19 September 2011

Great Expectations and a Pairing

I've made an unofficial point of reading two Dickens novels a year since 2008.  It's not an impossible task, though it helps when you get one that doesn't go on and on.  Nicholas Nickelby was a good story but went into tangents that had nothing to do with the plot. Bleak House was another one, but there was something about the story that made that appropriate. It ties in with the impossibly long course of a legal case. 

My version of Great Expectations was over 600 pages, but it was a small volume, one of those gilded pocket-sized Barnes & Noble classics that came out a few years back.  There was very little in the way of excess - most characters fit into the story somehow, even if you don't realize it until you're near the end.

Though nearly all Dickens novels have some depressive themes, things are usually well resolved at the end through a series of coincidences and sudden returns of fortune.  Great Expectations has these elements, but the expectations are not what they seem.  The protagonist, Pip, isn't fully likeable.  He's not bad, but he's a snob who wants to rise higher than what those who really care about him are capable of giving him.  He gets put in his place and manages to pull through the many disappointments that inevitably find him.   On the plus side he wasn't simpering and sanctimonious like some of Dickens's orphans (I'm looking at you, Oliver!) The lawyer, Jaggers, was supposed to be this important personage in the story, and although his position was important, he didn't strike me as thoroughly interesting.  Estella, the pretty girl raised by Miss Havisham and the one who steal Pip's heart, is of course unlikeable, but not evil by any means.

The title is applied to Pip in the story, but it works for others too, particularly Miss Havisham.  She's a caricature like only Dickens could invent, but not an entirely unsympathetic one.  I wonder if she would have benefited from modern-day therapy. Anyone who hangs around a house wearing an old wedding dress and surrounded by the detritus of her jilted youth could at least use a professional shoulder to cry on.

There's also an element of mystery to the story.  Who is the benefactor who has given young Pip these Great Expectations?  Is it the obvious person or an entirely new character?  And how is pretty much everybody connected?

This one veers into the favorites column.  I'd pair with a tea that starts out sweet but has a bitter aftertaste. Drink this with an old, stale piece of wedding cake. 


Abigail Rogers said...

I love this! A highly original book review. I remember reading "Great Expectations" and thought it interesting that there was actually an alternate ending...and the wedding bit was certainly an entertaining bit of drama.

I respect Dickens for his amazing writing style (love, love, love "A Tale of Two Cities"), but I can't admit to being a total fan. Here's a review I wrote on the simpering Oliver: http://differenthomeschoolgirl.blogspot.com/2010/12/oliver-twist.html

Catherine said...


Yes, I really needed to look at Oliver as a representative rather than a character. I'm told the musical versions are more entertaining.

I haven't read 'A Tale of Two Cities' and have heard contrasting views on its merit, but I'm curious to see how Dickens handles historical fiction. My next Dickens is 'Our Mutual Friend' which should take me well into winter.