Great Expectations …a review

This Charles Dickens novel was a part of my coursework in school and I know it to rote. That has never made me think that it is repetitive, tough, or boring, terms I often hear about Dickens. It is very important to keep in mind the author’s socio-economic background while reading because his works are heavily influenced by the same. His father, John Dickens was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea Prison. All of the family went with him except for Charles who, at the age of twelve, was sent off to work at Warren’s Shoe Blacking Factory to help support the family, pasting labels on boxes. These years of hardship left a deep impact on his psychology and hence his style of writing.

His novels, including Great Expectations, were written for a newspaper column and so at the end of every chapter the reader is left tense at the edge of his seat. The novel is autobiographical in nature and traces the growing up of Pip (Philip Pirrip).

Characters of Mrs. Havisham (having-is-a-sham), Estella, and the convict Magwitch are vivid, colourful additions to Pip’s life and their eccentricities keep the reader hooked. Miss Havisham is a wealthy spinster, who lives in her ruined mansion with her adopted daughter, Estella. As an adult, she had fallen in love with a man named Compeyson, who was only out to swindle her of her riches. At twenty minutes to nine on their wedding day, while she was dressing, Havisham received a letter from Compeyson and realized that he had defrauded her and she had been left at the altar. Humiliated and heartbroken, Havisham had all the clocks stopped at the exact point in which she had learned of her betrayal. From that day on, she remained in her decaying mansion, Satis House, never removing her wedding dress (as a result of being in the process of getting dressed when she receives the letter, she only has one shoe on), leaving the wedding cake uneaten on the table and only allowing a few people to see her.

While Estella was still a child, Miss Havisham began casting about for boys who could be a testing ground for Estella’s education in breaking the hearts of men as vicarious revenge for Miss Havisham’s pain. Pip is the eventual victim, and Miss Havisham readily dresses Estella in jewels to prettify her and to exemplify all the more the vast social gulf between her and Pip. It is this that drives Pip to ultimately agree to become a gentleman. The initial ending was edited after such an advice to Dickens by G.B. Shaw.

Quote: “I’ll tell you,” said she (Miss Havisham), in the same hurried passionate whisper, “what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter — as I did!”
When she came to that, and to a wild cry that followed that, I caught her round the waist. For she rose up in the chair, in her shroud of a dress, and struck at the air as if she would as soon have struck herself against the wall and fallen dead.

PS: The condition “The Miss Havisham effect” has been coined by scientists to describe a person who suffers a painful longing for lost love, which can become a physically addictive pleasure by activation of reward and pleasure centers in the brain, which have been identified to regulate addictive behavior – regions commonly known to be responsible for craving and drug, alcohol, and gambling addiction.

For the plot synopsis and character introductions, I have used Wikipedia.

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4 thoughts on “Great Expectations …a review

  1. Hey… this book was a part of my coursework too. I’ll have to admit that despite my hatred for classics I loved this one

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