Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Just finished reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens which I was reading as part of a Dickens readalong being hosted by Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Delia (Postcards from Asia).

This is a reread of the novel for me as I read it many years ago and I always wonder if I will actually like a book the second time round or whether revisiting will somehow mar the memory.  No problems here I’m pleased to admit.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the second time round the story was even better.

For those of you unfamiliar with Great Expectations the story is about a boy called Pip.  Pip is an orphan, being raised by his sister and her husband Joe.  Due to a chance circumstance Pip is thrown into the path of the local eccentric lady of the manor, Miss Haversham where he meets her ward the beautiful and proud Estella.  Pip is later to be apprenticed to Joe as a blacksmith until his fortune is changed by an unknown benefactor and he is elevated to the status of a gentleman with ‘great expectations’.  I won’t elaborate further on the plot.

The first thing I noticed this time round is the humour in Dicken’s telling of the story.  I can genuinely admit that I recalled none of that at all and yet he really does incorporate a lot of fun into his character Pip.  Perhaps I missed this originally as I was much younger and probably concentrated mainly on the story (not to mention racing to the end to find out how it all concludes).  I think much of the writing style and the subtle nuances were probably wasted on me at that age whereas this time, being already aware of the story, I was able to enjoy Dicken’s style.

I must confess that I had moments where Pip didn’t come across as well as he could – in fact at one point I positively disliked him.  But, I think this was part of Dickens intentions.  Pip starts out in life quite destitute and his only friend in the world is Joe (who frequently rescues him from a good beating from his sister).  And, yet, as soon as he meets Miss Haversham he becomes overwhelmed with shame about his own circumstances.  He cringes at the thought of the  disdainful Estella ever meeting Joe or seeing his home circumstances.  This is in sharp contrast later in the story when Pip becomes friendly with Mr Wemmit who works at the law firm that acts as Guardian to Pip’s income until he becomes of age.  Mr Wemmit doesn’t have a lot to speak of in the world.  He has a small home and looks after his elderly father who remains known throughout the story as The Aged.  And yet Mr Wemmit loves his home and family and experiences none of the feelings that Pip does.  It also reaches a bit of a peak when Joe pays a visit to Pip in his new home in London and Pip is practically on pins for the whole visit, acts quite rudely towards Joe, is ashamed for him with his country ways and lack of breeding and is actually relieved when he leaves!  I was really naffed off with him at this point I must admit!

That being said I think that Pip does redeem himself – and this seems to be a theme with Dickens that characters become aware of the flaws in their own character and attempt to change themselves for the better.

A couple of things that occurred to me during this read were:

I thought that Dickens was making a point about females in society – if you look at Biddy in this story she is quite obviously as clever, if not more so, as Pip and yet due to circumstances her chances in life are quite different.

The other thing that stood out with this, and I don’t know if this is the same for other novels by Dickens, is that he is a master of misdirection.  He leads you into wrong conclusions and dead end alleys without any difficulty whatsoever.

And, finally, I wondered if he was making a point about nature over nurture.  Both Pip and Estella were taken into a situation where they were manipulated and raised almost like a tool of revenge.  Estella to seek revenge against men on behalf of Miss Haversham and her overwhelming disappointment in life and Pip, placed into a different situation in life by somebody who wanted to make a gentleman out of him to prove a point and then display Pip around time as being the superior of everyone else.  Both of them, later in life, realised how they were being used and it was sad to see that neither of them were able to lead perfectly happy or normal lives comparative to some of the other characters in the story.

I really enjoyed this story reading it for the second time.  It is a great story and easy to see why it’s been adapted to film on so many occasions and I would like to thank Caroline and Delia for giving me the inspiration to revisit.

 

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Posted On 21 December 2012

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For the month of December I decided to read a couple of Dickens book as part of an event being hosted by Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Delia (Postcards from Asia).  Actually, rather sensibly for me, I only really undertook to read two books – Great Expectations which I will review in a few days and a Christmas Carol which I will today be answering questions on provided by our lovely hosts.  If you haven’t read this book then you may want to stop reading as the Q&A below will undoubtedly contain spoilers.

