I did myself a big favour this weekend. On Saturday I bought some DVDs in Empik amongst which was “Panie z Cranford”, a BBC production based on three novels by Mrs. Gaskell, the Victorian novelist and social commentator. A Unitarian, her novels are full of that humanity and celebration of people’s quirks and differences that tolerance and charity based on profound, dogma less faith instil. So, over the Easter period what could have been better than reminding oneself of Christian virtue and the meaning of community in the company of Judi Dench, Michael Gambon and the rest of the starry cast? But then reality kicked in.
I had a house guest. A young man, well not much more than a boy, who I am trying to help to get into an English university. He lives in a once prosperous town in the heart of Greater Poland where difference and individuality are scorned and, according to him, “doing unto others” means making sure no one else achieves anything. “The Christian spirit just doesn’t go there.”
Just before he left to go home he asked me why I am helping him. I said that it just seems normal to want to help someone if it is within your power. “Not where I come from”, he lamented.
The people of “Cranford” are not without their sorrows, meannesses, and pettiness. But what the novels did when they were originally published, and the DVD does for us now, is to point the light on our shortcomings and to encourage us to rise above ourselves through our communities.
The 19th century did not produce many Polish novelists of note. Even if it had, I doubt they would be read today by the young. Most young men don’t read. So, thank God for DVDs. And if anyone is thinking of how to spend a wet weekend, do yourself a favour, go to EMPIK and buy “Cranford”, be moved, laugh and weep, and then go out and do unto others……