Where Charles Dickens went wrong

Charles Dickens portrait

Dombey and Son has rarely been dramatised on television.

There was an extremely dull version in the eighties that put me off reading Dickens for a long time. Which is appalling because now I love his work.

The Beeb had apparently planned an adaptation of Domby and Son in the style of its highly successful Bleak House. Sadly in austere times they lost their nerve and decided to make yet another version of David Copperfield to celebrate Dickens’ bicentenary.

I enjoyed the book, but it’s not one of Dickens’ more compelling works. And I wonder if this might be connected to the fact it is the first of his novels he conceived as a complete book, rather than a serial (although it was published as a part work – no doubt part one was half a penny but if you wanted the following chapters you had to shell out a shilling a month).

So Dickens found it difficult to be diverted from his course by feedback from the readers of Dombey.

How different from his debut triumph, the Pickwick Papers, in which famously Sam Weller – initially planned for no more than a walk-on part early on – proved so popular Dickens was overwhelmed by the response and rapidly reintroduced the character, giving him a much bigger role.

Which brings me to marketers who foolishly build a mailshot or email blast on instinct and then fire it out to everyone they have on their list.

It’s tempting I know, and Lord knows it’s easy, but it means you miss the opportunity to judge the response amongst a small sample, adapt the package and try again with another group.

Test. Measure. Adapt. Repeat. Like most marketing good practice, it’s pretty simple really but very easy to overlook.

Even for a master like Charles Dickens.