After 13 years, I finally revisited one of my favorite books of all time. In fact, Great Expectations is the first classic novel I ever remember reading. It was the first book we read in my freshman English class in high school, and it really made me a fan of the classics. All these years I've romanticized Estella (obviously) and thought fondly of Miss Havisham. Oddly, it is the main character, Pip, that I haven't thought much about. Instead, the details of Dickens' warped women have kept me company all these years.
One thing I realize upon re-reading is just how abridged that first copy must've been. I know we read it out of a textbook, so I can only imagine how much I missed. Maybe that's why Estella and Miss Havisham stayed strong in my mind while Pip faded into the background.
For those who haven't read it, a short blurb from the back of my Penguin Classics edition:
A terrifying encounter with an escaped convict on the Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decaying Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor--these form a series of events that changes the orphaned Pip's life forever, and he eagerly abandons his humble origins to begin a new life as a gentleman. Dickens's haunting late novel depicts Pip's education and development through adversity as he discovers the true nature of his 'great expectations.'
There's a good discussion of the book brewing over at the Year of Reading Dangerously blog, but I'll go ahead and flesh out some thoughts here before I start posting over there.
Pip is a pipsqueak. While he starts out a loving child, he quickly forsakes his family and friends when he gains a fortune from his mysterious benefactor (not a spoiler). While many were annoyed to the point of dislike with Pip, I never really felt that way. Perhaps it's Dickens's way with detail, but I always found Pip pretty human and understandable given his circumstances. He came from nothing and was suddenly faced with everything. Sounds a bit like a child star. Anyway, I always found something redeeming in him despite his gawd-awful behavior.
As for Dickens's deplorable ladies...they couldn't have been any better. My juvenile brain (combined with the film version, I suspect) clearly latched onto Estella and kept her all these years. It was with this re-reading that I discovered just how absent she is for the majority of the novel. However, I think therein lies the mystery. Because Estella is painted as iconic and enigmatic through the lens of Pip's obsession, Estella becomes a "big" character even though she is quite often only hovering in the background.
Miss Havisham, on the other hand, sprang to life for me upon this re-reading in a way she did not before. I got a much better feel for her cruelty and downright creepiness. All rot and spite, she spends her days rattling around Satis House with her cane, in a moldering wedding gown, surrounded by the vestiges of her unfulfilled marriage. I think Dickens did a great job fleshing out the crazy lady. I can't get enough of her now. If it weren't so well established, I might rename the blog. OK, maybe not, but it's a thought.
Overall, this novel is a big fat winner. It's twisted, it's nicely fleshed out, and the characters--both "bad" and good--are highly memorable.
Now I need to re-read A Tale of Two Cities...my other Dickens favorite.