Mr. Horatio Sparkins by Charles Dickens, adapted by Stephen Wyatt

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BBC Radio 7, 8 May 2010
This final tale in the second series of Sketches by Boz told the tale of the socially ambitious Maldertons, who are delighted when a mystery suitor Horatio Sparkins courts their unmarried daughter. Outwardly he appears the perfect gentleman - polite, well-mannered, reserved in tone. For a lower middle-class family such as the Maldertons, he seems the perfect means by which they can fulfil their social aspirations.  However things do not turn out quite how they expect: Sparkins turns out to be nothing more than a shop-assistant with similar social aspirations.
The nouveau-riche world of south London - Camberwell, Wandsworth and Brixton - was vividly brought to life in Nicholas Farrell's dry narration, as he described Mr. Frederick Malderton's social life, and his delight at securing free admission to Covent Garden theatre. He took particular relish in delivering ironic put-downs: the Maldertons were actually "elevated to an extraordinary pitch as their means increased; they affected fashion,taste, and many other fooleries, in imitation of their betters, and had a very decided and becoming horror of anything which could, by possibility, be considered, 'low.'"

Through Farrell's narration we were introduced to a world of nineteenth century gentility comprised of social climbers gossiping about a mysterious new arrival on their society circuit - a certain Mr. Horatio Sparkins. Miss Teresa Malderton is "rather fat" and "as well known as the lion on top of Northumberland House" having hitherto enjoyed little opportunity to get married. Her mother, "a fat little woman" is only interested in fashionable clothes. The male family members fare no better. Mr. Malderton is only "hospitable from ostentation," and only "convenience and a love of the good things of life earned him plenty of guests."

Compared to Dickens' later work, Mr. Horatio Sparkins seemed somewhat cruel, almost scornful in tone. However the tale could be relished on its own merits as a satire of a world Dickens knew only too well.