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Great Expectations

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Various people posted saying they'd picked up some Dickens partly because they'd been interested in this thread, so I did a lot of hunting and have managed to put together the whole thing.

 

SlowRain

 

This is the second novel that I have now read by Charles Dickens, the other being A Tale of Two Cities. The story is a coming of age tale centered around Pip, a young orphan raised by his fierce sister and gentle brother-in-law, who feels destined for greater things but seems doomed to become a blacksmith. His life is irreversibly changed when he receives a mysterious monetary gift with the condition that he be educated and raised to be a gentleman.

 

The narrative is a very lush, well-detailed, first-person account of Pip’s story. It never really has a slow part as the events are all relative to the characters and themes being discussed, but it’s more about character and lessons in life than a complex plot. We are treated to discussions of family relationships, generosity, gratitude, indebtedness (both financial and personal favors), infatuation, prejudice, judicial fairness, etc. Another treat is that Dickens is also fair with his characters: some are normal, some are weird, they all have obstacles that they must deal with - especially Pip - yet they don’t always do what we may consider to be the right thing, nor do they always act in a responsible way. We get to know Pip quite well, and by the end of the novel we are feeling his triumphs and sufferings.

 

There were a few things, however, that did affect my enjoyment of the novel. While not sinking to the level of A Tale of Two Cities, there are a few contrived coincidences that made me groan a bit. As well, the narrative, while highly enjoyable, was intrusive at times. There was also one scene that was staged to achieve maximum suspense and danger, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have actually played out that way in real life.

 

This is a novel that I would highly recommend to most readers who read and enjoy something more than thrillers and mysteries. I would certainly encourage every senior high school student and university student to read it for the timeless wisdom.

 

#2

24th August 2006, 06:17 PM

megustaleer

While not sinking to the level of A Tale of Two Cities, there are a few contrived coincidences that made me groan a bit.

 

I'm afraid you will have to learn to accept the contrived coincidence if you are going to read and enjoy Dickens (in fact, most pre-1900 novels).

 

So many things in life were inexplicable then, but we know so much more about the reason of things that the more unlikely happenings stick out like a sore thumb.

 

I think they add to the charm of these older books.

 

BTW Nice informative review!

 

#3

24th August 2006, 07:11 PM

Hazel

 

 

Most novels of that period have contrived plot devices because that was the 'fashion' of the period. People liked a beginning, middle and an end with everything sewn up neatly. Must admit I kind of like it too, and GE is definitely one of my favourites. I just love the idea of Miss Havisham.

 

#4

26th August 2006, 10:38 AM

Lady Lazarus

 

I absolutely LOVE this book! It's the only Dickens I've ever read, but I really enjoyed it. I didn't find the coincidences 'contrived' as SlowRain did either, I enjoyed the plot and the fact that everything was ;tied up' by the end. I felt the writing was fantastic, and very witty in places, and the characters were very real and animated. I also loved the character of Miss Havisham.

 

#5

26th August 2006, 01:12 PM

David

 

Great Expectations is indeed a superb book and one of my favourites. The concept of 'coincidences' is indeed common in Victorian fiction, though in the better novelists was more than a simple following of tastes - there was always a message behind it. Hardy, for instance, interwove complex schemes of fate, chance and coincidence, not just in terms of the events in characters' lives, but also over much greater tracts of time. Tess on the 'sacrificial' altar at Stonehenge, or Henry Knight in A Pair of Blue Eyes hanging off the edge of a cliff, staring not only death in the face but also a fossilised trilobite, thereby starting reflections on cycles of time and mankind being trapped within it - these contrivances are meant to point up philosophical angles.

 

It is similar with Dickens, who wishes to explore the interconnectedness of society, crossing all social barriers to show forcibly our kinship with fellow men and women. Consequently, in most of his novels he throws out a myriad of threads at the beginning of the book only for us to see ultimately that they are not so disparate as they appeared at first and in fact coalesce into a satisfying web of related interests. I suspect this was also part of his sub-text in promoting Christian principles - that the world's ills would be salved if only we would care for our brothers and sisters around us rather than see them as isolated individuals who are not our concern.

 

I also love Dickens partly because of this contrivance. Literary fiction is an artform and art is generally about rearranging the familiar in an artificial way to create meaning. Even modern novels - more naturalistic in their approach than the Victorians - need contrivance, otherwise the plot and characters would be a little too ordinary to capture our interest. Dickens, to my mind, exploits the full potential of the novel to create an extraordinary mental landscape, to utilise the imagination in a way that the panoramic sweeps offered by the novelistic form are best suited. His Victorian world has much that is intensely realistic and familiar, yet it is transformed through the perspective glass of the imagination into something that is vividly compelling. This is a world of the mind, and that is the reason why it remains there quite hauntingly long after the book has been read.

 

If you've enjoyed Great Expectations and want to explore further, Bleak House is generally rated as his other greatest novel. I'm also a huge fan of Our Mutual Friend, his last completed book. It has its flaws as a novel in terms of structure, but for the strength of that imaginative landscape I noted earlier it's almost unmatched.

 

#6

27th August 2006, 03:42 PM

katrina

 

I love GE especially Estella, I know your not supposed to like her but I thought she was a really great character. Its always interesting to read books that are written from the main characters point of view, when they are looking back at their life. Do we trust Pip as narrator?

 

I also found the recent film (1997?) version interesting, obviously only losely based on the book but still a good film.

 

#7

28th August 2006, 03:56 PM

SlowRain

 

Contrived Coincidences

 

Thank you for your replies.

 

But at what point do the contrived coincidences become too much? Can Dickens be accused of overuse, or should we treat his use of them as perfect? acceptable? Can they be disregarded or excused because of his strengths in other areas? If a similar book is written today, or already exists, and the narrative and characters are weaker yet the coincidences are just as prevalent, will that author be criticized as a hack or praised for being Dickensian? It seems to me that readers reject these kinds of set ups and twists in everything else but Dickens. Can Dickens legitimately be criticized in this area, and I'm not talking about the whinny "I don't get it" sort of way?

 

I realize that there are coincidences in everyday life, so I'm not objecting to them if used properly or responsibly. Sometimes the very heart of the novel is a discussion of the results that have come from a chance happening. But Dickens wasn't a hack, he put a great deal of thought and effort into his narrative and characters. I think the seriousness and brilliance of the rest of the novel is tarnished by the coincidences. Contrived coincidences and twists seem more like tactics that thriller writers use to distract the audience from their other shortcomings.

 

Please keep in mind that I did enjoy the novel, I just felt that this one aspect threw off something that would otherwise have been pretty close to perfection.

 

#8

28th August 2006, 06:57 PM

Hazel

But at what point do the contrived coincidences become too much? Can Dickens be accused of overuse, or should we treat his use of them as perfect? acceptable?

It is hard to criticise from our modern viewpoint, as these stylistic devices were the trend of that period. We may find them a little overdone now but the people of the period when this book was written would have lapped up every knot and tie in the plot.

 

#9

28th August 2006, 07:01 PM

Hazel

I love GE especially Estella, I know your not supposed to like her but I thought she was a really great character. Its always interesting to read books that are written from the main characters point of view, when they are looking back at their life. Do we trust Pip as narrator?

I like Estella as well. I like that she is a real mix of Miss Havisham and a modern lady. She is a much more interesting female character than we are often subjected to.

 

I think I trust Pip's narration, after all he is telling his story from the perspective of an adult who has been changed for the better, and he admits his faults and follies of the past. But keeping in mind that any narration from a person is going to be biased slighty - we can't trust it (or any) narration 100%.

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#10 29th August 2006, 06:34 AM

SlowRain

 

Estella & Pip's Narration

 

I liked Estella, too; I don't think we are meant to dislike her. She was a product of her environment, yet she didn't become a monster; she tried to make the most of her life. The only characters I really disliked were Pumblechook and Orlick, but that's because they were so well written as villains and neither were given any redeeming features.

 

I trust his narration, too. He may not have come out and said "I was really stupid to do this", but he does include his faults and weaknesses for us to see and decide for ourselves. Pip wasn't perfect, he made many mistakes incidental to youth, and the reader should be able to pick out most of them.

 

#11

29th August 2006, 07:22 AM

SlowRain

 

Criticism

It is hard to criticise from our modern viewpoint, as these stylistic devices were the trend of that period. We may find them a little overdone now but the people of the period when this book was written would have lapped up every knot and tie in the plot.

Good point. But, does that mean that we can't criticize any author from past generations? Does that mean that we can't criticize any current authors, after all, it's just the stylistic device that is trendy now? If we criticize past societies' views of women, medicine, law enforcement, class separation, etc., can we criticize their literature?

 

#12

29th August 2006, 10:28 AM

Hazel

Good point. But, does that mean that we can't criticize any author from past generations? Does that mean that we can't criticize any current authors, after all, it's just the stylistic device that is trendy now? If we criticize past societies' views of women, medicine, law enforcement, class separation, etc., can we criticize their literature?

I think you can criticize still, but you must intellectually account for the period too. Just as the language used changes through history, so do the styles and techniques used.

 

#13

29th August 2006, 12:17 PM

David

 

Any literature of any age is open to criticism, but as Hazel says, it would not really be fair to criticise books written centuries ago because they don't fall in with modern approaches. Everything is a reflection of its time - even futuristic novels say far more about the age in which they were written than about the future. An undisputed great such as Shakespeare receives flak about, for instance, the portrayal of Jewish Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, even though a 'racist' opinion was absolutely the norm for his time. (That said, though, I always think people overlook the subtleties there - Antonio isn't whiter-than-white in his dealings with Shylock and there are plenty of moments when we're encouraged to look behind our 'easy' prejudiced response to the Jewish stereotype)

 

I really don't see Dickens' approach to plotting as inferior in any way to modern, naturalistic writing - it's simply different. The figurative held far greater sway in a lot of writing then and makes for highly intelligent and thoughtful reading. Orlick was mentioned as a well-written villain, but how much more interesting is he when read as a dark alter-ego for Pip - an alternative journey played out of entrapment at the forge and giving vent to the violent feelings of retribution against Mrs Joe? The confrontation at the end then becomes part of Pip facing up to himself and the negative elements that had built up thanks to his 'expectations'. Or the parallels with fairy tales in the transformation of the lowly hero under the apparent auspices of a dark 'fairy godmother' in Miss Havisham? Even the names are contrived - Estella: from stella or 'star' - cold, beautiful, distant and unreachable. Miss Havisham: 'having is a sham' - all her money is not enough, hence the added irony of living in 'Satis House'.

 

We need to read these novels in a different way from modern fiction because they are working to slightly different ends. It's also worth remembering the episodic nature imposed on the structure of Dickens' novels from their monthly (sometimes weekly) serialisation. To keep your readers hooked you needed some of the more extreme plot devices that we find in these books, just like modern soaps. Is Albert Square always a convincing snapshot of real people's lives?

 

My real objection to Great Expectations is the ending:

 

 

Dickens didn't originally end it like that. In the first draft Estalla and Pip parted, which fits the integrity of the novel's journey and the character created for Estella. She has been shaped in this form by Miss Havisham and the tragedy for both her and Pip is that she should not be able to break from that. However, still stung by negative public reaction to his ending of The Old Curiosity Shop Dickens listened to friends' concerns and changed it to a more ambiguous ending, where it's more or less implied that the two will continue together. I think it's a shame he wasn't braver there.

 

 

#14

29th August 2006, 12:54 PM

Hazel

Even the names are contrived - Estella: from stella or 'star' - cold, beautiful, distant and unreachable. Miss Havisham: 'having is a sham' - all her money is not enough, hence the added irony of living in 'Satis House'.

I always liked Pip - a little seed that will grow into something productive through time.

 

#15

29th August 2006, 04:38 PM

SlowRain

 

Original Ending for "Great Expectations"

 

Here is what is supposed to be the original ending.

