As I said previously, I have been rereading Great Expectations. I have been reading other things as well, but I do plan on returning back to it. I did want to get some thoughts down however, while they were still fresh in my mind.
This is technically the third time I have read Great Expectations. I read it in Freshman year of both high school and college. However, I found that on this read I was able to pick up on many aspects of the novel that I had not noticed before. When I read the book in Freshman year of high school I remember focusing on scenes and plot, and how they all fit together in the story. There was a lot of discussion of class and society in Dickens’ era and how he interpreted that into his text. When I read it in college it was for a class that only met once a week, and we only spent about one to two weeks on the text which is hardly enough time for a Dickens novel.
This time around I have been able to enjoy the book at my own speed which is a lovely thing to do. I am surprised at how many scenes I remember from 9th grade English class, such as the grime and greece that Pip imagines on the back wall of Jagger’s office from slimy criminals backing into it, or how when Joe visits Pip after he has received his great expectations, Joe’s hat just doesn’t seem to stay on the peg where he hangs it with his coat. Almost as if it doesn’t belong there.
I found what really jumped out at me this time around were the characters. Dickens’ characters are written with an astounding amount of detail and precision. I found myself caring deeply for Joe in his moments with Pip at home when they were “reading” together, or hating Estella for her snarky attitude towards Pip at Miss Havisham’s. Dickens can also set a scene fully and make it real through his text. This is in part due to the realism with which Dickens writes, but also the great amount of detail that he gives to every aspect of his work. At the Dickens exhibit at the New York Public Library it said that Dickens was writing to combat/understand the vastly changing world of 19th century England. One of the plaques at the exhibit stated,
Influenced by the fairy tales and allegories Dickens read in in his youth, villains are exaggeratedly wicked, while heroes and heroines wear almost saintly auras. The author distorts his descriptions of characters’ features and dress, speech and gestures to suggest their inner states of mind and ethical disproportions.
The fairy tale aspects of Dickens work definitely come through in Great Expectations. There is something eerily romantic about Miss Havisham, a woman who wears a dilapidated wedding gown and has stopped her life at twenty minutes to nine, the time that she was left at the alter.
George Orwell has also commented on Dickens’ ability to caputure childhood in his works. This is not something that I would have thought of originally, because Dickens works are always considered to be dense and academic which childhood is not. He does portray Pip, however, with a very relatable innocence that I could remember as a child through his actions and thought processes. Pip is very egocentric, which children are, with a big imagination. For example, when soldiers show up at the door to his house, Pip is terrified they are there to take him away since he stole food from his sister to give to Magwich. It doesn’t cross his mind that they would be there for any other reason. Dickens also describes Pip growing up out of that phase into a young adult very accurately as well. Immediately after Pip finds out about his fortune he sees himself as too good for his sister and Joe, and eagerly awaits the time when he can go to London. A scene that really stuck out to me was,
It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home….Home had never been a very pleasant place for me, because of my sister’s temper. But Joe had sanctified it, and I believed in it. I had believed in the best parlour as a most elegant saloon; I had believed in the front door as a mysterious portal of the Temple of State, whose solemn opening was attended with a sacrifice of roast fowls; I had believed in the forge as the glowing road to manhood and independence. Within a single year all this was changed. Now it was all course and common, and I would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account (103).