Great Expectations

 

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On receiving this much acclaimed Dickens classic, I had no initial expectations of finding anything that might capture my imagination. A few years previously I had taken a copy of Bleak House with me on my travels but was not impressed by what I thought was a tendency to unnecessary verbiage. I considered that there was far too much superfluous dialogue for it added little to any deeper appreciation of a character. The result was, as I saw it, an inevitable accumulation of pages and an almost unreadable dense tome.

This did not inspire further reading of Charles Dickens. I learnt of Dickens first-hand so to speak in that I thrice played the part of Bob Cratchet the long-suffering Clerk from A Christmas Carol. This novella reveals the Dickens of popular acclaim at least this was my view but it did nothing to engage me beyond the part I once played in a college production on stage.

However, in my limited reading of Bleak House, I was fortunate enough to notice a highly amusing fey character known as Howard Skimpole – who, like so many contemporary personalities, cloaks irresponsibility with a well-rehearsed philosophy of life:

He was very fond of reading the papers, very fond of making fancy-sketches with a pencil, very fond of nature, very fond of art. All he asked of society was to let him live. THAT wasn’t much. His wants were few. Give him the papers, conversation, music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets of Bristol-board, and a little claret, and he asked no more.

Nevertheless, I found this was the exception to a rule that swayed all too often towards dense descriptive detail especially of what I thought were incidental things. In this dimmed light I turned the pages grudgingly. And in the end, not at all. The undoubted appeal of Charles Dickens remained a mystery to me.

That is until I set my eyes on Great Expectations. In this edifying page-turner an exceptional story hinges on the narrated fortunes of the protagonist: Pip. The reader is invited into this tale of early 1800s England by learning about how Pip came to be called Pip. Dickens thereafter paints each scene anew by not only providing a vivid description of people and nature but by insightfully animating each character with striking graphic descriptions. For illustration, in the account of lifelong criminal, Abel Magwitch, is initially pictured as resembling an old hungry dog with his head turned to one side while sitting in a graveyard chewing some meat. Pip’s first encounter with the reclusive spinster, Miss Havisham, is similarly memorable. Great Expectations wonderfully confounded my expectations. In an ever-changing landscape the providential destiny of characters is aptly captured in the following lines:

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.

 

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