 

 

It was four years more, before I saw herself. I had heard of her as leading a most unhappy life, and as being separated from her husband who had used her with great cruelty, and who had become quite renowned as a compound of pride, brutality, and meanness.

 

I had heard of the death of her husband (from an accident consequent on ill-treating a horse), and of her being married again to a Shropshire doctor, who, against his interest, had once very manfully interposed, on an occasion when he was in professional attendance on Mr. Drummle, and had witnessed some outrageous treatment of her. I had heard that the Shropshire doctor was not rich, and that they lived on her own personal fortune.

 

I was in England again -- in London, and walking along Piccadilly with little Pip -- when a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a carriage who wished to speak to me. It was a little pony carriage, which the lady was driving; and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another.

 

"I am greatly changed, I know; but I thought you would like to shake hands with Estella, too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it!" (She supposed the child, I think, to be my child.)

 

I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance, that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.

 

I actually didn't find any problem with the ending Dickens eventually went with. I felt

 

 

she and Pip didn't get back together.

 

With regards to Shakespeare, if there was something racist should it somehow be overlooked (I haven't read The Merchant of Venice)? Even if we say that it's okay for Shakespeare to write something racist because it was socially acceptable, is it or is it not racist? Is someone going to argue that it isn't racist? I want to apply the same reasoning with Dickens: are his endless coincidences overly contrived. I realize it is a product of the time period, but do people believe those contrivances stretch the bounds of credibility or not?

 

I just want to add that I'm having this discussion on three separate websites, and this one is by far the most polite, useful, and well-thought out.

 

Hazel 29th August 2006 05:07 PM

With regards to Shakespeare, if there was something racist should it somehow be overlooked (I haven't read The Merchant of Venice)? Even if we say that it's okay for Shakespeare to write something racist because it was socially acceptable, is it or is it not racist? Is someone going to argue that it isn't racist? I want to apply the same reasoning with Dickens: are his endless coincidences overly contrived. I realize it is a product of the time period, but do people believe those contrivances stretch the bounds of credibility or not?

It is very difficult to use these labels when applying to old texts. And it also depends on the reader's/performer's interpretation. For a lot of scholars Shylock's characterisation is racist. But the way I see it is that we don't know if Shakey was being deliverately racist or not. He may have used a stereotype to characterise 'other worldliness'. If we take Othello, much of the plot and Iago's manipulation of Othello depending on Othello being an outsider, and making him a moor (essentially black), made this outsiderness visible on stage. Also it heightened the audience's terror when Othello commits murder by having an uncommon character (dark, unsettling, etc) playing on the Elizabethan stage. Of course modern sensibilites tell us that there is something racist about Shylock's portrayal, but only by study of Shakey's sociohistorical context can be sure one way or the other. Perhaps David can clear this up?

 

Definitely the audience of that period would not have been nearly as sophisticated (ha!) or rather PC as us lot.

 

And as for GE, the audience would have expected neat interlocking of characters, non-realistic names, grotesques, and a definitive beginning, middle and end. The novel's place in society was different at that time, and often the tales would have incoporated a didactic message which could only be served by contrivances in plot.

 

Glad we are a politer bunch!

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megustaleer 29th August 2006 05:14 PM

 

Yes, Shakespeare wrote something that was racist. So did Dickens. Dickens used coincidence, so did many Victorian novelists. I don't understand what point you are trying to make.

 

In those days it was not unacceptable to express racist thoughts, or use coincidence to move a plot along. It is now.

Apart from recognising that

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there" —

what are we supposed to do about it? Boycott the books, and only read that which is culturally acceptable to us? These writings are time travel, without them we would not know where we came from, nor what brought us to the place we have reached.

 

SlowRain30th August 2006 12:29 PM

 

The point I'm trying to make is that the coincidences are overly contrived, by whose standards doesn't matter, they are still so obviously contrived that it bears mentioning. In these discussions that I've been having, no one will say anything negative or remotely critical about Dickens. Everyone goes out of their way to justify it rather than address it and it's affect on the novels. It's as if Dickens is untouchable.

 

I would never suggest boycotting them, and I don't think I've even hinted at that in my original or subsequent posts. I just want people to discuss Dickens objectively.

 

David 30th August 2006 12:57 PM

I just want people to discuss Dickens objectively.

 

I think I've been careful to explain my thoughts about it very objectively, SlowRain. I think you are finding it difficult to see people who don't agree with you as 'objective'. If it's not to your taste then that's fine, but you're labouring under an illusion if you think we're all enjoying these books because of some self-imposed delusion simply because it's Dickens. I devoted an entire term at university studying Dickens for an extended essay, so necessarily had to be pretty objective in my assessments. There is much for which he could be criticised: mawkishness, over-idealised female characters, and over-reliance on the tricks and predilections of Victorian popular theatre and music hall, but contrivance is another matter. The books work to different ends from modern fiction and therefore go about it in an entirely different way. You obviously don't like that approach, so they're not for you, but that doesn't invalidate them. Someone wouldn't play Eine Kleine Nachtmusik at a rave - that's not what the younger generation today finds enjoyable. It doesn't mean Mozart was clueless.

 

Hazel 30th August 2006 01:15 PM

In these discussions that I've been having, no one will say anything negative or remotely critical about Dickens. Everyone goes out of their way to justify it rather than address it and it's affect on the novels. It's as if Dickens is untouchable.

I would never suggest boycotting them, and I don't think I've even hinted at that in my original or subsequent posts. I just want people to discuss Dickens objectively.

Well, a lot of people I have met in life don't like Dickens and for the most part the reasons given are that he is long-winded or boring. I don't think it is a matter that Dickens is "untouchable" - certainly for my part I defend him because I like the way he writes and I love the 19thC style. However, even if I didn't like him, I have learnt enough to know that the style devices you seem most concerned with, are part of the 19thC style and therefore impossible to judge/criticise intelligently by modern standards.

 

You should bear in mind that it is difficult for readers outside of academia to discuss novels objectively as we all carry different feelings and interpretations as we read. Yes, sometimes Dickens is overly contrived but that is part and parcel of 19thC literature and of Dickens, it is impossible to divorce the two - you either like it or you don't.

 

SlowRain 30th August 2006 03:05 PM

Yes, sometimes Dickens is overly contrived but that is part and parcel of 19thC literature and of Dickens, it is impossible to divorce the two - you either like it or you don't.

Agreed. You've managed to say it when few others would. Maybe it is part and parcel of the 19th Century, but it does cheapen the novel. It doesn't make me not want to read Dickens - I love his characters and narrative - but it's just that I might read 3/4 of the novel, savor my enjoyment for a few days, then read the rest to see how it falls apart (21st Century view)/comes together (19th Century view).

There is much for which he could be criticized: mawkishness, over-idealised female characters, and over-reliance on the tricks and predilections of Victorian popular theatre and music hall, but contrivance is another matter.

Why is contrivance another matter? Why can't idealised female characters be a 19th Century style that we just have to accept? Why can't his sentimentality be a 19th Century style that we just have to accept? Why are these things acceptable to criticize, but over contrivance isn't?

 

Could it also be that we are more objective and less idealized than in the 19th Century, so it's easier for us to spot, evaluate, and either accept or reject these contrivances?

 

And I wouldn't say that they're not for me or that I don't enjoy them. Reread the original post and you'll see that I enjoyed the novel a great deal - I even gave it a thumbs up - I just found something that didn't work and I'm commenting on it.

 

megustaleer 30th August 2006 03:22 PM

 

I don't think any of us disagree that Dickens' coincidences are contrived, but I don't think any of us see it as a major fault, either.

 

The 'soap opera' analogy was a good one, or the old radio adventure serials such as 'Dick Barton' or 'Journey into Space'. Each episode ends with 'our hero' in a tight spot and we (or Dicken's readers/hearers) wonder what incredible solution the writers are going to come up with. You know it's not going to be like real life.

 

But then, I like shaggy dog stories, too. The long winded build up, then the punch line that makes you groan, rather than laugh.

 

The Victorian audience was less sophisticated than we are. We want a rational explanation for everything. That is very limiting.

 

Hazel 30th August 2006 04:14 PM

but it does cheapen the novel.

Why is contrivance another matter? Why can't idealised female characters be a 19th Century style that we just have to accept? Why can't his sentimentality be a 19th Century style that we just have to accept? Why are these things acceptable to criticize, but over contrivance isn't?

Much better to say that for you it "cheapens the novel". That is your perspective which you are perfectly entitled to, just as I may say that it enhances the novel for me.

 

All these things that you mention we don't necessarily have to accept, you can criticize them and reject them as irrelevant etc. now, but you must still remember to account for them historically. I do see what you are trying to say but you are trying to criticize a style that was in vogue and desired by readers of that period. 'Contrivance' just doesnt fall under any political viewpoint that makes for a solid discussion or argument. It's just the style of the period that was liked by audiences. You may not like that, but then, you are probably not a 19thC reader.

 

David 30th August 2006 06:20 PM

Why is contrivance another matter? Why can't idealised female characters be a 19th Century style that we just have to accept? Why can't his sentimentality be a 19th Century style that we just have to accept? Why are these things acceptable to criticize, but over contrivance isn't?

Because in 19th century fiction women were not necessarily overly idealised. Dickens did so as a psychological response to the death as a teenager of his sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, with whom he was rather infatuated. It led to a clear imbalance in his portrayal of young, angelic women. Equally, sentimentality was not necessarily a function of 19th century fiction. These are things that set Dickens apart in his own time, whilst the contrivance is not. More importantly, though, as I explained earlier, the contrivance is there for a specific purpose; there is a philosophy and message behind it and this was an acceptable way of approaching the communication of such messages. There is no purpose behind the other weaknesses I mentioned, except for the use of techniques from popular theatre, which was a way of broadening the appeal but was not always conducive to quality literature.

 

I'm afraid I really don't accept that it is overly contrived, simply contrived. For it to be overly done it would have to be disproportionate to its literary purpose, which I do not believe it is. It stands out only in contrast to modern fiction, which approaches it differently. I'm not simply 'not managing to say it', I don't believe it. You do, and as has been noted you're perfectly entitled to that thought. I hope you agree this cuts both ways.

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Barblue 30th August 2006 09:25 PM

 

I have just registered and read with great interest the itellectual discussion surrounding GE. I re-read this novel recently as a member of my local library reading group. It was a fascinating experience. Many of us had read GE and/or Dickens at school and most had found this a very unhappy experience. Some were school teachers in a former life and had taught it. Without exception every member of the group enjoyed re-reading it as mature readers, if I may use that phrase.

 

The humour of Dickens' writing was one of the elements of his writing that had not been appreciated by many. Also Dickens' treatment of female characters was an aspect that provoked great discussion. When you consider that most of us had not read Dickens since the 1960s, you might understand how our maturity, but perhaps more especially, the changes in society, were reflected in our current reading of GE.

 

The main thrust of the discussion thus far on these pages seems to be the contrivances of the novel or superfluous coincidences. Personally, they did not bother me, and in any case I could probably cite many modern writers, or at least late 20th Century novels, that use this to excess. One such author is, in my opinion, Catherine Cookson who overused contrivances or coincidences hugely, but because her characters and plot were so shallow it spoilt my reading.

 

However, earlier this year I reviewed a book for a publisher (through newBooks magazine) entitled The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox which I believe is due to be published next month (September 2006). Overwhelmingly the reviews said this novel had a Dickensian feel to it, which I agreed with. The fact that it was sent in Dickens' time also contributed to this view. It too had many contrivances or coincidences within it but the characters and story were strong enough to absort these. Like Dickens' work (though I would hesitate to compare Cox with CD) I thought the contrivances contributed to the work rather than distracted me as a reader.

 

By the way Hazel, I have also read and loved Northanger Abbey. I see the BBC are going to dramatise this soon. Can't wait to see what they do with it.

 

David 30th August 2006 10:39 PM

 

Welcome to the group, Barblue! It's a sad truth that school experiences of novels can be utterly dire, sucking the lifeblood out of fantastic books and murdering to dissect. I say that as a former English teacher myself! I'm glad so many of you came to see it differently in later years when reading it purely for pleasure. I think it's also true, though, that books can be completely different when read at different ages - so much depends on the baggage that a reader brings to a book, which is why it's such an individual experience that can generate discussions such as this! There's an interesting thread on the re-reading experience in Central Library from a while back.

 

Dickens' humour is also one of the biggest reasons for my passion. I think sometimes the criticism of his verbosity can overlook the fact that some of his passages are deliberately overwrought for precisely that comic effect.

 

megustaleer 30th August 2006 11:05 PM

 

In spite of the fact that I don't agree with SlowRain's thoughts on contrived coincidence in the works of Dickens, I am awfully glad she challenged us with them. What a great discussion has ensued. :arms:

 

SlowRain 31st August 2006 04:40 PM

 

I must say that I'm very surprised by the responses by some people, so I'd just like to make sure we're all talking about the same thing.

 

1. Are Dickens's plots overly contrived? Are they real? And I really don't care if it was a 19th Century style or not, use an objective approach to the novel. If there is any question as to which connotation of contrived I'm using, check out the definitions at the bottom of this link:

 

http://dictionary.reference.com/sea...ntrived&x=0&y=0

 

2. Do you enjoy his contrivances? Do they add to or take away from the rest of the novel?

 

3. If you do like Dickens's contrivances, do you like any other authors with contrived plots: 19th Century, 20th Century, 21st Century? If you do like Dickens's contrivances but don't like any other authors with contrived plots, explain?

 

4. If Dickens's contrivances can simply be explained away as a 19th Century style, can any author truly be criticized? Can John Grisham, Michael Crichton, David Morrell, Robert Ludlum, Dan Brown, Danielle Steele, Jack Higgins, etc. be criticized for their characters, narrative, or plots: after all, they are the styles of the 20th and 21st Centuries, are they not? At what point can an author ever be criticized if it can simply be explained away as the style of the times?

 

Hazel 31st August 2006 04:48 PM

 

I think we have all more than answered your questions but just for clarity sake -

 

1) Contrived, yes. Overly so, No.

2) Yes, love them - they add to the novels.

3) Don't tend to judge authors by that style, and don't seek it out. It's such a small part of a novel -sometimes noticed, sometimes not.

4) It's such a small feature of the novel and all the other literary devices/techniques (whatever) are so superior that you can't make comparisons. Dan Brown would rate badly on most analysis of literariness. Likewise, with most of the authors you mention. And I fear you are trying to compare apples to bricks here without much basis for intelligent discussion.

 

SlowRain 31st August 2006 05:11 PM

 

Apples with Apples

And I fear you are trying to compare apples to bricks here without much basis for intelligent discussion.

Not in the least. Those authors may not be in the same genre (perhaps your apples to bricks reference) but they all have contrivances to their plots. At what point do we accept/reject one author's contrivances and not another's?

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David 31st August 2006 05:47 PM

 

As Hazel has noted, I think this has all been answered. If you look back at what I've posted, SlowRain, try to ignore the term 'nineteenth century' and look at what I've said in terms of Dickens using contrivance to a specific literary end. Anyone who uses contrivance just as a cheap gimmick is using it poorly and would be worthy of criticism. I don't believe Dickens does this, as I've explained. Yes, I like it. Yes, if a twentieth century author did the same I would like it. The nineteeth century references are as much as anything an attempt to explain why a modern reader might not like it - because they are not used to it. It is not a subjective way to 'excuse' the writing. There were many, many nineteenth century novels that used such devices poorly; they have not survived the test of time because they were bad. To answer your last post, contrivances are acceptable when they are used effectively and to a clear end, not when they are done badly. Contrivance is not a sin in itself, and I suspect this is where we ultimately differ. I think you believe it is.

 

I don't see that we're really saying anything new here. We've spent several posts trying to explain why we enjoy the contrivances and how they work in literary terms, but you keep on with the same questions. It comes across as if you are simply continuing until we 'crack' and put our hands up to declare, "Yes, by George you're right! These contrivances are terrible!"

 

I'm sorry, but I'll say it again so it's really clear. I like the contrivances. I don't think they're overdone. They work in the context of what the novel is attempting to achieve, not simply because of the time in which it was written.

 

Are there some other aspects of the novel you'd like to discuss?

 

Hazel 31st August 2006 06:45 PM

Not in the least. Those authors may not be in the same genre (perhaps your apples to bricks reference) but they all have contrivances to their plots. At what point do we accept/reject one author's contrivances and not another's?

Ok I'll be a snob about it. Superior literary merit. Dickens has a high degree of literariness and Danielle Steele does not. Dan Brown does not. No matter what method or approach to the study of analysis you apply. 'Genre' is completely irrelevant. Dickens' contrivances accomplish what he set out to do.

 

SlowRain 1st September 2006 06:41 AM

 

Thank you

 

Actually, you've answered those last questions perfectly. So, yes, I'm happy now.

 

The last thing I'd like to say, and you can choose to reply to it or not, is that I'm not comparing 19th Century styles with 21st Century styles: I'm comparing Dickens's contrivances to real life. Nothing else in either A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations made me think it was meant to be anything but a real story. He put so much effort into making the characters, settings, and issues real, but had unrealistic coincidences in the plot.

 

Although I have don't have much to contribute to the issue, I didn't feel that there were over idealized women in either of those novels. Perhaps Lucie Manette, but he also gave us female characters like Madame Defarge, Mrs. Joe, Estella, and Miss Havisham: they're hardly idealized, and they're the also the majority. Is this more relevant in his other works?

 

How do some of his other novels compare to these?

 

Lady Lazarus 1st September 2006 10:34 AM

At what point do we accept/reject one author's contrivances and not another's?

I think that what one person finds a contrivance (ie in some way artificial or strained), another will just find as a normal part of the plot. It's just a matter of reading taste, no? Surely someone could say that all books are, to a point, contrived.

 

Lady Lazarus 1st September 2006 10:39 AM

I'm comparing Dickens's contrivances to real life.

Perhaps herein lies the problem, as they are stories (allbeit making a comment on various real social issues of the day) and not re-enactments of real life events. They are based in real life, but if one expects that they are a mirror of reality then one will find the 'plot elements' contrived.

 

Hazel 1st September 2006 11:02 AM

 

I don't think you will find many authors who say they write about real life. They create a fictional world, a text world, in which to spin a story. Their works may comment on elements of reality but that is not the same as them being 'real'.

 

David 1st September 2006 11:33 AM

I'm happy now.

...Nothing else in either A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations made me think it was meant to be anything but a real story.

 

...I didn't feel that there were over idealized women in either of those novels. Perhaps Lucie Manette, but he also gave us female characters like Madame Defarge, Mrs. Joe, Estella, and Miss Havisham: they're hardly idealized, and they're the also the majority.

 

I'm glad you're happy! ;)

 

For me, Dickens melds the intensely realised with the fantastical. I think the fanciful names are an indication that we need to read this world as being something beyond the intensely realistic. Dolge Orlick, Uncle Pumblechook, Mr Wopsle, Magwitch - these aren't entirely 'realistic' names. Neither is the entire set-up with Miss Havisham, who inhabits a surreal and slightly nightmarish world (which is, of course, why we all love it so much - it's so extreme). These are other elements that I would see as signals as to how we should approach his world. In other novels this is even more extreme, such as teachers - Wackford Squeers and Mr M'Choakumchild!

 

All his female characters are certainly not idealised, you're right. It's not that he can't portray women, more that most of his novels will have a Lucie Manette-type character who is quasi-angelic and somewhat too good to be true. Little Nell, Little Dorrit (spotting an emotion-engendering trick here?), Esther Summerson etc. It's because this problem doesn't encompass all his women that it's not a shattering fault, but he is prone to it.

 

Actually, I think this is one reason why Great Expectations is one of his greatest books - he doesn't fall into that trap here. Biddy is the closest and actually she's not overdone, largely, I suppose, because her role is smaller and should not overshadow the simple Christian morality of Joe.

 

Barblue1st September 2006 08:27 PM

 

Where oh where?

 

I know I posted a thread to this great discussion, but it seems to have disappeared into the ether. Then again my computer skills are not that great so I probably did something wrong - as usual.

 

Anyway, I just have to say how much I am enjoying reading this thread. I re-read GE a few months ago with one of my local reading groups. Without exception the suggestion of reading Dickens was received with moans and groans. We are mostly retired and female (we do have one token male) and all felt that having been forced to read it at school and not liking it much, reading it for pleasure was a bit of an chore.

 

As our read progressed - we read it over a month and meet every Tuesday in our library - members became more and more enthusiastic about it. We discovered the humour of Dickens that none of us had either remembered or understood as children. We were fascinated by the way Dickens treated female characters. Many felt he handled women in a more emancipated way than history would have us believe was the norm for society at that time.

 

The thread here on contrivance was not to the fore in our discussions. I can see what is meant by it but have to agree with the point of view expressed that Dickens' work is so good that his contrivances meld into the work and do not detract (this reader at any rate) from the sheer enjoyment of his story telling.

 

This is probably not the same as my original reply, but I think it still says what I meant.

 

David 1st September 2006 08:59 PM

I know I posted a thread to this great discussion, but it seems to have disappeared into the ether.

It's still here, Barblue! Once the number of posts reaches a certain length a new page is started. Look at the last post on this page and below it you'll see a sequence of numbers. Click on these to access different pages. Your original post is on page two.

 

:)

 

Barblue 2nd September 2006 09:09 AM

 

Oooops!

 

I know I posted a thread to this great discussion, but it seems to have disappeared into the ether. Then again my computer skills are not that great so I probably did something wrong - as usual.

 

Thanks David. See, I am computer-illiterate! I hope I get it right in the future.

 

I have just gone back to look at the thread on re-reading as you suggested in your response to my original posting. What a great read that was. I know from experience that re-reading at different ages means I bring something other of myself to that experience. Apart from re-reading, I listen to books on tape (and now CD) in our car all the time and re-listen often. Both my husband and I are constantly amazed at how we pick up other nuances and information that we've missed in the past on a second hearing (or sometimes third). I think re-reading can do the same - hence enhanced enjoyment. Sorry I digressed from the threat on CD but I just wanted to say thank you for this.

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David 2nd September 2006 10:49 AM

 

No problem! Why not add those interesting thoughts on re-reading to that thread? It's always welcome to see an old thread revived, not least because many new members such as yourself will probably not be aware of it, so bringing it back to the front of the lists gives a new opportunity to contribute.

 

SlowRain 3rd September 2006 08:51 AM

 

Does anyone know why

 

 

the soldiers and Compeyson waited until Magwitch et al had rowed out to intercept the ships before they made the arrest? Why wouldn't they have just waited near the boat and arrested him then, or possibly in the hotel? What advantage was there in doing it out on the water in a more dangerous situation, with the possibility that he could still get onto one of the ships and escape if their plan went wrong? They didn't need to catch him in the act of escaping, as coming back was crime enough. They didn't need to catch the others aiding him, as they were never charged.

 

 

Hazel 3rd September 2006 02:03 PM

Does anyone know why

Drama?

 

David 3rd September 2006 10:33 PM

Does anyone know why...

 

 

Compeyson has been tracking down Magwitch for some time and Pip has been able to keep ahead of him largely because of help from Wemmick. A final warning message prompts him into the escape attempt, taking them to the riverside inn for just one night. In the middle of the night Pip sees two men - presumably agents - scouting the inn and possibly their boat. On their journey to the ship the next morning they are captured.

 

I think this fits together plausibly. Compeyson has never quite caught up with Magwitch and in the rapidly moving last attempt clearly the searchers have to spread out to find the fugitives. Two men would not have been considered enough to take on Magwitch and the others, so they return to raise the alarm, bringing forces the following morning. That's a pretty rapid response in an age of no instant communication and slow transport, but of course by then Pip and co. are waterborne, hence their being caught mid-river.

 

However, it is also naturally as Hazel suggests a way of building up dramatic tension and excitement, as well as spectacle for the final showdown.

 

I think there may also be an undercurrent (excuse the pun) of religious imagery. Magwitch, Pip and Compeyson fall into waters that could be viewed baptismally. Compeyson's sins are not cleansed through repentance - he intends further evil - and he does not surface. Magwitch has atoned for his sins and is brought through this accident to a death that avoids the gallows and which is attended by Pip's prayers for God to forgive his sins. Pip finally has shown himself to be a good man and leaves behind his old life too, together with the corrupting expectations. I think this is a key reason why Dickens wanted these events to be on the water.

 

It's a thought, anyway! Whatever the possible symbolic truth, I certainly believe the manner of their arrest on the river holds water (you see, once you start bad puns, you can't stop them!)

 

 

SlowRain 4th September 2006 07:01 AM

 

Not bad, but...

 

That's pretty coincidental: Were there no other alternatives?

 

 

If the soldiers were sure that was Pip's boat - and they should've had a description from Compeyson - wouldn't they have inquired further at the inn? Perhaps one would have gone back to notify the others, but wouldn't at least one have stayed behind? Wouldn't they have done something to prevent the fugitive from leaving their sight? Wouldn't they have done something to prevent the fugitive from getting in the boat? Wouldn't they have done something to prevent the boat from leaving? It seems like these soldiers were either purposely or negligently written to be incompetent so that the dramatic showdown would happen on the water.

 

 

David 4th September 2006 11:11 AM

QUOTE=SlowRain]

That's pretty coincidental: Were there no other alternatives?

 

 

If the soldiers were sure that was Pip's boat - and they should've had a description from Compeyson - wouldn't they have inquired further at the inn?

 

No. Who's to say the innkeeper was not in league with their plan and would alert Magwitch?

 

Perhaps one would have gone back to notify the others, but wouldn't at least one have stayed behind?

 

Possibly, but that wouldn't have changed anything, and for safety's sake I doubt he would want to risk it.

 

Wouldn't they have done something to prevent the fugitive from leaving their sight? Wouldn't they have done something to prevent the fugitive from getting in the boat? Wouldn't they have done something to prevent the boat from leaving?

 

No all round - they were simply agents, not soldiers, since they were dressed as ordinary men. They would not have risked tackling a violent criminal and his three accomplices; they would have summoned the proper forces, as was their job.

 

It seems like these soldiers were either purposely or negligently written to be incompetent.

 

No, they were written to do their job. Had they tackled the fugitives or done something that would warn them the law was close then they would have compromised the operation.

 

 

SlowRain4th September 2006 01:53 PM

 

Sorry, I don't think so.

 

 

They would've done something, anything other than hope the others miraculously showed up in the nick of time. No one, and I'll repeat, no one who wants to capture someone will let that person have any chance of getting away once they are in their sights. Dickens overlooked this very basic part of human nature just so he could set up the showdown on the water. I just wish he would've put more effort into making it reasonable that it happened on the water and not elsewhere.

 

 

David 4th September 2006 02:02 PM

Sorry, I don't think so.

 

 

You've not met many people who simply do their jobs, I suspect. Many people will not put themselves at risk simply to earn their pay. If I were hired to find someone and inform the authorities I wouldn't put myself at risk to be a hero. I'd go and tell them, as these men did.

 

So that's someone, I'll repeat, someone, who doesn't follow your character reading. This is Dickens' skill. He doesn't write airport novels where everyone except the villain behaves in a noble, idealistic way, he writes from credible human nature. If your involvement with this sort of situation is personal, as it is with Compeyson, then you'll do anything. If it's just a job then many people will treat it as such.

 

 

David 4th September 2006 06:52 PM

 

A last word:

 

 

Was thinking about this during the afternoon and thought I'd go back and find the passage, which I must say just clarified it even more for me. We don't actually know what happened to the two scouts. The story is narrated from Pip's perspective, so he simply can't see where they go in the night. Frankly, one of them could have stayed to keep watch, maybe even signalling from the shore to the pursuing galley about the direction taken by Pip. Were I controlling a pursuit force knowing the quarry had a boat, then a boat would be my choice to approach them. Advance on the inn by land and it only takes a lookout to spot you and the fugitive could be in the rowing boat and off across the Thames in a couple of minutes - then you're stuck. No radios, police helicopters, telephones or telegraph. You've lost them. At least on boat you've got all options covered, being able to make landfall for pursuit if they try to flee inland. Considering Pip arrived at the inn in the evening, the spies were seen in the middle of the night and the arresting force got there in the morning, when they were already on the river, this seems about as rapid as a force would be able to travel in those days. Pip has a pretty epic journey just to get from the Kentish marshes to London at the start - it would take less than an hour in the car today, but we have to remember things were not the same then. I simply fail to see what's unconvincing about that, and for less than two pages of the book it doesn't really seem a detail worth making much of an issue about anyway.

 

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SlowRain 5th September 2006 08:02 AM

 

Nice try...

 

The thing I'm getting at is

 

 

the soldiers/agents/scouts didn't do anything to prevent them or hinder them. If you were pursuing a fugitive in the process of escaping the country, you would do everything possible to prevent or hinder him. These two men didn't do anything but run for help. They didn't even try to stop them from getting to the boat or prevent it from leaving. Signaling from the shore doesn't do anything if the soldiers in their boat are several hours late; the fugitive has escaped while the lookout was waiting and watching. If the soldiers had arrived early, they wouldn't have just waited around the corner in a boat, they would have moved in and apprehended the fugitive as soon as possible. The fugitive had no where to run of advantage except the water, the one place they let him run to. Either way, it just doesn't work.

 

Dickens's failure to address this very basic of tactics shows how he wanted to contrive his showdown on the water, and didn't want anything to get in the way, least of all credibility.

 

Why am I making an issue of it? Well, in this thread I pointed out that Dickens had overly contrived plots, but most people denied it. So, here is one proof. Another reason why I'm making an issue is if someone can spend a great deal of time talking about how wonderfully Dickens addressed a certain issue, why can't I talk about how he didn't address a certain issue? Dickens is neither perfect nor untouchable, as many people would have us think, so it is only fair to discuss both his strengths and his weaknesses.

 

David 5th September 2006 11:02 AM

 

I've pointed out several instances in which I would criticise Dickens, Slowrain. I'm defending this one because I think the arguments are nonsensical and really don't engage with the careful explanation I've given of why it makes perfect sense. I'll respond to it one last time, but otherwise I think people are probably getting a bit bored with this. So...

 

 

Why don't they do anything? Because Magwitch is being touted by Compeyson as a violent, dangerous criminal. The two agents are outnumbered two-to-one and clearly are not soldiers. To attempt to tackle Magwitch and his 'desperate companions' on their own would be foolhardy in the extreme and nothing more than empty heroics. Professionals would summon the proper people equipped to do the job. If I saw people committing a bank robbery I would telephone the poilce, and if the officers didn't get there by the time the robbers try to make their getaway there's NO WAY I would risk my life to try to stop them. If you would then good luck to you, but I think you'll find you're in a minority.

 

Once again, I think you have problems with the fact this is set in Victorian times - there's no rapid communication, no quick travel. They have had to search a huge stretch of the Thames, so clearly the main force must wait for intelligence to return. If anything is stretching credibility it's that the boat of officers reaches them so quickly the following morning given that the agents only find them in the middle of the night and don't appear to have horses by which to return quickly to the main party of officers. I don't see what relevance the idea of their waiting round the corner in the boat has - this has nothing to do with the events. As you say yourself, the fugitive's best advantage is to flee by the boat, which is why it would have been stupid for the forces to attempt to apprehend him without one themselves and in the timescale involved they did well to reach them by the following morning when they were on the way to meet the ship.

 

Your argument continually harps on about the one concept - that two ordinary men (not soldiers, not policemen, just informants) would without question leap in and tackle four (as far as they are aware) dangerous criminals. In fact, the even greater likelihood is that one would have gone for help, so that's one against four. I'm afraid that scenario is from the distinctly fanciful and unbelievable world of American movies like Die Hard. Dickens is far truer to human nature.

 

As I've said, I happily criticise Dickens and his many faults where they're genuine, but you seem to think you have found this 'proof', which relies on a premise that runs against logic, sensible practice, the realities of communication and transport in Victorian times and above all the way in which real people behave. I've explained it from as many angles as I can; if you still cling to the one that these two men would risk being murdered by tackling the fugitives then there's nothing more I can say, but as in the last discussion, I have brought many clear arguments and facts to bear on the situation and responded carefully to all your points, whereas you pesist with that one idea. I think you need to consider the possibility that maybe it isn't me who's lacking objectivity.

 

 

SlowRain 6th September 2006 04:02 PM

 

Again, nice try, but...

 

 

 

No, I'm not having any difficulty whatsoever with the time period or the technology. None of my issues are in any way related to that, so I don't know why you continually bring that up.

 

Are we absolutely sure those men weren't soldiers? If they weren't, do you think that Compeyson is some kind of lily white angel? Do you think that he would only associate with upstanding citizens? Do you think that he would send lightweights after someone that you yourself admit his is claiming to be a "violent, dangerous criminal"? He knows how important this is to him, and he's not going to send anyone whom he views as incapable of handling the situation. But that isn't even the issue, as he could've used the smallest people available. Those two men would have done something, anything, to prevent Magwitch et al from getting that boat on the water. You seem fixated on a physical altercation (hence your outnumbering, tackling, bank robbery, and Die Hard references), but they would have done something to or with the boat if their physical means weren't equal to their adversaries'. The boat was the key, as you yourself have admitted, and Dickens had the men overlook it completely, hoping that this audience would as well: and he's right, some have.

 

Also, there is no indication that the two men went running any great distance to notify anyone. You're welcome to purpose that theory, and it is plausible (you see how objectivity works), but don't discount the theory that the men just walked around the corner and got into their own boat and waited for Magwitch et al to come out. Both are sound and plausible in the absence of any evidence to the contrary.

 

The only thing for certain is, no matter which of the above theories one goes with, the men in this story didn't do what men in that situation would have done. Why not? Because Dickens wanted a showdown on the water, not on the land.

 

You think that I'm harping on one issue, but it's there. You've tried many times to explain it away, and I can see your effort. Herein lies my claim to a lack of objectivity because you won't even admit to human nature. Those men would have done anything to stop that boat from leaving.

 

I'm sorry if any of this discussion has upset you, but it's something that needs to be addressed. I realize it is an author that you have great respect for, and I respect him to, but I know where his faults lie, especially when they are so obvious. I have my favorite authors as well, but I have to admit when they have made a slip. That's how objectivity works.

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David 6th September 2006 06:50 PM

 

It's not upset me, I just dislike conversations where people don't bother to read what I'm saying. How many times do I have to point out the aspects of Dickens I find very flawed before you stop claiming I simply don't want to criticise him? It's simply the fact that I don't agree with your criticism that interests you. Equally, how much do I have to explain my view of human nature which leads to these actions before you stop asserting I'm not considering human nature? The problem once again is that I simply don't agree with your reading of human nature.

 

 

All I'll say is that there is a miniscule part of the text that deals with this and nearly all of what you say makes assumptions about what could have been the case: where soldiers could have been; who the agents might have been (i.e. not to do with the authorities, which seems unlikely). You seem to argue I'm somehow not being objective by discounting the idea the soldiers would have been waiting round the corner and might have sat there waiting until morning for a pursuit. If you seriously think suggesting such a ridiculous scenario could have been true, therefore Dickens is a poor plotter, I'm left utterly amazed. On that basis Miss Havisham might have been waiting for Pip to leave then deliberately set herself on fire, which of course is just diabolical madness on Dickens' part. This is why I thought your issue was in part not remembering the limitations of Victorian transport - I really wouldn't have imagined anyone would seriously argue that there was a problem because the soldiers were simply waiting round the corner.

 

We haven't a clue what the actual facts are and your approach is to suggest, "Well, there's nothing to say it wasn't like this, so let's assume it was. Let's imagine they were all just round the corner, which of course then makes Dickens' plotting ridiculous. Go on, just prove they weren't!" Why should we not assume that the missing facts are the perfectly reasonable ones I have outlined? Dickens chooses not to elaborate because it's from Pip's perspective and he doesn't know, plus for drama he needs to move on quickly. To try to fill in those blanks with absurd assumptions is just reflective of a determination to find fault, and that's why I question your objectivity. Ridiculous contrivance in plots can be a valid, objective criticism only when those elements are there, not when you have to make them up and insert them in the blanks.

 

I've explained the human nature angle - we disagree on what people would do here.

 

I've explained the areas where I think Dickens is poor, so I'm not simply arguing from blind liking.

 

I think I've explained those two things three or four times now, so please don't suggest yet again that I haven't.

 

If I'm frustrated by anything, actually, it's that no one else (apart from Hazel) has expressed a view. Anyway, do stick in a last word but I'm really not dragging this out any more. I've only done so this time because of the ridiculous way my arguments have been characterised which ignore points that I've made time and again.

 

elfstar 6th September 2006 08:43 PM

 

David, I have not read Dickens since school when I hated him. This discussion has made me question that and I intend to try again, perhaps my "maturity" and perspective will make his writing more accesible to me. I might start with GE so eventually I can comment....but don't hold your breath it might take some time!

 

David 6th September 2006 08:46 PM

I might start with GE so eventually I can comment....but don't hold your breath it might take some time!

That's what it's all about, Elfstar! I'll keep breathing but look forward to your thoughts! ;)

 

gg106 6th September 2006 08:59 PM

If I'm frustrated by anything, actually, it's that no one else (apart from Hazel) has expressed a view.

Thats because we are enjoying so much your verbal sparring!!

 

David, Slowrain, thanks for continuing this fantastic discussion!

 

I must admit I'm inclined to agree with David and Hazel - why try and rationalise this - the important thing in this kind of novel is to create and build up tension and suspense in order to maintain the interest of your reader. Its the kind of argument that goes alongside the questions 'Why do characters in suspense/horror/murder films never lock their doors?' or 'Why do characters in murder/horror/suspense films always dash out into the deserted street at night instead of locking themselves in and phoning for help?' or 'Why does it take Scarlett so long to realise that its Rhett she loves and not Ashley?' or 'If only Romeo had had the sense to go and speak to Friar Lawrence before killing himself' etc etc.

 

Anyway, I am in the process of re - reading this now, partly because of this thread but also because my lucky year 10 group are going to be doing some coursework on it. Perhaps I should just concentrate on this section and pose them the same question. This thread has certainly churned up some food for thought....(sorry about the mixed metaphors)

 

May the verbal sparring continue!!

 

David 6th September 2006 09:07 PM

Anyway, I am in the process of re - reading this now, partly because of this thread but also because my lucky year 10 group are going to be doing some coursework on it.

Glad to hear you're having another crack! I taught it for A Level and they all had a great time with it, so I hope yours have the same pleasure.

Perhaps I should just concentrate on this section and pose them the same question.

I'd be fascinated to hear what they think!

May the verbal sparring continue!!

I'm afraid I've nothing more to say - most of my recent posts have just been re-statement.

 

That said, there's probably not enough 'energetic discussion' on BGO! Anyway, thanks for chipping in - I'm a firm believer that it's better if you don't treat such discussions simply as a spectator sport! ;)

 

Adrian 7th September 2006 02:08 AM

David, I have not read Dickens since school when I hated him. This discussion has made me question that and I intend to try again, perhaps my "maturity" and perspective will make his writing more accesible to me. I might start with GE so eventually I can comment....but don't hold your breath it might take some time!

That's exactly how I feel. Put off at school, I've just bought GE, partly as a result of skimming through these discussions (I don't want to find out anything ahead of time) and partly because my brother is a big Dickens fan and keeps telling me to give him a try.

 

I'm only a few chapters in and I'm pleasantly surprised. We read Oliver Twist for 'O' level English Lit. but I think I just wasn't ready. Hopfully this reading "maturity" I supposedly have will help.

 

SlowRain 7th September 2006 06:50 AM

 

I've thought of more.

 

 

You said that the agents would be scared of Magwitch and the three others, but I don't think so. Compeyson knows the personalities of both Pip and Herbert, they're not fighting men, and Magwitch is old now. You seem to think the agents/soldiers/scouts would have been warned away by Compeyson, but why would he do that? What would his reason be? He would have told them the truth, that is, Magwitch et al were pushovers. Those soldiers/scouts/agents would not have been intimidated by them in the least, partly because of this information, and partly because they themselves are from a rough segment of society and/or skilled to handle such people. Those men would have done something, anything, to prevent the fugitive from escaping or leaving their sight. This was their only shot, there would not be any second chances, why would they gamble that the boat with the soldiers would arrive in time? There is too much at stake to wait and see. That's human nature. You and I may not have challenged them (but we probably would have been smart enough to do something with or to the boat), but that's because we are neither soldiers nor thugs: they were. We can't use our own personalities to judge what others with vastly different attitudes and skills would do.

 

We don't know where the soldiers in the boat were. Can you tell me where they were? Can you tell me that the agents/soldiers/scouts went running great distances to get them (and that the soldiers in the boat conveniently arrived just in time to stop them from getting on the ships)? Can you tell me that they weren't sitting in the boat around the corner? Your theory rests on the basis that the men went running great distances; my theory works for both situations.

 

Dickens ignored human nature and contrived the showdown to take place on the water for his own purposes. Whether that be drama (some might say cheap thrills), symbolism, or something else, the reason matters not. It simply isn't what those agents/scouts/soldiers would have done. It's stuff like this that is obvious, yet overlooked by the most ardent of Dickens's fans, that leads to a lack of objectivity.

 

 

Hazel 7th September 2006 09:14 AM

 

Can I just point out that these are fictional characters who carried out actions within the fictional world of the text and regardless what we think or don't think about human nature, the characters acted as Dickens wanted them to, and to suppose some other form of action is a moot point?

 

It's great to have this discussion especially over this book, but at some point we have to remind ourselves that the plot follows as Dickens wanted and the characters do as he wished.

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David 7th September 2006 11:38 AM

 

SlowRain, thanks for proving so comprehensively my point that you are not even remotely reading what I've said.

 

 

'My theory' is not as you outline: that was simply another possible alternative. 'My theory' is that we don't know, and making up the most damning possibilities so that you can say the plotting is weak is just nonsense. Who are the men? My actual thoughts here are that they were simply ordinary men made aware of the fugitives and looking for a reward for information - very common in Victorian London. But the point is that we don't know. We have no idea. The simple fact is that I can see a perfectly reasonable scenario in which missing information works. No novel can contain every last scrap of information and if we all go through trying to make up facts that, if true, make scenes unlikely, then just about any book you'd care to name dissolves. All your objections relate to what Compeyson might have said, where the soldiers might have been, who the men actually were and therefore how committed to the task they would be, etc., etc..

 

Anyway, all of this is irrelevant because your last post overlooks virtually everything I explained in mine before that. I notice I'm still an ardent Dickens fan who won't criticise him (yawn). Yep, okay, if it makes you happier to think that then fine.

 

Did you catch that Wuthering Heights, by the way? Why on earth didn't Heathcliff just snatch Cathy away from Edgar and live far from the moors? I mean he loved her, right? It would only have been human nature. Edgar's household staff would certainly have been open to bribes because they're not well paid, so they'd have helped Heathcliff do it. Jeez, what sort of shoddy plotting is that? And Othello, I mean why didn't he just ask Desdemona if she'd been having an affair? The play could have been over in half the time. These writers are such amateurs.

 

Hazel 7th September 2006 11:47 AM

Did you catch that Wuthering Heights, by the way? Why on earth didn't Heathcliff just snatch Cathy away from Edgar and live far from the moors? I mean he loved her, right? It would only have been human nature. Edgar's household staff would certainly have been open to bribes because they're not well paid, so they'd have helped Heathcliff do it. Jeez, what sort of shoddy plotting is that? And Othello, I mean why didn't he just ask Desdemona if she'd been having an affair? The play could have been over in half the time. These writers are such amateurs.

:D

 

I always wondered why Juliet didn't just tell Romeo what she was up to. She could've tried a little harder...

 

SlowRain 7th September 2006 01:35 PM

 

More...

 

I don't have to make up any damning possibilities. I don't have to stretch my imagination to make up any scenarios whatsoever. My point is that Dickens overlooked human nature to contrive this particular episode. Any further extrapolation also works to support that.

 

Hazel: Yes, Dickens had them act exactly the way he wanted. Exactly. But here's the issue, if we can't point out Dickens plot holes, we can't point out any other author's either. It means that we can never test the validity of an author's ability to plot because we have to excuse everything as "that's just the way he wanted it".

 

Hazel 7th September 2006 01:47 PM

My point is that Dickens overlooked human nature to contrive this particular episode.

You speak here as if human nature is a solid, unchanging force. How I behave in a situation is going to be different to other people. There is no definable nature of humans, except that we are born and we die. Everything else in between is undefinable.

It means that we can never test the validity of an author's ability to plot because we have to excuse everything as "that's just the way he wanted it".

But the author's plotting should follow events and characters to an achieveable end - and how (any) author chooses to have his characters behave should accomplish this. It would be impossible for any author to cover all aspects of a character and the myriad ways in which people behave.

 

If characters behaved according to your notion of 'human nature' then very few novels would be written or celebrated. It's when things are against one vision of human nature that a novel is interesting. As David pointed out, if characters behaved as they do in real life, within the novel, then literature would be a very dull thing indeed. And again, fiction ain't real life. It's for experimenting with the unexpected, the unusual, the out-of-the-norm.

 

Please try to account for the genre of this book, the culture/audience of the time, and the expectations of both. If you do not account for this then you are not intelligently discussing this work in particular, but rather casting generalisations on all authors/novels - and I don't think anyone is qualifed to broach that H-U-G-E arena.

 

David 7th September 2006 02:00 PM

My point is that Dickens overlooked human nature to contrive this particular episode. Any further extrapolation also works to support that.

And if these men were simply one of the many Victorians who gave information to the authorities for money and had no interest themselves in Magwitch? Human nature there is simply opportunistic greed and nothing else. You predicate everything on assumptions that aren't in the book and ignore any alternative assumptions that don't fit your needs.

 

You've pointed out you've discussed this issue on several boards - you seem pretty hung up about it and therefore unable to accommodate any other way of thinking, simply coming back to a point about human nature that utterly ignores the fact we don't know who these people are or what their motivations are. As Hazel notes, human nature is varied and certainly depends hugely on the types of people concerned. We know these are two men searching outside the inn. That's it. How you can be so certain about the way they would 'obviously' behave is strange.

 

Try criticising something that's actually in the book, then we can have a sensible discussion about it.

 

SlowRain7th September 2006 02:19 PM

 

No

 

 

 

I have assumed very little that is not in the novel. If I went off on a tangent, it was just to show how your extrapolations didn't fit with human nature. My answer is the simplest and easiest to fit within the novel. Those two agents/soldiers/scouts were beside the boat but did nothing; they had opportunity (they were alone at night), they had motive (here I have to list many things to fit your extrapolations but here they are: they knew how important it was, they were capable men, they were not afraid of Magwitch et al, they wouldn't have received any reward if Magwitch wasn't caught, they may even have been punished if they didn't succeed). Why would they have given him an opportunity to go?

 

Answer that question. Why would they have let him go? I don't have to extrapolate or go outside of the novel for anything. Dickens ignored human nature to contrive his showdown on the water. I don't have to have them running all over the countryside; I don't have to come up with endless - and easily answerable - excuses as to their personalities or occupation, I don't have to do anything but realize that they would not let that boat leave.

 

If we are to assume that Dickens wrote a novel that deviates from human nature, then, again, every other novel ever written can be excused because the author wanted to deviate from human nature. Why do you feel that Dickens wanted to deviate from human nature in this novel? What was his purpose for doing so?

 

Seraphina 7th September 2006 02:25 PM

 

When I was little I remember once plaguing my mum incessantly about why you never saw people going to the toilet on tv or in books. ('but WHY don't you see them do it, it's what people do every day.....but WHY')

 

This discussion reminds me of that. :rolleyes:

 

Hear hear David and Hazel. :D

 

It seems a pretty random thing to fixate on - something that's completely open to interpretation - which of course we're free to do with any text - rather than fact as stated in the text. When interpreted Slowrain's way it does seem contrived, but the more sensible and more likely interpretation that most of us seem to adhere to does not make it seem so. Slowrain, if you want to prove that Dickens' plots are contrived wouldn't it be better to pick something that is actually backed up by text and not just conjecture?

 

Hazel 7th September 2006 02:42 PM

When I was little I remember once plaguing my mum incessantly about why you never saw people going to the toilet on tv or in books. ('but WHY don't you see them do it, it's what people do every day.....but WHY')

Whenever me and my husband watch a film or programme, especially Lost, I always say something like "Why didn't they just...why did they do that...why didn't they ask...?" And he always replies " because then there would be no story". This discussion reminds me of that. "Why did she go into the dark empty house?" Because there would be no story/suspense/scares.

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David 7th September 2006 02:43 PM

 

Answer that question. Why would they have let him go?

 

 

Because if they were simply ordinary men looking to make an easy shilling from passing information to the authorities, that is their only human motivation: a quick profit. Greed is a far stronger motivation that justice, heroism or morality in most human spheres.

 

I've also outlined other credible motivations even if they were employed by the authorites, as you keep assuming, but I really can't be bothered to explain them yet again.

You noted how the people on all those other sites weren't very polite as you persisted with your arguments. I'm beginning to see why. You can think everyone else but you is mad/biased/ridiculously loyal to Dickens, but do you think that when you continue in a minority of one they might actually have a point worth listening to?

 

Perhaps it's worth pointing out that the extended essay I wrote on Dickens over some 10 weeks was a criticism of his approach to the portrayal of religion and how I felt he had failed in his attempts to promote his rather distinctive humanistic strain of Christianity. Do you want to discuss anything in that area? Maybe you'd be happier if you found I agreed with you about something that Dickens actually wrote?

 

Hazel 7th September 2006 02:46 PM

Greed is a far stronger motivation that justice, heroism or morality in most human spheres.

An aside: watching the 9/11 Millionaire Widows programme on Channel 4 last night would certainly corrobrate that.

 

SlowRain 8th September 2006 06:45 AM

 

Are you sure?

 

 

 

I'm not stepping outside the novel in any way. I'm trying to stick well within the text. I'm sorry if looking at a novel in any depth is a different approach from what many do, but it does seem fair. Many people search novels for hidden meaning and symbolism, why can't one search for errors?

 

Let's play the scene out. Some men are looking for Magwitch. It is now night time. They come across the boat, Magwitch's mode of transportation. There is no one around. They do nothing. They give him the opportunity to escape. Why? You can extrapolate all you want on who they were and how serious their motive was, but that is outside the text of the novel. The fact is they were there and they had opportunity. This isn't rocket science, this doesn't require university degrees or doctorates, it doesn't require deep philosophical insights. A normal person (of which we can safely assume they were) would have done something, anything, to prevent them from getting in the boat or the boat from leaving. Without extrapolating, can anyone come to an answer that fits within the text?

 

Why did Dickens overlook or contrive this? Because he wanted his showdown to take place on the water. He wanted drama: he wanted Magwitch's goal to be within sight; he wanted the soldiers to show up just in time; he wanted the tension that comes from a close chase; he wanted a setting where Magwitch could kill Compeyson, but not be guilty. Dickens had his reasons, but he overlooked human nature. Why did those two men do nothing the night before? It was a mistake, a plot hole, and it sticks out. Plot holes happen in novels and movies all the time, don't think this is the first or only occurrence. Some people can watch a movie or read a novel and never pick up on these things; they are content that everything fit and worked fine. Other people watch and read more carefully, and test the integrity of the story.

 

Why did the two men do nothing? It defies human nature, and since there is nothing within the text to explain it, it is a plot hole.

 

Why do I persist? Because it is there and it is obvious. I enjoy testing the integrity of the stories that I read and watch. I find it interesting to see what other people miss. But, I hate it when a writer tries to dupe the audience, treating them as unintelligent, trying to make a quick buck on the royalties while hoping that the audience is more impressed with the drama and doesn't look too closely. It helps keep the mind active and alert. It also helps spot errors and contrivances in real life.

 

Hazel 8th September 2006 10:51 AM

 

Why did Dickens overlook or contrive this? Because he wanted his showdown to take place on the water. He wanted drama: he wanted Magwitch's goal to be within sight; he wanted the soldiers to show up just in time; he wanted the tension that comes from a close chase; he wanted a setting where Magwitch could kill Compeyson, but not be guilty. Dickens had his reasons, but he overlooked human nature.

Are the reasons you have given not enough for you to account for this 'contrivance'? You have to suspend disbelief to read fiction occasionally. If you can't see that then there is no point in carrying on this discussion.

I find it interesting to see what other people miss.

Do they miss it - or do they just accept it as a plot device that happens when reading fiction? I certainly don't think David has missed anything, but I think you are missing the point quite a lot.

 

David 8th September 2006 11:30 AM

 

Sorry, SlowRain, but a case of hoist on your own petard:

 

That's human nature. You and I may not have challenged them...but that's because we are neither soldiers nor thugs: they were.

So, it appears by your own admission that human nature does indeed vary between people and not everyone would behave the same way. You then make clear assumptions about who these people are; something utterly extra-textual.

 

Looking closely at texts is about dealing with what is there. It is not intelligent reading to take the flimsiest of information and spin out assumptions. I spent many years teaching literature students to avoid such sloppy thinking but to deal instead with the facts (as Mr Gradgrind, in another Dickens novel might have noted!). Human nature is not so homogeneous that the entire population would behave the same way in a given circumstance (as you have admitted earlier) and since all we know about these men is that they were there, we haven't got anything like enough information to determine their identities, personalities, motivations or likely reactions. Plot holes are when something runs contrary to what is there, not what we assume.

 

I notice by the way, you haven't once responded to my suggestion that these men could just as likely be informants, who are interested in nothing more than money in return for information. I wonder why that is, now? Of course, there's nothing to say they are, but that's the point you are completely missing: so long as there is another alternative (as there has to be with so little textual information) then the scenario is acceptable. I'm afraid it's not us blinded by love of Dickens, it is you blinded by a determination to be 'right' that Dickens uses sloppy plotting. The irony, SlowRain, is that you almost certainly could find some reasonable examples elsewhere, but this ain't it, my friend.

 

 

katrina 8th September 2006 05:34 PM

 

I can't believe this discussion is still going on! Can we not just accept that novels, films and t'v programmes have to, to some extent have plot lines in which coincidences exist, they need to. In real life you may not know the person who attacked/killed/become your benefactor but an audience needs to know who the villan is, they can't just be some random person who just thought you looked like good prey, who the audience then never see's again.

Spoiler:

As a reader we get to guess who people are, for instance Pip's benefactor - we are led to believe it is Miss Havisham and that seems the sensible option yet it is the convict

 

It's just a technique that people use, sometimes it may seem contrived, yet it didn't stop the enjoyment of this book for anyone responding to this thread as far as I can see.

 

I understand complaining about areas that you don't like, but I think carrying on arguing and not taking on board other peoples ideas is ludicrous. We all thisnk differently, and have a right to express our opinions , but this seems a bit much.

 

SlowRain 9th September 2006 08:18 AM

 

David: You misunderstood.

 

 

I wasn't the one fixated on the two physically challenging Magwitch et al, you were. If you go back and reread that post, you'll see what I was addressing. I said that they would try something, anything, to either prevent them from getting in the boat or the boat from leaving. That's the human nature element that I've been addressing all along.

 

David: Yes, the informant issue has been addressed earlier. It, too, can be easily explained.

 

I'm okay with people enjoying contrived novels, movies, T.V. programs, etc. However, to deny something so obvious once it has been pointed out leads to the question of why. If one doesn't take that kind of approach toward novels, movies, T.V. programs, etc., that's fine, but don't criticize someone who does (ie. calling it sloppy) or deny that it exists.

 

Also, you'd be surprised just how many novels and movies out there aren't so blatantly contrived as Dickens is. These kinds of novels and movies do exist, and it's rewarding to find them.

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Hazel 9th September 2006 08:25 AM

I'm okay with people enjoying contrived novels, movies, T.V. programs, etc. However, to deny something so obvious once it has been pointed out leads to the question of why. If one doesn't take that kind of approach toward novels, movies, T.V. programs, etc., that's fine, but don't criticize someone who does (ie. calling it sloppy) or deny that it exists.

 

Also, you'd be surprised just how many novels and movies out there aren't so blatantly contrived as Dickens is. These kinds of novels and movies do exist, and it's rewarding to find them.

Oh dear god.

 

David 9th September 2006 11:52 AM

 

Well, enjoy your great 'find', SlowRain. I'm afraid 'pointing something out' doesn't make it right. It has to be there to be pointed out. If you've read all the real world stories about bystanders doing nothing to help in situations, or policemen who haven't done their job properly for whatever reason, or people whose desire for money overcomes any other impulse and you still can't see how any number of 'human nature' motivations could explain the action taken by those men then you have a disturbingly limited understanding of the complexities of human nature.

 

But of course I suppose all those stories are part of the fabrications you look for in non-fiction too.

 

I've kept up the argument because whilst I certainly respect other people's views, I balk at literature being re-written in someone's head to suit their agenda. If I'd raised arguments like that in university I'd have been laughed out of it; it just runs contrary to all principles of logical literary appraisal.

 

Anyway, I've had enough of it now and won't be posting again unless the conversation turns to something more interesting.

 

elfstar 9th September 2006 03:37 PM

Anyway, I've had enough of it now and won't be posting again unless the conversation turns to something more interesting.

And there you are I've just been and bought GE and Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.

 

Will you talk to me if i dare voice a view?

 

David 9th September 2006 04:23 PM

Will you talk to me if i dare voice a view?

You always post interesting, rational views, Elfstar. I'll look forward to them and discuss them with pleasure! I'll be keen to hear your thoughts on the controversial few lines (since that's all it amounts to!). ;)

 

Hazel 9th September 2006 07:20 PM

 

It would be nice to hear other readers' opinions on the matters we have been (futilely) discussing.

 

donnae 10th September 2006 12:24 AM

 

This is the only Dickens on my TBR pile, and I will read it one day I promise. I have been trying to resist the spoilers. I am intrigued by the debate, so maybe I will push it further up the pile. It is only there by recommendation of BGO in the first place. :)

 

SlowRain 10th September 2006 09:06 AM

 

But...

 

 

 

But why would the soldiers/agents/scouts/informers come so far just to do nothing? Why wouldn't they just stay put in jolly ol' London? Magwitch et al didn't come to them, so they aren't bystanders: they are out on the trail actively searching.

 

The only explanation that could possibly work, other than an oversight by Dickens, is gross incompetence or negligence, which I think is what you were trying to touch on. That is usually the last resort of someone trying to explain something. Every mistake in every novel or movie is usually written off by fans as an oversight of the character, never the writer.

 

Also, be careful about your remark on the fabrications in non-fiction. You meant it to chastise, but what about those reporters who took a closer look at James Frey's Million Little Pieces. Do you feel that they did a disservice by questioning the contrivances in non-fiction? I think that is probably the heart of the matter: if one can't pick contrivances out in fiction, they'll never dare try to question anything that is not fiction, let alone succeed.

 

elfstar 13th September 2006 02:34 PM

 

I am riveted, enjoying this far more than I expected. Even got into a discussion about it in Smiths today. A book rep suggested reading it as first published in installments to get a real feel for the cliffhangers. More later.

 

David 13th September 2006 02:43 PM

A book rep suggested reading it as first published in installments to get a real feel for the cliffhangers. More later.

Posting your thoughts in the same fashion would appear to have the same effect. I can't wait for the next Elfstar 'chapter'! ;)

 

elfstar 13th September 2006 02:46 PM

Posting your thoughts in the same fashion would appear to have the same effect. I can't wait for the next Elfstar 'chapter'!

:D

 

Artegall 15th September 2006 12:30 AM

 

My 2p, for what it's worth, is that this is Dickens's best novel (of the ones I've read, which is about half). It's so brilliant - I don't want to get drawn into the debate on this thread re realism because frankly I can't be arsed, but I'd say that Dickens reminds me a bit of Inspector Morse on TV - by which I mean the presentation (in this case the fantastic descriptive passages, eerie thematic/symbolic resonances and superb characterisation) end up entrancing the audience far more than the plots by the end.

 

I've always felt that if you want realism, funnily enough you shouldn't look at 19th Century realist writers - early 20th century is where verisimilitude gets taken seriously (and if anyone writes a more pretentious sentence than that this month I'll be quite annoyed). But if you want the greatest yarns ever writen, this is the period for you.

 

The last paragraph always gets me. The tone is so perfect; linguistically and in terms of the characters it's ambiguous, yet somehow it's incredibly elegiac. For me this is indicative of the greatness of late Dickens - he knows how to push our emotional buttons: but he pushes them very subtly.

 

Barblue 15th September 2006 05:56 PM

 

This has been a fascinating thread discussion, but surely we have exhausted all the possible arguments. I have contributed little, but have gained a lot from going through the pages of contributions. I was particularly taken with David's comments on the arrest on water and aligning this to baptisms. Very thought provoking for me and sent me back to the novel to re-read that last passage. Thanks.

 

David 15th September 2006 06:54 PM

I was particularly taken with David's comments on the arrest on water and aligning this to baptisms. Very thought provoking for me and sent me back to the novel to re-read that last passage. Thanks.

You're welcome. It was only when I had a brilliant teacher for O Level when I was 14 that I started to see what you really could pull out of quality literature (funnily enough, in part through another Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities), and through study and profession I've loved doing that ever since. Books can tell remarkable stories, but there is often so much else besides. If you want to think about the religious angles in Great Expectations then you should also think about Joe, who's one of the best examples of Dickens' view of the perfect Christian man. Might also be interesting to consider Orlick as 'Old Nick' (i.e. the Devil - more name-play), who as an alter-ego to Pip can suggest the evil temptation within.

 

Happy to discuss it further if you like!

 

Barblue 16th September 2006 09:23 AM

 

I have to admit David, that this is the kind of discussion that arouses my interest in any kind of literature. I was a late (very late) student for my degree in literature, gaining it at the same time I obtained by old age pension. My only regret is that I have read so much over so many years without being able to pull out these kinds of threads.

 

Names are so important in any literature I think, as I have seen discussed elsewhere. I have always been aware of what you mean about Joe (is that for Job - another religious reference?) and I believe either you mentioned Orlick earlier, or it came up in discussion with my reading group locally. As far as Dickens is concerned the one that has stayed with me since childhood as a name and the character it created in my head, has to be Quilp in Old Curiosity Shop. As a child, when I first read this, I thought the name epitomised the character portrayed in the novel. I'm not sure whether it was chosen for any other connotation, but its shortness describes his physical stature perfectly and also conveyed to me then a nasty individual - it's not an easy or nice word to promounce, almost like spitting something awful out of your mouth. I have re-read this as an adult, and still think the name perfect for the character. I've never read A Tale of Two Cities but I will now.

 

I digress and perhaps ought to start a new thread. However, I would just like to say a thank you to Slow Rain, who has been persistent in her argument concerning one aspect of her view of GE. I think we all have to admit that it has probably created one of the most lengthy and heartfelt discussions. As a newcomer, I may be wrong on that one ( I am still browsing through this densely textured website), but I have certainly got a great deal out of this thread and I thank you Slow Rain for your initial idea.

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David 17th September 2006 12:05 PM

 

Fantastic that you decided to pursue a literature degree late in life, Barblue, and it sounds like it has opened up entirely new vistas for you. You'll find that there are others on BGO who also took (or are in the process of taking) literature degrees well beyond the 'conventional' age.

 

Quilp is indeed superb and one of the most fascinating and compelling Dickensian villains, as well as a great example, as you suggest, of a name that has a phonic rather than semantic significance - rather like Pumblechook in Expectations. He seems to show how Dickens is drawn strongly to these dark archetypes and I particularly love:

 

 

the descritption of Quilp's body in the river, where Dickens almost toys with it through the narrative scene he creates, both as righteous vengeance and fascination.

 

An early novel such as The Old Curiosity Shop is a little more crude in its handling of the themes Quilp represents, though. Most obviously in the contrasting angelic presentation of Little Nell, as I suggested in an earlier post. The Orlick/Joe/Pip arrangement deals with similar issues in a far more subtle and sophisticated way. One of the sidelines of interest that intrigued me when looking at Nell, though, was the illustratation of her in bed at the shop, surrounded by all the curios. Illustrations are so often looked upon derisively these days, but there are superb examples in Dickens and this one - by Hablot K. Browne (or 'Phiz') - is intriguing. If you can search it out have a look at the contrasting images of devilish curios against angelic ones by Nell's side, which have almost come to life, as in the imagination of the narrator, as well as an image of Christ on the cross. It draws from Dickens' description but embellishes upon it too. A fantastic example of illustrator in perfect harmony with his writer. I've always thought Browne was the best of Dickens' illustrators.

 

Sorry if that digresses a bit, but your comments got me thinking!

 

I don't know whether Joe fits the idea of Job, since he doesn't really suffer terrible misfortune and affliction to test his faith. In fact, I don't think Joe's Christianity is stressed very much at all - he comes across more as a very good man on a human level. This was much how Dickens felt Christianity should operate in the world, but I don't know that he manages to convey that as clearly as he might.

 

Barblue 19th September 2006 07:28 AM

 

Than again, David, Joe does suffer, I think. He suffers from the moment he meets Pip's sister. His could hardly be called a happy existence from then onwards. (I would detail this but have yet to master the 'Hide' system.) His suffering is the quiet suffering that I remember from my reading of Job - hence my analogy. Since, as you say this is how Dickens felt Christianity should operate in the world, then for me he succeeds in GE.

 

David 19th September 2006 10:24 AM

Than again, David, Joe does suffer, I think. He suffers from the moment he meets Pip's sister.

Actually that's very true - I was rigidly thinking of post-Mrs J and Pip, relating to the threesome of Pip, Joe & Orlick. You might be on to something there!

 

My thoughts about Dickens' success or otherwise in relation to the Christian message are not so much about whether the likes of Joe set a good example of behaviour, but whether the reader would be likely from the text to ascribe that to Christianity. I'd be interested as to whether you think that's true in those terms. If so, would you put that down to the Job analogy or other things?

 

Barblue 19th September 2006 06:55 PM

 

My personal view, David, is that it would depend on whether a reader is reasonably conversant with the Bible and/or religious tenets. For me, Bible stories that were instilled when I was young remain strong. I think Dickens' work is very black and white and for me that illustrates Christian beliefs in many ways.

 

As regards the Joe/Job analogy, I have always been aware of Joe's innate goodness, but it was only when I read your piece about baptism that a light came on in my head and I saw Joe as Job.

 

Now that you have lit this idea, I have a feeling I will be reading Dickens in a totally different way. I am going back to The Old Curiosity Shop after your comments on Nell too.

 

David 19th September 2006 06:58 PM

 

That's interesting, Barblue - thanks. I hope you enjoy the shop!

 

elfstar 21st September 2006 05:44 PM

 

Ok then. I have finished and am rather surprised. I was expecting the language to be more florid and intense instead I found immensely readable and accessible prose. I read the much discussed passage about "the capture" and didn't recognise it. For me it flowed well keeping up the suspense and excitment.

As far as "contrivance" goes the most difficult thing for me was

 

 

Magwitch as Estella's father. I accepted the identity of her mother but this pushed me a little. It did however tie up loose ends nicely

 

On the whole I enjoyed it far more than I expected and really loved the whole castle and aged parent scenes.

 

Which Dicken's should I read next?

 

Barblue 21st September 2006 06:21 PM

 

Glad you enjoyed it, elfstar. I agree about Magwitch at the end, but as you say it does make it tidy and perhaps adds some spice and romance - in a funny kind of way.

 

I am just starting Hard Times again as its our reading group choice. Can't say it's the best one to read next following on from what David said earlier, but it's one I love.

 

The Old Curisity Shop or Tale of Two Cities would be my suggestion. The first because I love the story, the way London and the then suburbs are portrayed and Quilp, one of the best characters in Dickens in my opinion. The second because David made some interesting comments a few days ago and I can't wait to read it now.

 

Whatever you choose I believe you will get as much enjoyment as you have thus far.

 

Phoebus 21st September 2006 06:51 PM

 

What a fantastic novel this is. I read it sixteen years ago (in a flat with no heating) and my favourite Dickens character, Jaggers, is still indelibly engrained on my memory. I still can't wash my hands without thinking of him.

 

I must re-read this some time.

 

David 21st September 2006 07:36 PM

 

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Elfstar! It really is one of the classic, classic texts!

 

Yes, the plot twist you mention is probably the one point in the novel where the rivets start to rattle and Scotty shouts, "She canna take no more, Captain!" but it ultimately holds. Perhaps particularly because:

 

 

it works with the whole mother/father exploration that has been undertaken throughout, Miss H and Magwitch working as alternative types of parent to Pip and Estella. Perhaps in his original planning that helped fit his intention to have them part at the end rather than marry? Also, it forms part of Magwitch's redemption and earthly peace.

 

As for what to read next, well I suggest you look on the Who Loves Dickens? thread as plenty of people offer suggestions there.

 

If you didn't see the BBC adaptation I'd go for Bleak House, which is his other greatest novel, but if you did then A Tale of Two Cities is of similar length to Great Expectations and a cracking read. Or you could join Phoebus and Barblue in their reading of Little Dorrit!

 

elfstar 3rd October 2006 10:58 AM

 

I have thought a lot about this book since I read it and one or 2 thoughts have occurred.

 

I was stunned by how brief the description of Miss Havisham was and yet how telling for some reason I had thought the descriptive narrative would run into pages but it didn't and was all so vividly expressed.

 

I saw great parallels between Pip and many a young person going away from home for the first time (Pip's expectations make him a little different). The distancing from home and the sense of shame that comes with that are things commonly seen in students living away from home for the first time. It is a natural part of growing up that happens far more quickly when removed from the home environment.

 

I am not sure about the alternative endings I think Pip and Estella going their

separate ways is more intellectually satisfying but coming together more emotionally satisfying.

 

I have a terrible cold at the moment so please excuse me for any incoherence.

 

I have ordered Bleak House, Little Dorrit and the Old Curiosity Shop from Amazon (via the link) whilst ordering some stuff for the kids. That will push my TBR list up (still not double figures!!)

 

David 3rd October 2006 11:51 AM

I am not sure about the alternative endings I think Pip and Estella going their separate ways is more intellectually satisfying but coming together more emotionally satisfying.

I think that sums it up very effectively, Elfstar - I would agree.

