Sunday, April 5, 2015

Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens
Public Domain Books
Fiction, General Fiction
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Orphaned Pip, brought up by the cruel hand of his sole surviving sister and her long-suffering blacksmith husband Joe Gargery, was often told how miserable a child he was and how poor his prospects were. It never truly bothered him until the day he was invited to the estate of the reclusive Miss Havisham and met the old woman's ward, the lovely Estella. It hardly matters to Pip that she's a cruel, capricious young lady, whose first meeting left him in tears as she insulted his low birth and coarse hands. It hardly matters that a blacksmith's apprentice cannot hope to court, let alone win, someone of her prospects and stations. From that moment on, he determines he will become a gentleman, even if he doesn't yet know how. When, some years later, a lawyer arrives to inform him that he has great expectations - an unknown benefactor of prodigious means, who wishes him to move to London and raise himself in society - it seems the answer to his prayers... but dreams and reality are two very different things. Pip will need more than luck and money to make his fortune and his future.

REVIEW: I suppose, yet again, my general lack of education shows here. Widely considered a classic, this story nearly bored me out of reading it several times. Dickens dances around meanings and words in a way that had me wishing he'd encountered an editor as firm and swift with the switch as Mrs. Gargery. Granted, he was writing for a different audience, with different literary expectations and societal understandings, than exists today. In his time, perhaps, it wouldn't have seen impossibly outlandish that a woman would devote her entire adult life to nursing a single grudge, warping the lives of those around her and manipulating them to ridiculous extremes and degrees, or that the entire adult population of a small village would devote itself to demeaning one young boy. Pip's unreasoning obsession with becoming "uncommon" and reaching the unreachable heart of a lady who openly admits she has none might also have evoked less eye-rolling and tooth-grinding, as might his utter passivity through most of the story. I will also grant that Dickens evokes some distinctive imagery and characters, though the latter often lean toward caricatures (with a few racial stereotypes thrown in for good measure.) But it just plain takes too long in its meandering, painstaking setup. Dickens also fails to engage me in Pip's life, beyond the people he meets: for all that he's a blacksmith's apprentice, I barely saw any of the forges, and when he's partaking of his gentlemanly education and pursuits, I'm given no real clue as to how he's actually spending his time or what he's really doing. (Again, though, this may be a problem stemming from me being a twenty-first century American.) It isn't until well past the halfway point that the pace picks up and the threads of Pip's long, verbose journey begin to come together in a most melodramatic manner - and Pip finally realizes he's been an unlikable ingrate. The conclusion itself is just too neat to be believed. In the end, while I enjoyed some of the descriptions, and Dickens has a way of creating memorable characters (in the supporting cast and around the periphery, if not in the starring role), I found the storyline too contrived, Pip himself too hard to care about, and the whole thing just too long and slow for me to enjoy.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) - My Review
Assassin's Apprentice (Robin Hobb) - My Review
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss) - My Review

No comments:

Post a Comment