Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Great Expectations II
"Who am I," cried Miss Havisham, striking her stick upon the floor and flashing into wrath so suddenlythat Estella glanced up at her in surprise, "who am I, for God's sake, that I should be kind!"
(Miss Havisham to Pip, chapter 44)
Last night I attended the penultimate discussion at Newberry Library of Charles Dickens' penultimate (complete) novel. Our discussion itself demonstrated the popularity of this novel with all of the attendees participating with more passion than typically shown. Perhaps this is because everyone, myself included , seems to like this story, and in spite of his faults, the protagonist Pip. It helps that Dickens demonstrates a mastery of his novel-writing craft and, as he demonstrated in Hard Times and A Tale of Two Cities, he has restrained the prolixity of his prose and yet not failed to deliver vivid descriptions and dramatic scenes. There are moments as moving as any of Dickens, for example when Joe Gargery says goodbye to Pip in London as he returns to his home and the forge. Joe, who is portrayed as the "natural man", is naturally good as the village blacksmith and somehow his Edenic life is believable.
Pip's precious search for his benefactor and his "great expectations" is thwarted by his innocence, by his foolishness, and ultimately by fate which has decreed that his dreams of love and life with Estella are not to be fulfilled. The underlying theme of a search for a father takes a strange turn, while Pip is able to summon the courage to help the convict Magwitch a second time proving his innate goodness. This reader found impressive the development of characters and their changes, ultimately even in someone as cold-hearted as Miss Havisham (demonstrated by the quotation above). Miss Havisham is particularly interesting as a prime source of motivation, putting into motion the life and fate of both Estella and Pip, and as a cruel spinster who ultimately seeks forgiveness. The story builds to a suspenseful climax and on second and third readings continues to charm and challenge my reading life.