Sunday, March 20, 2011

Great Expectations

I read Great Expectations during the week of March 6-13.  This was the second Dickens novel of the year, following Oliver Twist by about a month.  From conversations with friends, I have come to see this as a "love it or hate it" book.  I went into the week thinking I wouldn't care for it, possibly because I tried to read it when I was eight and couldn't understand it (go figure), but I was pleasantly surprised.

Great Expectations chronicles the coming of age of Pip (Philip Pirrip). Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that it's a rags to riches to rags tale. In the end Pip has discovered that all his initial grand pursuits in life didn't satisfy him, and he appears to be content to live a simple life that is rich in friendship. In the end, all of the actions that he undertook in selfishness have come to nothing, and the one good deed that he did for love of another is the only one that endures to bear fruit. The character of Pip undergoes definite transformation as he matures and struggles with issues of personal growth, social class and crime; this is a true bildungsroman.  Some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but I was glad to see Dickens in fine form as he develops comic caricatures in the members of the Pocket family. Dickens also has a piercing way of describing the world through the eyes of a child, and there is a definite sense of place as he locates the action in two very different settings: London and the Marshes.

main character: Pip
gentle giant:  Joe Gargery
crazy old lady: Miss Havisham
unattainable object of affection: Estella
funny folk: the Pocket family
place as character: the marshes
there was a lot of: secrets, discontent, jealousy, affection
there should have been more of: descriptions of hearty country fare...because if I can't eat a pound of cheese and a slab of bacon every day, reading about other people eating them is the next best thing
this book makes you want to: get an education, know who your real friends are, make your way in the world, have a definite sense of "home" to come back to
this book makes you glad you don't have to: endure face-to-face abuse from a higher social class, sneak an escaped convict out of the country in the dead of night, lie ill with an inexplicable 19th century "fever" (seriously, was that the only diagnosis at the time?) 

No comments: