I only had a faint idea of what to expect from Great Expectations. I knew it would be about an orphan who came into good fortune, as well as an enigmatic convict, a cold but beautiful girl, and the girl’s eccentric guardian. But it was the theme that surprised me. There was more to it than I had thought. The book explores the idea of nature and nurture, of nobility and wretchedness, of rewards, and of love. These themes are full just by themselves, yet they are connected and each one added depth to the story.
‘”I don’t remember.” “Not remember that you made me cry?” said I. “No,” said she, and shook her head and looked about her. I verily believe that her not remembering and not minding in the least, made me cry again, inwardly- and that is the sharpest crying of all.”
As the title indicates, the book is full of people expecting something. But, as is so often the way of things, what is expected isn’t how it turns out in the end; the best laid plans of mice and men ‘gang aft agley’. The protagonist, Pip, finds that while he set his eyes on the mirage of what he expected, he had neglected what was within the hearts of the people around him. His own heart is a muddle, as he sets it on what he knows he cannot have.
‘“Well, then, understand once for all that I never shall or can be comfortable- or anything but miserable- there, Biddy!- unless I can lead a very different sort of life from the life I lead now.” “That’s a pity!” said Biddy, shaking her head with a sorrowful air. Now, I too had so often thought it a pity, that, in the singular kind of quarrel with myself which I was always carrying on, I was half inclined to shed tears of vexation and distress when Biddy gave utterance to her sentiment and my own. I told her she was right, and I knew it was much to be regretted, but still it was not to be helped’
Sometimes the character connections were a little too coincidental, and I lost sight of the plot thread around the middle of the story. I find that often happens with Dickens’ books. But his characterization and descriptions were, as usual, brilliant. Dickens’ commentaries on humanity and culture, and the vivid- often humourous- ways he portrays them have always been my favourite part to his novels.
‘The Constables, and the Bow Street men from London- for, this happened in the days of the extinct red-waistcoated police- were about the house for a week or two, and did pretty much what I have heard and read of like authorities doing in other such cases. They took up several obviously wrong people, and they ran their heads very hard against wrong ideas, and persisted in trying to fit the circumstances to the ideas, instead of trying to extract ideas from the circumstances. Also, they stood about the door of the Jolly Bargemen, with knowing and reserved looks that filled the whole neighbourhood with admiration; and they had a mysterious manner of taking their drink, that was almost as good as taking the culprit. But not quite, for they never did it.’
The interesting thing about the copy I was reading was that it had two versions of the ending. Unfortunately, neither one satisfied me. After spending so much time following expectations that would eventually let him down, I was hoping that Pip would at the end find something that truly was meant for him. But even my own expectations didn’t quite match up to what happened. It was a realistic ending for that, but not very happy one.
“Hear me, Pip! I adopted her to be loved. I bred her and educated her, to be loved. I developed her into what she is, that she might be loved. Love her!” She said the word often enough, and there could be no doubt that she meant to say it: but if the often repeated word had been hate instead of love- despair-revenge-dire death- it could not have sounded from her lips more like a curse.
Despite these middling frustrations, I enjoyed the book. Great Expectations is another worthy story from Dickens.