I was reading George Orwell’s famous essay on Charles Dickens (well worth a read, BTW, if you have even the slightest interest in either writer) and came across this passage:
Well, 19th Century Britain is one thing and 21st Century America quite another. We’re very interested in work as a subject. We have had many popular evening TV dramas about the work of doctors, laywers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers, high-level business executives, public school teachers, even politicians and bureaucrats (The West Wing.) In all these, the work drives the story and the characters’ personal lives are mostly background noise. But these are all about certain kinds of professionals and semi-professionals, whose work by its nature is interesting even to outside observers. Would it be possible to do such a drama about the lives of ordinary working-class people – and make the show about their work rather than their off-hours lives? Would even be possible to make a show about the work of professionals whose work is mostly too abstruse to entertain the layman, such as engineers and scientists and accountants and middle-management MBAs?
It might be a mistake even to try. Melville included detailed descriptions of the mechanics of the whaling industry in Moby Dick, and nearly everybody regards that as a serious failure of literary judgment; some editions omit those chapters entirely. It may be that that kind of thing really works only in historical fiction, where education about the daily life of the period is part of the enjoyment; and hard science fiction, where imagining the details of new technology is one of the challenges the author is expected to meet; and military fiction, whose readers just can’t seem to get enough of descriptions of weapons, technology, jargon and tactics.
But I’d like to know what you think.