Friday, February 26, 2016

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

When I began my book blog I wanted to include some of the great writers I had never read before and so book ten in my fifty book reading challenge is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Great Expectations is narrated by Pip (Phillip Pirrup).  The year is about 1860 and Pip is telling us about his younger days in the early 1800's.  We learn about his life growing up as an orphan in a small village in Kent raised by his sister and her kind hearted husband Joe Gargery.  Thanks to an annonymous benefactor Pip is able to leave his village as a teenager and arrive in London with a generous allowance and aquire new friends, lodging, culture etc.  It's an opportunity to move to a higher station in life and Pip to quote the title of the book has great expectations.

Pip's tone though throughout the novel is tinged with melancholy and we sense early this is a cautionary tale.  Pip introduces us to other characters who influence his life for good or ill.  The escaped convict Abel Magwitch, the reclusive spinster Miss Havisham, her adopted daughter Estella, Pip's best friend Herbert. As for Pip he makes mistakes but most of what happens to him in the novel is a byproduct of the bad choices and bad luck that have happened to others.  The case of Miss Havisham for example who cannot forgive her fiancee walking out on their wedding day 30 years ago.  We see how the inability to move on can corrode one's own life but also the lives of everyone around you.

As for Pip he has an ability to forgive and still  care for others that is impressive. He would have reason for example to blame Miss Havisham for ruining his chance of happiness but he doesn't.  Possibly Dickens is telling us that class and good character were inate in Pip all along.  He didn't need to go to London to become a gentleman. He learned that from Joe Gargery the brother in law/father figure who raised him.

Great Expectations has taken me a month to read and though I didn't leave ready to jump into another Dickens novel (at least not right away),  I did leave with a curiosity about the man himself since many of his novels have an autobiographical aspect to them.  Dickens wrote about the poor, being in debt, children, prisons, workhouses and he knew about all of this first hand growing up.  Critics regard him as the greatest novelist of the Victorian Age and so now if anyone asks me if I ever read Charles Dickens I can say yes, I read Great Expectations.