A Collection of Characters

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Great Expectations, 1860-1861

I am happy to report that when you aren’t forced to read Great Expectations, you really really love Great Expectations. I might even say really really really love it. It was an absolute pleasure to read from beginning to end; it has so many brilliantly drawn characters, a gripping atmosphere and an absolutely fantastic plot. I think this quotation completely sums up everything about Great Expectations:

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. 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.

Dickens, you blow my mind. I read that passage, paused, and shivered contentedly. I think Pip as a boy is the key to the universal appeal of this story. The childhood Dickens describes rings so true – it is a bit like reading a part of yourself that you had forgotten. For example, the way Pip imagines how his mother and father looked according to the shape and inscriptions of their gravestones: its so easy to forget as an adult how you once pictured the world as a child.

No review of Great Expectations is complete without a bit of Miss Havisham. She has to be one of my favourite literary characters. On first impressions I admired Dickens’ imagination for thinking of things like stopping the clocks, letting things rot and floating about in a wedding dress. However, on reflection (and a second read) I think it is more admirable to think about what she represents. She is actually very human, she is the worst in all of us.

“I’ll tell you,” said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper, “what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter – as I did!”

There are so many dimensions to her that I think I would see something different every time I read this book, even if I read it hundreds of times.

The last of my adoring quoting is to do with Dickens’ writing itself. When I read this I had to tell the person I was sat next to what had happened. Luckily I was sitting at home and didn’t have to resort to quoting at strangers. Basically there is a normal paragraph where Pip is out and about in his usual London haunts. And then right at the close of the chapter, Dickens writes:

What was the nameless shadow which again in that one instant had passed?

Oh yes. He manages to completely change your attitude towards the entirety of what you have just read with thirteen words. Yes, he has just irrevocably changed the atmosphere and tone. Yes, you are now tense. Yes, you are hooked. Yes, without reference to the shadow previously you know exactly which shadow he is talking about.