Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
First published 1860
2/3 rereads (2013 Book Challenge)
I remember enjoying this book the first time I read it, but as I was rereading now, I realized I didn’t remember much of the plot and secondary characters. Reading this book again was much like reading it for the first time.
Of course, I remembered the dramatic beginning and a fair part of everything that occurs before Pip comes into great expectations. But I completely forgot everything beyond that! For example, who the benefactor is… So it was a surprise for me, again. And the novel really pulls you in after the halfway mark, or around there.
The main character is Pip. His real name, Phillip Pirrip, soon gets lost: throughout the novel Pip is used as his first name and his last name. Basically, he is universally known as simply Pip.
Pip is a very charismatic character; even when his blind desire for gentlemanly life makes him do mean, base things, the Reader still sympathizes with him. In the book, as narrated by Pip, he accepts his mean behaviour and denounces himself for it, too, which makes the Reader express pity for him, not dislike.
Then there are such unforgettable characters as Miss Havisham and Estella.
Miss Havisham is an iconic character of Dickens’s, such as you take out of a book and she stays with you forever. As creepy as she seems, one sympathizes with her when one knows her story.
I loved the passage where Pip finds out Estella is to be married to Drummle, and so he is professing his love for her, and decrying the fact that she is wasting her life on Drummle. Miss Havisham is watching all of this, and she feels pity and remorse for Pip. And at that moment, I think, Pip’s earnest love for Estella quenches Miss Havisham’s hate for men. As she watches the scene in front of her, like a viewer watches a dramatic performance and sees himself on stage,so Miss Havisham sees her young self in Pip, and it almost cures her state.
She is a wonderful character and we can only infer, we will never know, what is going on in her mind at this moment, or anytime in the story. Quite honestly and audaciously, I think even Dickens himself did not precisely know what he wanted her to feel. She is such a brilliant character that she exists on her own. And she is memorable, not only in the physical aspects of being stuck in Time, but mentally, too, as she is stuck in the mindset of that Time. If we could get inside her mind, it would be great, and yet I realize we are better as onlookers.
Estella is not a pleasant character, to me. She becomes the object of Pip’s affections, and it is mainly for her that he wishes to become a gentleman.
I vaguely remember not liking Estella very much the first time I read the novel, although then I was much less able to analyze her character than I am now. I still do not like Estella, but now I understand her better. I know she is Miss Havisham’s creation, and I sympathize with her, too, but I cannot bring myself to like her.
I do not think she is a weak character, but I think she is made out to be weak on her pretense of being heartless, which supposedly makes her stronger, but it doesn’t.
Estella is not her own, she is a composition built by Miss Havisham. Her exterior is built, and the exterior of her mind is built by her adopted mother, but inside she is still empty because she was not allowed the opportunity to create herself. She needs the freedom to do that. Estella is empty inside and that is what makes her weaker as a character. At the end, we see Estella all grown into herself, having filled that missing part of herself through suffering, not Miss Havisham’s teachings.
On a more positive note, I ab-so-lu-tely loved Mr. Wemmick (of Walworth) and the Castle and the Aged. Everything about them is absolutely charming and adorable. The atmosphere of warmth spread through the chapters where Pip visited the Castle. I loved everything about it.
Dickens is one of favourite authors. His imagery is brilliant and his characters are developed so skillfully, that they become like personal friends (or enemies).
Sometimes he strays from the main plotline, which is understandable because his novels were published as periodicals with, I’m assuming, a set word count to be written. Considering that, his works are so masterful, because he managed to keep most of the stuff he wrote purposeful and essential to the story. Rarely did I come across a sentence that I found pointless, because even the sentences that do not add to the story necessarily, exist on their own.
The way Dickens twist his plotlines is amazing. It is as if at the beginning you start with loose threads which, by the end, are woven into a perfect bow, if you will, all tied together. I marvel at his ability to do this, because all of his books tie in at the end.
Great Expectations is one of my favourite books. By the end of it I was really overwhelmed with emotion and feeling, because I rediscovered the book anew. It made me smile, shed tears, and grip its pages in moments of oncoming exultation.
At the end Pip is left with greater expectations. The ending itself is a great expectation, although originally Dickens proposed a not so hopeful finale.
This was a very pleasant, much needed reread.