I've always caught bits of Masterpiece Theater here and there over the years, but have become a regular viewer more of late, probably starting with Jane Eyre and the string of Jane Austens last year. On average, the productions are pretty good, although some are much worse than others (hello Mansfield Park). That horrible version convinced me that not all Masterpiece are created equal and that it might be a good idea to read the books before they show their interpretations. I had actually read Mansfield Park after enjoying the movie from a few years back (and liked the Fanny Price of the movie far better than the actual one). [On a side note, I always loved how in Whit Stillman's Metropolitan, Tom's opinion of the book was based on literary criticism, rather than having read the book itself. If you've never watched Metropolitan, I highly recommend it--it still stands as one of our favorite movies, with a yearly holiday viewing.]
I found out last week that Masterpiece Classic was returning with Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Granted, a lot of the books they dramatize are things most people probably read in high school, but I still have a lot of catching up to do. So I went out and found a used copy of the book and spent the weekend cramming it down. I didn't get to totally digest it as I finished a few hours before the broadcast, but I can easily say the book is much better than at least Part 1 of the show. I guess the problem all book adaptations have is that it is extremely difficult to capture the wording which constructs the picture--you can tell basically the same plot, but that's often not the only thing that makes a book singular. I also wanted to have my own interpretation of the characters in my head before being tainted by their choice of actors. It's not even that Thomas Hardy is so luxurious in his language, but there is something nice about putting your imagination to work to form the faces and places that he only builds with words.
Anyhow, here is one particular turn of phrase that I liked (please excuse the very rodent-like qualities of my polar bear!)