Monday, June 2, 2008

Great Expectations


As my husband got into bed last night and looked over to see what I was reading, he said, "You're still reading Great Expectations?" I admit that I have not been able to plow through this book. Instead, I have taken many, many detours and interspersed three different, easier-to-read books along the way. I finally finished last night, after about three weeks of off and on reading. Still, I have to say that it's a wonderful book. Like many wonderful books, it should be included on some list called"Great Books That Are Boring". As this was my first attempt reading Dickens's fiction ( also to be considered semi auto-biographical) and I was surprised by how much I loved it but even more surprised by how much I hated it.

Charles Dickens is my kind of guy. He's funny (tons of humorous parenthetical details that add so much to the story) and he's wordy. In the earlier parts of the book, I found myself thinking, "Finally! A truly funny author! Why have I been assuming I have to read Jennifer Weiner or Sophie Kinsella or even David Sadaris to get a laugh? Dickens is funny!" He also really knows how to paint a scene. From the food to the positions of the characters in a room to someone's smell to how they are feeling, Dickens leaves no detail out. This worked great for me...until I got bored. Then, I felt irritated and impatient and simply wanted to know what was going to happen. Enough with the side comments! Enough.

The story begins with young Pip (thus nicked-named due to his Christian name being Philip Pirrip), a young orphan of seven, being brought up by his cruel older sister and her husband, Joe Gargary. One evening, Pip finds himself in the marshes and is cornered by an escaped convict, Magwitch. With the threat of losing his life, Pip helps the convict escape by bringing him a file he found among blacksmith Joe's tools along with some food. Pip continues in his simple, lower-class lifestyle until he is asked to entertain an old,wealthy spinster, Miss Havisham, and her haughty adopted daughter, Estella. It is through this encounter that Pip learns about the finer things in life and begins to aspire to be a gentleman.

His life is suddenly completely changed when he is informed by Miss Havisham's lawyer that he is to become a gentleman, on behalf of an anonymous benefactor. Assuming this benefactor to be Miss Havisham, and that she did this to allow for a future marriage between himself and Estella, whom he has fallen in love with, he adopts this lifestyle in both thought and deed. This transformation perversely changes many good qualities about Pip and in addition to the refinement and education gained, he also gained an attitude of pride and snobbery.

In the end, when his "great expectations" are destroyed, Pip is left with a decision about what kind of man he is to become without the fortune he anticipated having. The themes, attitudes and moral lessons in this story are timeless and what makes Great Expectations a classic.

While Dickens's wordiness gets in the way of the story at times, his gift of weaving life lessons into a narrative ultimately makes it worth the effort. Yes...even a three-week effort.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

OK, Lucy! I haven't read Great Expectations since high school (unless I re-read it in college, which might have happened). But, it was the book which turned me on to Dickens. For a long time, though I couldn't explain it now, if I tried, I was an all-out Dickens fan. I have almost every book. I have posters, postcards, pictures of his homes, etc.

When I went to England, I wrote up a Dickens walking tour as a special project for my professor. I just loved Dickens (even the books I had to slog through - yes, he is wordy and goes on a bit - some of his things were written in serial form and released to the public bits at a time).

I'm sure it has been at least fifteen years since I've read any Dickens. If I wanted to, I could build him a shrine in my home, though! ;)