Before I even start I must say that A Christmas Carol was just as lovely to read as it was on the past 5 or 6 occasions that I’ve already read it!  On top of this I also watched A Muppet Christmas Carol this month (just to keep in the spirit of things) – I actually had the film playing whilst I was putting up the decorations.  I love that film.  I realise it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I just can’t help myself.  Plus the songs are great.  How odd is it that in spite of watching this film countless times and reading the book quite a few it never occurred to me before now that instead of just Jacob Marley, as in the book, we have a double helping of Marley’s in the film played by the two curmudgeonly old guys who always used to heckle from the theatre balconies.  Anyway, onto the questions:

Is this the first time you are reading the story?

Nope, at least 5 or six times.  Difficult to remember now!

Did you like it?

I’ve always liked this story.  It has a timeless appeal.  I probably saw the film before the book.  I seem to recall seeing the old black and white version of this film with Alistair Sim followed a couple of years later by a cartoon version.  Anyway, the films led me to the books which is unusual for me as usually its the other way around.

Which was your favorite scene?

This is really tough.  Making a choice.  I do like the scene when Marley first appears – probably because of the dialogue between the two ‘more of gravy than of grave’.  I love that line (I also love the scene with Bob and Mrs Cratchit are toasting Scrooge’s health).  I think probably on reflection I really enjoy the scene where the last spirit has ended his visitation and Scrooge is back in his bedchamber and comes to realise that it’s still Christmas Day.  It’s great that scene and also, although I can’t pretend to remember how I originally felt when I first read the book it’s unexpected.  One minute you’re with this scary critter standing next to a tombstone and then you’re back in a bedroom and the sense of relief that comes across for Scrooge is just really infectious in that it sort of makes you smile also.

Which was your least favorite scene?

I don’t really have any problems with any of the scenes but I guess the only time I felt a little more detached was on some of the journeys with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Not that I didn’t enjoy them – thinking about visiting the seamen, etc, I totally understand what Dickens was doing with these scenes but they didn’t have the same enjoyment factor for me and I think that’s because they weren’t related to Scrooge or his story.  They were random people who were being visited to show that the spirit of Christmas is everywhere.

Which spirit and his stories did you find the most interesting?

I liked the spirit of Christmas Past probably the most (although the sinister stories with the pawn shop were pretty good!)  I really enjoyed seeing Scrooge’s past.  His time spent at school, his sister, Fezziwig, breaking the contract with his fiancee – all a great insight into his character and the way he eventually changed.

Was there a character you wish you knew more about?

I wish I knew more about Scrooge’s family – particularly why he was left for such a long period at school.  How he managed to keep a decent relationship with his sister despite hardly ever seeing her and probably a bit more about his nephew.  I cheated a bit there because a whole family got included in this answer!

How did you like the end?

Well, I suppose the ending is very sweet – probably a bit overly so – but I like it.  It’s perfect for the time of year and gives you a good feeling.

Did you think it was believable?

Well, as believable as a ghost story can be.  I mean, what is believable is the story itself of somebody turning themselves around and changing their behaviour for the better.  It’s just a great story of redemption with a bit of the supernatural thrown in.  At the end of the day I love a good ghost story – and three ghosts with a message to relate, at Christmas.  It’s the perfect recipe.

Do you know anyone like Scrooge?

Yes!  Well, probably not quite as bad as Scrooge.  We definitely have somebody at work who could peel an orange in his pocket and who, when he opens his wallet, moths fly out.  Kidding aside – I suppose it’s more likely to know a few people with maybe one or more of his traits.

Did he deserve to be saved?

Yes, I absolutely believe he did.  Okay, he wasn’t soft and cuddly and he wasn’t short of saying or thinking some pretty mean sentiments but he pretty soon came round.  Plus, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him for his past which obviously had a massive influence on him.  He clearly went down the route of thinking money would make everything good in his world but obviously became so focused on that that he eventually excluded all the good things and therefore had nobody in his life to enjoy things with any more.  It’s sad because by the time Scrooge is redeemed he’s basically in his twilight year and has missed so much but it’s also happy because he’s realised the error of his ways and he is in a position to make a difference for others.

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