Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review: GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens

Original Publication Date: 1861

Topics: Coming of age, class, family, ambition, crime, guilt

Genre: Victorian Fiction


Even if you haven’t read Great Expectations, chances are you know the story, either from the adaptations (there's even a South Park episode based on it) or by the many cultural references going around.

So shortly: Pip is a young orphan living with his sister and her blacksmith husband. One day he is invited by local-eccentric Miss Havisham to visit her home – Satis House – and become a companion for her adopted daughter – the beautiful Estella – with whom our hero promptly falls in love. Miss Havisham was left at the altar many years before and since then she and her house remain frozen time. More than that, she is training Esther to break men’s hearts and avenge her. Some time after his first visit, Pip starts receiving money through a London lawyer but from an unknown source, so he immediately assumes Miss Havisham is his benefactor. The rest of the book is about how Pip deals with his new-found wealth, the people he meets in London and the discovery of the true origin of his “great expectations” (connected to a childhood secret).

This was my second Dickens after reading Oliver Twist and I've come to the conclusion that… he’s not for me. He’s very readable, and can be really funny at times, but the Mexican soap opera plot twists, and the way he turns everything he touches to bleakness just puts me off. Not to mention his inability to create female characters I can relate to (capital offense!).

I still have Our Mutual Friend on the TBR shelf and will read it eventually since 1) it’s my favorite Dickens adaptation and 2) because of Desmond, from the TV series Lost. You see, Desmond has read all other Dickens except Our Mutual Friend, which he is intending to read only when he feels death is near. I heart Desmond – he understands the unique experience of reading for the first time a book you’ll love. I'm also determined to read A Christmas Carol this December, so maybe not all hope is lost.

Anywhoo, I feel that everything that could possibly be said about Great Expectations has been said before, so I’ll just compile some random thoughts:

  • The whole story felt like a fairy tale and you should take it just like that – a spoon full of sugar will help the freaky coincidences go down!
  • Who cares about Pip?! The most interesting part of the novel was Satis House with it’s stopped clocks, rotting wedding cake and Miss Havisham’s plan to build her own version of Frankenstein’s monster. I found the conversation between her and Estella by the fireplace one of the highlights of the book and can’t help wishing for a prequel about their lives together. During that exchange, we have a rare glimps into the  Estella’s mind… and you can almost hear Miss Havisham scream “I’ve created a MONSTER!”. But as the Monster, I feel she is misunderstood and completely right in feeling that Miss H. cannot expect her to be different from what she was programmed for. I know a lot of people feel Estella is two-dimensional, but for me she’s one of those characters that has a life – and a mind! – beyond the will of the author.
  • I LOLed several times during Pip’s early life, when he’s still living with his sister and Joe. They are perfect examples of Dickens’ British sense of humor:
“Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself.”
 “Some medical beast had revived tar-water in those days as a fine medicine, and Mrs. Joe always kept a supply of it in the cupboard; having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of times, so much of this elixir was administered to me as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about, smelling like a new fence.”
I know that Dickens has a huge following and I hope this post didn't discourage you to try it - it's a great gift to have all his works available on Project GutenbergAs Jane Austen wisely said, "One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."