Friday, February 3, 2012

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
ebook: iBooks app for iPhone
FTC: free on iPhone

I am going to attempt to be better at writing up reviews of some of the classic books I've read -- mainly because I love love classic books.  Charles Dickens has become one of my favorite authors.  A couple of Decembers ago I read, and loved, A Christmas Carol.  I then tried out The Mystery of Edwin Drood - his last book and unfinished.  Not my favorite, but then again it was unfinished.  I also saw this great mini-series Bleak House which I loved so I thought I'd try another Dickens novel.  For some reason Dickens is just a winter author.  I also love reading classic books on my iPhone because it's always there, it's free, sometimes rocking Rocket it's easier to read one handed, and iBooks lets me bookmark pages.

The plot in my words:

Pip (Philip Pirrip) is an orphan living with his aunt (who slaps him around) and his gentle uncle Joe.  At the beginning of the book, Pip is being interrogated by an escaped convict.  He scares him into bringing him some food, drink, and something to take off his shackles.

Later, Pip is hired to periodically visit an eccentric old lady, Miss Havisham, and her adopted daughter Estella.  Miss Havisham was jilted at the alter eons ago and was never able to let that go.  So she sits in her crumbling mansion, wearing her disintegrating wedding dress, and is raising Estella to despise men.  Even though Estella is cruel to Pip, he falls in love with her anyway and spends his youth pinning for her.

**Let me interject here that the only movie adaptation I've seen of this is the 1998 version with Ethan Hawke and Gwenyth Paltrow.  It was a long time ago but I still see these characters in their roles, even though the adaptation was changed a lot for the more modern movie.

Anyway.  While working for his uncle, Pip is told that he has a mysterious benefactor who is giving him tons of money for his "great expectations."  So young Pip moves to London to become great, become educated, and basically just blows his money on nothing.

Then through various stuff, Pip grows as a young man, discovers who his benefactor is, and basically grows up.

My thoughts:

So the plot might be a tad odd but I adore Dickens' writing, his characters, and his humor.

One of my favorite characters is Pip's lawyer's clerk Wemmick.  He has this whole other life outside of the office that he never talks about.  He invites Pip to visit his home where he takes care of his aging father (who he calls "The Aged Parent" or "The Aged P." which absolutely cracks me up).  He's always urging Pip to get "portable property" which is exactly what it sounds like.

I always think Dickens has to have such humor in his stories to break up the actually depressing subject matter sometimes.  Orphans, child abuse, the death penalty, a depressing tour of Newgate prison -- I mean this book could be really depressing. BUT, Dickens is just so funny and he definitely has a way with words.  So here's some of my bookmarked passages:

On Pip's love for Estella:

But, though she had taken such strong possession of me, though my fancy and my hope were so set upon her, though her influence on  my boyish life and character had been all-powerful, I did not, even that romantic morning, invest her with any attributes save those she possessed.

I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.

On Wemmick's "portable property" advice - talking about a prisoner of Newgate who took care of pigeons:

"A Coiner, a very good workman. The Recorder's report is made today, and he is sure to be executed on Monday. Still you see, as far as it goes, a pair of pigeons are portable property all the same."

Wemmick's advice in lending money to a friend:

"Choose your bridge, Mr. Pip," returned Wemmick, "and take a walk upon your bridge, and pitch your money into the Thames over the centre arch of your bridge, and you know the end of it. Serve a friend with it, and you may know the end of it too, --but it's a less pleasant and profitable end."

On Pip trying to pay bills:

Dinner over, we produced a bundle of pens, a copious supply of ink, and a goodly show of writing and blotting paper. For there was something very comfortable in having plenty of stationery.

Each of us would then refer to a confused heap of papers at his side, which had been thrown into drawers, worn into holes in pockets, half burnt in lighting candles, stuck for weeks into the looking-glass, and otherwise damaged.

(This scene always reminds me of Bernard doing his taxes and trying to write a children's book in Black Books - which if you've never seen that show you MUST. NOW. WATCH. IT.)

My love of Dickens' descriptions of people:

...but I was looked after by an inflammatory old female, assisted by an animated rag-bag whom she called her niece...

Anyway, Great Expectations is Dickens at his best and I will definitely be checking out more of his books.  Have you read any Dickens and what do you think?

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