Great Expectations

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlaying our hard hearts.”

Charles Dickens


Ooh, I do like a bit of Dickens. I suppose it’s a general effect of all the sentimentality of his novels: yes, there’s crime and poverty and injustice and all those other horrid things, but there’s also love and friendship and divine justice and all those other nice things.

I first encountered Great Expectations in the form of the BBC mini-series starring the rather wonderful Douglas Booth (who, I now think, is absolutely nothing like Pip). This was a mistake. Great Expectations, as you probably already know, since you’ve ignored the spoiler alert, is the first-person story of Philip Pirrip (try saying that when you’ve had a drink), who quite understandably finds his name a bit of a mouthful and instead calls himself Pip. The novel has many many twists and turns, and, unfortunately, I knew all of them: the identity of Pip’s benefactor, Estella’s true intentions, the ultimate outcome of Magwitch’s escape attempt…It just would have been better not to know these things beforehand. This is why you should always read the book before you see the adaptation.

Never mind. The novel was enjoyable for many other reasons, not least of which was getting reacquainted with my favourite character, Mr Herbert Pocket, who is loyal, cheerful and the perfect foil to the snobbish, selfish Pip. I would have liked to have seen more of the Pocket family – this is why I prefer Dickens’ longer, bigger novels like Our Mutual Friend or Bleak House; even the minor characters get a good look-in – but it was nice to see Wemmick in his home, and Pumblechook’s hypocrisy, and Compeyson’s dastardliness. I even liked those highly improbable coincidences you find in every Dickens novel – Estella’s parents both having such a close connection to Pip? Really?

My biggest question, however, is – PIP AND ESTELLA? WHAT HAPPENS?! What was that ending, exactly? That last sentence doesn’t even make sense, for heavens’ sake, and it’s ugly:

I saw the shadow of no parting from her.

What does this mean? What?

I’ll end on a happy note, with a lovely little simile I found near the beginning of the novel.

I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night.

I don’t know why, but that little sentence just struck me as the saddest thing ever. And that’s what Dickens does so well: he makes you feel for the characters.


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