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I Rarely Fall in Love, but I'm in Love with Great Expectations.
on January 11, 2015
The last time I read Great Expectations, I was fifteen years old and thought it was the most boring, meandering, pointless story. I was too impatient and too young to grasp the humor, tragedy, warning, and redemption of Pip's tale. Those faults I found in Great Expectations were actually faults in me, the reader; it is with some humble gratification that I read lines of Pip admitting that the shortcomings he found in others were really projections springing from his own young (and selfish) perspective.
In some sense, Great Expectations reads like a soap opera. Each day, I recounted for my husband what had befallen Pip in my readings, and we would be as scandalized or delighted as if we were watching a daytime drama. "No she didn't!" "Oh, he's making a mistake!" Just as with a soap opera, there are far too many coincidences and overlaps to make the story fully believable, but that takes nothing from the pleasure of reading, especially when Dickens manages to infuse so much wry humor into the recounting.
The story, of course, isn't really funny. Dickens shows us Pip, as a little boy, terrorized by an escaped convict. That Pip is also an orphan and beaten by the sister who is "bringing him up by hand," is made only slightly less horrifying by the distance implied by the past-tense narrative. Pip isn't allowed to follow his Uncle's kind and humble example, but is manipulated by a little girl who is raised to be a man-eating monster. In a desperate effort to shed his "coarse" ways, Pip accepts a bequeath of wealth that is frightening in its anonymity. Pip lets the money turn him into a jerk, and he spends years dancing as a marionette to a jilted woman and her pet man-eater. When Pip learns the true nature of his benefactor, we finally see Pip make decisions based on what is right rather than on his attraction to a woman who was using him as an emotional pincushion. Great Expectations is a violent tale, and only those characters who remain humble and kind are allowed a lasting happiness.
I rarely love a book. I devour and enjoy and lust for books, but rarely do I fall in love. I am in love with Great Expectations.
Go now, get a copy of Great Expectations. May it be highlighted and annotated by a tortured high school student, a child as yet unaware that life will shatter most of our "poor dreams." Read, and be thankful that, like Pip, you have lived long enough to outgrow your own selfish youth.
PS I read the 1986 unabridged Bantam Classics edition, which is apparently meatier than this one. However, I wanted my review of the story to be available, so... here it is! If you get a chance, I recommend getting the uncut version.