 

I also think there is great emotional truth in the idea of leaving home and becoming educated as a potentially divisive force from parents and the familiar backgrounds of upbringing, allied to the usual truth in the adolescent of wishing to find his or her own identity that is separate and distinct from the parent. It's an interesting one to explore in the Victorian age when that would have been quite unusual, with children conventionally staying in the home community doing the same jobs as their family had always done. It takes the most radical of father figures, from the most 'shaming' of backgrounds, to shake Pip out of this and appreciate the simple power of love, honour and devotion.

 

I hope you enjoy the books!

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#106 30th December 2006, 12:40 PM

Mungus

 

As I was reading it I couldn't help thinking how good it would be to have to write an essay about some of the characters (Pip, Miss H, Joe...). To coin a horrible modern phrase, Pip's 'journey' through the book is compelling. Interesting what has already been written about Joe (vs. Orlick). I didn't study Dickens at school and maybe that's a good thing, I might have struggled and been put off for ever. Certainly there is plenty of depth there to wallow in.

 

I only gave this book four stars because knowing the story spoiled it slightly, not that I am complaining, the 1946 (!) film is one of the all time classics. I'm looking forward to exploring Dickens' other works and who knows, I might even get that weighty Ackroyd biog that has been feted elsewhere.

 

#107 30th December 2006, 01:05 PM

chuntzy

I now find it a really unbelievably sad book. When I was 17 I thought it was hilarious. But, maybe, that's to do with life generally.

I read it first at 16 and have re-read much later on in years and have always found it sad. I've felt the unspoken hurt of Joe Gargery, upset by Pip's later snobbishmess and, as a youngster, Mrs Gargery really got my goat - reminding me of my stepmother -well , just a bit. Quite subtly and beautifully written it is.

 

#108 30th December 2006, 04:45 PM

David

Some of it, am I allowed to say this without being accused of sounding pompous?, is Freudian.

Not at all pompous. I'd be really interested to hear more specific thought about that.

Dickens said that the achievement he was proudest of was David Copperfield but I'm going to have to disagree with him. This is just one of the greatest novels ever written.

This drifts into the discussion on 'Is the Author Important?', but I wonder if he felt that because David Copperfield is the most autobiographical of his books? Perhaps for him it was the greatest achievement to weave his life (to a degree, at least) into his fiction?

Oh, one other thing. I find when I read this novel (and I guess I've read it three times from when I was a teenager to now when I am a middle aged man) your reaction to it depends on your age. I now find it a really unbelievably sad book. When I was 17 I thought it was hilarious. But, maybe, that's to do with life generally.

There's another thread in Central Library on how reading experiences differ at different ages and I find that a very interesting observation, cripple creek. I suppose youth is more easily drawn to the wonderful humour and caricatures, whilst age brings enough mellowness and experience of life to find the poignancy standing out more. There is certainly a lot of sadness there, although there would have been more if Dickens had ended it as he orignally wanted.

 

#109 30th December 2006, 05:12 PM

Mungus

 

When I saw the film as a teenager, I found Miss Havisham to be a very powerful tragic figure, appealing to my blossoming romantic girlie side. The thought of being so broken by love that you wanted to stop the clocks seemed almost aspirational! As stated elsewhere in the thread, the Dickens beautifully underwrites Miss H's tragedy and in my reading of the novel (as a 38 year old who may be a little more life-worn than the average teenager) I found that the regret she expressed when she understood what she had done with/to Estella much more moving.

 

#110 30th December 2006, 05:28 PM

David

appealing to my blossoming romantic girlie side. The thought of being so broken by love that you wanted to stop the clocks seemed almost aspirational!

Yep, perhaps gender has a lot to do with it too. Teenage girls are often taken by their 'dark poetry' phase, which I suppose has similar leanings. I found her simply sinister, especially in her powerfully simple suggestion to the young Estella "Well, you can break his heart."

 

#111 30th December 2006, 08:00 PM

Hazel

 

Miss Havisham is a creation of genius. I love the idea of her frozen in time, manipulating the people around her from within her self imposed jail. It's such a visual image; her dusty, frail, cobwebby, in her wedding dress. How many characters can you say that say so firmly in your mind as she does? Not even Pip, the novel's protagonist, is that real and enduring.

 

#112 31st December 2006, 11:30 AM

katrina

 

I studied this book as my first A Level text and loved it, I was fascinated by Estella and Miss Havisham at the time. Although as a teenager I was convinced I was never going to fall in love and just have the odd meaningless fling with rich men, whilst I worked as a legal secretary in The City, so Estella's approach to Pip suited my philosophy. So strong was this connection that I was nicknamed Estella for a while in Sixth Form (lots of flirting then me disapearing in a panic the moment they were interested), a year later though I fell madly in love - typical teenager!

 

I still enjoy the book though, and I still love both of the characters. The early film is a great classic, though I seem to recall that the ending is different to the book (?). The recent (ish) version is very different, although still enjoyable as long as you make yourself seperate it entirely from the book, Pip isn't even called Pip

 

#113 31st December 2006, 02:29 PM

megustaleer

The early film is a great classic, though I seem to recall that the ending is different to the book (?).

You could check that out on Tuesday afternoon (Jan 2nd), as the 1948 film is being shown on BBC2.

My mental pictures of GE are based on the 1959 TV serial, which made a great impression on my 14yr old self.

 

Katrina, isn't there a whole Dickens-named housing estate in Chelmsford? I recall my son having a schoolfriend living in Estella Mead!

 

#114 31st December 2006, 05:01 PM

katrina

 

Not that I'm aware of, but I haven't lived here long and I rubbish with street names, so could well be.

 

#115 31st December 2006, 10:20 PM

Barblue

You could check that out on Tuesday afternoon (Jan 2nd), as the 1948 film is being shown on BBC2.

I don't usually watch TV during the daytime, so would not have been aware that it was going to be shown. Thanks meg, I've been wanting to see this film again for ages.

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Whew! Going through to edit and put back spoilers, etc., it became clear there are a few missing posts - I think from the end of one page which was presumably cached before they were made. Sorry they've been left out, but otherwise this seems to be the entire discussion. Long may it continue!

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As I've just posted on the Currently Reading thread, I've put this aside for the moment. I'm about 200 pages in, but I can't seem to get into it. I really want to enjoy it and I like the characters, but it seems to be stopping and starting quite a bit. I'm not as engaged as I was with Bleak House.

 

I will go back to it when my brain has recharged a bit.

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Well, I have now gone back to and finished this book and I did enjoy it, but not as much as Bleak House.

 

It really got interesting for me in the last third, where all the loose ends started to be tied up. Until then, it just seemed to stop and start quite a bit.

 

I thought the characters were fantastic, particularly Magwitch, but I also liked Wemmick, Joe and Jaggers. I didn't really feel attached to Pip at all. To me, he just served a purpose as narrator. That it was his story never really made the impression on me that it probably should have.

 

As for Estella and Miss Havisham, they were interesting characters, but Estella didn't seem as big a part of the novel as I thought she would be. I thought she'd have more of a presence. Miss Havisham, too, took more of a backseat in the proceedings than I expected.

 

Regarding the 'contrivance' debate, not to start it all up again, but my opinion is that it's necessary for any story. Some authors do it better than others, definitely, but I think Dickens was subtle in how he did it. See my comment here for my comment on what I called the 'artifice' of a contemporary of Dickens. (I don't want to start talking about other writers here: there's enough going on here already.)

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Having read this thread at the weekend, I was inspired to buy this book on Saturday. I had to read it at school, and did not particularly enjoy it, but I think that was precisely because it was not my choice to read it at that time. Hopefully I will enjoy it much more when I'm reading it because I want to, not because I'm told to. My grandad used to love Dickens.

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Due largely to the enthusiasm for Dickens expressed by some people here I read this a few months ago, albeit very slowly as due to my other hobby I was only reading at lunchtimes on work days so it took me several weeks to finish. Having avoided Dickens since doing A Tale of two cities in (I think) the 3rd form, I find I'm sorry I waited nearly 25 years before trying him again. I'd not even seen the old B&W film all the way through so didn't know the ending. Now that I do, what an excellent story, it's so touching in places, I can see why schoolchildren are force fed him.

 

What stayed with me the most were the conversations between Pip and Estella in the final third of the book, leading up to her marriage, where it becomes clear just how badly damaged she has been by the way she was brought up, in particular this. (small quote from the text in the spoiler tags)

 

"It seems," said Estella, very calmly, "that there are sentiments,

fancies - I don't know how to call them - which I am not able to

comprehend. When you say you love me, I know what you mean, as a

form of words; but nothing more. You address nothing in my breast,

you touch nothing there. I don't care for what you say at all. I

have tried to warn you of this; now, have I not?"

 

 

I found it heartbreaking, even more than the "what have I done" scene.

 

The other thing I'll mention is the names of the characters, particularly of the villains. They are wonderful pieces of invention and give an indication of the nature of particular characters, I knew as soon as I saw the name I wasn't going to remember someone called Pumblechook fondly.

 

Last of all I like the ambiguous ending, it left me hoping they could both find happiness, preferably with each other.

 

Bleak House will be next to go on the TBR pile I think as I enjoyed the BBC drama a lot, and I must say a big thank you to the people who have talked so enthusiastically about his work, I'd never have considered reading one of his novels otherwise.

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I am really pleased you gave GE and Dickens a try. GE is my favourite, and the excerpt you included is a fantastic one. I think Dickens' character names are genius - they live on as an entity in themselves. I think most people would know Pip or Magwitch or Miss Havisham even if they hadn't read the book. I must get round to Bleak House too.

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I'm also very glad you gave it a go, Mark! I agree with everything you say and Bleak House is an excellent choice for the next read. There is such a great emotional range in Dickens and Expectations is one of the best because it doesn't fall into the maudlin, which he is prone to from time to time.

 

I look forward to hearing what you think of BH!

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It'll soon be coming round again on the box won't it - after all it's Chistmas!

 

I agree with David; it's Dickens's best, though Copperfield runs it close. As for Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities, they contain marvellous parts - after all it's Dickens - but have flaws like sentimentality (the Little Emly business) and high-flown sentiment (Sydney Carton) that we squirm at today.

 

I find it odd that one reader finds Pip uninteresting as a character - he changes, he suffers, he is torn between being a gentleman and a man of feeling. The visit from Joe Gargery,where Pip sees him, a mere blacksmith in clumsy boots, coming to his chambers is beautifully done. Ditto the visit from the convict where Pip is high-handed until he finds that Magwitch is his benefactor. Dickens must have felt the same when he despised his father's Micawber-like behaviour in life.

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I'm currently reading 'GE' as part of my course. I had read part of it in school for GCSE and didn't enjoy it then (mostly because I wasn't ready for 19th C novels back then and it took ages to read as the class were expected to read it out loud in the summer heat!)

 

I have to admit that I'm not enjoying it purely because of the narrator. Pip just annoys me and I can't sympathise with him. I do, however, really like many of the other characters like Joe, Biddy, Estella...I just find myself getting annoyed with Pip with his whole guilt tripping all the time and yet he continues to make mistakes even when he knows the results!! :banghead: I much prefered Pip pre-Haversham visit. I find it difficult to enjoy a book when I really can't sympathise with the narrator. The use of language, the humour and the perfectly rendered characters I do like.

 

The meanings of the names and how they reflect the character I do like. Although it doesnt show up in nature I think the author has a right to be playful with the naming. :)

 

I hope to get into it more but as Im already half way through...I do want to know what happens to the other characters and hope that Pip redeems himself and gets himself sorted.

 

I'll probably give Dickens another go after this as I don't judge an author on just one book.

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This is the book that introduced me to Dickens. I read it for school when I was 12 or so. It is still my favourite Dickens.

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Still reading it. It's getting better or at least I'm trying to ignore Pip being an idiot. :) Estella has arrived in London. Don't need to start annalysing it until October/November anywho :)

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