"Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day."
This was a re-read for me, but it's been a sufficiently long time (which, with my sieve-like brain, could mean mere weeks, but in this case it's been at least ten years) so that I couldn't remember much about Great Expectations other than the vague notion that I really enjoyed reading it.
I remembered that there was Pip, and there was Estella, and there was Miss Havisham who was a little bit gross and a lot crazy. And there were varying incarnations of unrequited love and impressive coldheartedness. I wasn't sure how many of my shadowy memories of the story came from the modernized 1998 movie and how much I actually remembered from the book.
As it turns out, I didn't remember much. The gist of the book was familiar (Pip, raised in a lowly blacksmith's home, admires the rich and snooty until, unexpectedly, he is given the opportunity to become rich and snooty himself, and he does a bang-up job of it). But so much of it took me by surprise. Which was really kind of nice, because it's much easier for mysterious and suspenseful plot twists to be mysterious and suspenseful if I'm not sure where they're going.
One thing I certainly didn't remember was how funny this book is! Not in the way that Anna Karenina occasionally made me laugh when I wasn't sure I should. No, Dickens's tone is surprisingly (and intentionally) quite droll. And Dickens managed to hit Pip's voice just perfectly. It was not at all pompous, prolix or pontifical, the way Dickens seems in my mind whenever I'm not reading him. Pip is hopeful and optimistic, and even when he was painfully ashamed of his roots (or, more importantly, of the loving people he left behind), I still didn't hate him.
Here's something interesting we discovered at book club: we didn't all interpret the ending in the same way. Even more interesting is a fact I unearthed today: did you know there are TWO DIFFERENT ENDINGS to Great Expectations? (Don't follow that link unless you've already read the book, or if you just happen to love spoilers.) It's like Choose Your Own Adventure! I need to ask Lydia if her book had the original ending, which would make our differing interpretations completely understandable. At any rate, I certainly prefer the ending in my copy of the book.
Another certainty: Great Expectations is SUCH a good story. It was definitely worthy of a re-read. AND I would read it again in the future. Dickens deserves to be named the Supreme Mugwump of Victorian Lit, even if I still love Henry James more.
I've got a couple of surplus tidbits for you. First, historical perspective: Great Expectations was initially published in serial form, with the first installment appearing in December 1860 and the final installment in August 1861. These dates bracket the start of America's Civil War, which officially began in April 1861.
|Detail of Goya's The Old Ones: |