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Great Expectations

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I've just finished GE : my first Dickens since school, I'm ashamed to say!

 

I loved a lot of the incidental characters: Wemmick and the Aged Parent, Mrs Joe, the Pocket family. I liked the way that Pip was an unlikeable narrator at times - Dickens got across the idea that Pip was trying to justify his behaviour but we, as readers, shouldn't, which was a more sophisticated narrative technique than I was expecting.

I thoughts bits of the story descended into "action movie" territory, particularly the "chase scene" on the river - not my thing, but that aspect would have attracted some readers and was nicely balanced by emotional and humorous moments. I loved the bit where he goes back to see Joe at the end. And overall, I loved the evocation of place.

It would be nice to try reading a Dickens like that in weekly instalments, as it was meant to be read: I might try another one like that. Maybe Bleak House?

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I've just started Mister Pip, so I'm still thinking about GE.

 

One thing puzzled me. As I remember it, one of the conditions as laid down by Jaggers at the start for the inheritance was that Pip should always go by that name - am I right?

 

So why does Magwich have no problem with Herbert calling him Handel? And, in fact, why does Dickens bother to have Herbert call him Handel? When he did, my first thought was, oh, disaster - he's supposed to always go by the name of Pip. Then, when Magwich turns up at his London flat, I thought he'd disinherit him when he heard him called Handel. But no, the issue never seems to come up.

Unless I missed something ...

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The terms do stipulate that, but since Handel is only a nickname it's not really such an issue, I'd say. In society and all official contexts he's still Mr Pip and so the child who helped Magwitch is preserved in the adult, which is essentially what Magwitch wanted.

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In society and all official contexts he's still Mr Pip and so the child who helped Magwitch is preserved in the adult, which is essentially what Magwitch wanted.

 

Aah. Thanks, David. I just wondered why Dickens had the terms stipulate the name thing in the first place, particularly as it then isn't an issue. But I get the child thing.

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GE is my favourite Dickens novel and infact one of my all time favourite books. I didnt really find the coincidences to bad considering that many other books from the period were so blindingly obvious, infact GE had many unforseen twists which made it all the more interesting.

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Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

 

Dickens tells an intriguing yarn, creates suspense and amuses us with a range of eccentrics, friendly such as Wemmick or Herbert Pocket, or macabre as with Pumblechook or Jaggers. As in David Copperfield, he gives us strong and often threatening women, like Betsy Trotwood, and here Mrs Joe. Both of these semi-autobiographical novels begin with a shock to a child that reverberates through the rest of the action. Both are seen from the dual child-adult perspective; both belong to the Bildungsroman genre. Both have been repeatedly adapted for stage, screen and radio drama, and yet both have their weaknesses of characterisation and narrative tedium.

 

Several decades ago it was not unusual to find a Dickens novel as a set text for public examinations. Today this would be unheard of: ‘Too long, Sir!’ ‘Boring, Sir!’ I recall attempting to ‘teach’ Nicholas Nickleby to secondary modern school pupils in the Sixties. Then that now outmoded method of ‘reading around the class’ was still in vogue. The lads enjoyed that and were doubled up laughing as Nickle Arse and Queers went about their business. Those who say they still love Dickens today, are probably thinking of one or more of the excellent BBC adaptations rather than the text of the book itself. Reading a Dickens novel today, except as a Simplified Classics text, is no mean feat.

 

It has taken me several weeks to get through Great Expectations, reading it in bite-sized pieces, often as a Book at Bedtime treat. That is probably the best and most appropriate method, since like most Victorian novels it was designed for serialisation, which also of course accounts for the repetitiveness and the prolonging of tension by ending each Part on a cliff-hanger. It is not easy for the modern reader to read with the eagerness and innocence of his Victorian counterpart. The sheer thickness of the books and the at times plodding nature of the narrative demand a time and patience that for most of us today is in short supply.

 

Nevertheless, I am pleased to have made the effort, and was for the most part captivated by the narrative and relished the sheer exuberance of the language, as when Dickens allows Pumblechook or Joe Gargery to indulge in their respective bumbling monologues. True, I got tired of Pip’s continual self-analysis as he expounds on his guilt in rejecting the advances of good friends like Joe, Biddy and, later, the convict Magwitch aka Provis. I cringed, too, at the moral miracles of a converted Miss Havisham, kneeling before Pip. And the fire was an unconvincing contrivance. As for the cooked-up non-serial happy ending, the less said the better.

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I really enjoyed this one. Another friend mentioned she prefered Bleak House, like FirelightSpirit but I haven't read that one, will have to put it on my wishlist.

 

Anyway, I loved the story, don't think I have to mention his style, it's impeccable, as always.

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So nice to find this thread. I last read Dickens at school, and wanted to do something about it but never quite managed it. I am now almost at the end of GE on audio narrated by Simon Vance, I'm really enjoying it. I should be ready to try another soon.

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