In the ninth grade I had a horrible English teacher. His idea of teaching involved sitting at a table in the front of the room and reading to his students. No discussions. No analysis. Day after day I took my seat and listened to the man read for forty-five minutes. I can’t remember his name. But to this day, I can picture him hunched over a book reading in his nasally monotone voice. I can only see the top of his head. He never looked up from his book. Never spoke to us. He only repeated what others had written. I hated that class and when I moved before the year was over I was thankful to never sit in that room again and to never hear that voice. Ugh!
This was my first introduction to Great Expectations. Surprisingly I love the novel. Other works that I listened to that year have ruined the books for me. But I was fascinated by this novel. It was Miss Havisham and her home that hooked me. At the time I remember thinking, what a crazy loon. Today, I feel more pity for her. For years all I could remember was Miss Havisham. If someone mentioned Great Expectations I could discuss Miss Havisham, but no one else from the novel.
For those who haven’t read the work, here’s a quick rundown. Philip Pirrip (Pip) is an orphan. His sister is bringing him up by the hand. She’s not the most pleasant woman and she hits both Pip and her husband, Joe. During his childhood, Pip meets three memorable characters. The first is an escaped convict that Pip encounters in a cemetery. The convict scares the bejeezus out of Pip and forces Pip to bring him food and a file so he can remove his leg irons. The second character is Miss Havisham, a woman who is wallowing in her own misery and filth. On the day of her wedding years ago, her beloved stood her up. Her life stopped on that day. And then there’s Estella, Miss Havisham’s ward. Pip and Estella are close in age but come from two different worlds. Pip is destined to be a blacksmith. Estella is rich and heartless. Pip hates his station in life and wants to become a gentleman. One day he learns that he has an anonymous benefactor who wants to make him just that, a gentleman. Pip leaves the marshes behind and heads to London. His ultimate goal is to win Estella’s heart. But with so much uncertainty surrounding his fortune what will become of Pip?
Many claim that this is Dickens’ best novel. I can’t argue that point. I still think I prefer David Copperfield over this one. That isn’t to say that Great Expectations isn’t good. Folks it’s fantastic. This work is pretty darn close to perfection. Not a word is wasted. All of the characters play an essential role. Each chapter builds upon the previous and it clips along perfectly. For those of you who want to learn how to write a novel, read this book. Dickens’ plots are usually spot on. But this one, in my opinion, is his best. Even though this book is quite dark, there are moments of humor and levity. I missed those aspects when I read A Tale of Two Cities.
This is my ninth book by Dickens this year. I set out to read ten, but I only managed nine. I’ve started the next book, Our Mutual Friend, but I won’t finish it or review it until 2013. A part of me is sad that I’m finishing this project. Before I started I wondered if it would be Dickens overload. Now I’m realizing how much I love his writing. He has many more books that aren’t on my 1001 list and I hope to read them. But I’m not sure if I want to read them all right away. I still want to have some of his works unread sitting on my shelf waiting for me.