lucky to have Sebastian Faulks on board to front the series - a successful and highly regarded novelist, who has created some memorable characters of his own.

Novels exist mainly in the mind's eye, so how best to illustrate the series?

We took Sebastian to locations that were relevant to each character or their spirit - a desert island called La Selva Beach, Fajardo, Puerto Rico for Robinson Crusoe.

We went to the Yorkshire Moors for Emily Bronte's Heathcliff and to the east end of London for Charles Dickens' Fagin.

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And Sebastian talked to others, ranging from other novelists like Monica Ali and Helen Fielding, to poets such as Simon Armitage and philosophers such as Alain de Botton, who were passionate about these fictional characters too.

There were even people who could throw light on a character because they had been in a similar situation, like the former hostage Brian Keenan, who spoke thoughtfully about Robinson Crusoe.

We decided to use both readings and adaptations to illustrate the text.

For many people, adaptations on the small or big screen can be their first encounter with a particular character.

We wanted to harness that by reflecting some of the wonderful characters stored in the BBC's rich archive of dramatisations.

One of the main intentions of making a television programme about novels is not to distract from the act of reading the novel itself but to complement and even encourage it.

The greatest accolade for any programme-maker is to hear that someone has decided to re-read or read for the first time one of these classic texts.

I hope you will go away from Faulks On Fiction inspired to do just that, and that you are encouraged to explore Books On The BBC - a year of books-related programmes across BBC television, radio and online.

Mary Sackville-West is the series producer of Faulks On Fiction.

Faulks On Fiction continues on BBC Two and BBC HD on Saturdays at 9pm and is available in iPlayer until Saturday, 5 March.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    Although this programme works as well as an aerobic class -raising the blood pressure to stratospheric heights, we keep watching it.
    A very subjective view of what is a snob last week. In the end after much discussion we decided that this was probably because Seb. Faulkes and possibly the production team were just too young to have known enough about class division to be able to pick a real snob correctly. Jeeves is a consummate professional as is Bond.Snobs? No.
    For a real crashing supersnob try Lady Montdore in Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford whose book should have been included.

  • Comment number 2.

    I thought the series worked brilliantly at aiming to engage people of all ages and backgrounds to read. Once you can identify with something and it feels real, you are naturally intrigued to explore. I think there should be more programmes such as this on television especially targeting young people. I was disappointed to find there are only four parts- I think you could continue to pull apart human traits and we could have a series two!

  • Comment number 3.

    Brilliant series. This is what we pay our licence fee for. Please make more interesting series like these!

    One thing to note, just finished reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and noticed that in The Snob episode, the book is incorrectly referenced. Mary MacGregor does not get killed in the Spanish Civil War. She dies in a hotel fire, running "hither and thither".

    It is the new girl to the school, Joyce Emily, originally anti-Franco, who goes to Spain and gets killed during an attack on a train there. Miss Brodie later admits she regrets urging Joyce Emily to go to spain to actually fight for Franco.

  • Comment number 4.

    Sebastian Faulks was writing on fictional characters of which one of the greatest and oldest was Homer's Odysseus . So I wrote to S Faulkes and of course no reply that what impact would it have if like Schliemann only did Troy exist but so did Odysseus . I can historically and archaeologially prove that Odysseus was were he first says he was , a captive in Egypt for 8 years where he and his men laboured under duress. It was only when he discovered his wife might be considering to take a lover/husband that he changes his tune to that of an alibi. Homer only recorded what he'd heard. So her is fiction that was in fact fact. Yet for all my efforts to the scholarly world no one as et as said ,'Show us your proof'.

  • Comment number 5.

    Is Genesis & Exodus fact or fiction. Now there is a little known book that will prove these two books of the Torah/Bible are very accutate histories. Even Noah's flood which is not taken from the Gigamesh legend but rather the Gilgamesh legend can be shown to have been taken from Noah's true tale. Let me assure you Noah did see his world covered by water, for I put it to you, how would a flat world person react to going over the horizon where he literally sees the waters rising up . However and more importantly what these two books do prove is there never ever was a God as we would be led to believe. There was a God of Noah & Abaham an he can be found whilst he God of Moses was Moses paying the charlatan. As for the book .It's entitled 'Finding Moses the man that made God Isbn 9780953943715

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree with you, greenshetland, exactly what we pay our licence fee for! I have thoroughly enjoyed this series - it's excited me about a few classics I've missed (who is this loveless fellow?) and sparked some interesting debates with my fella - who too believes Bond should have been in the hero category; and (should i say it?) I felt Barbara from "Notes" got a raw deal being categorised as a villain.
    As if that's not enough - I think it's been great to 'get to know' mr faulks a little better. Oh how we would relish his company in our book club. As long as he promised to wear something other than that pink shirt...!
    Happy reading everyone


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