Review: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Mind you—this will be a long review.
Young Pip was a poor orphan, to begin with. He lived in the marsh country with his old sister and her husband, Joe Gargery the blacksmith. One Christmas day, by the tombstone of his father and mother and brothers on the churchyard, he met an escaped convict from a prison-ship. This convict with a forceful threat ordered Pip to get him a file and wittles and some food. Pip was afraid to steal some food from his cruel old sister, but the more he was afraid of the threat of the rough fugitive, and so he granted his wishes. The convict was then captured by the soldiers. Then news came from Uncle Pumblechook that Miss Havisham of Satis House—she was described as an immensely rich and grim lady who lived in a large and dismal house and led a life of seclusion—wanted a boy to go and play at her house. Shortly, Pip was sent to Satis House.
A young, very beautiful girl not very far of age from Pip received him with a scornful air. Pip saw Miss Havisham for the first time in her dressing room, as the strangest lady Pip has ever seen or shall ever see. Miss Havisham looked like a rotten bride, in a withered bridal dress and a long veil like a shroud. She ordered Pip to play cards with Estella, the scornful beautiful girl, and they played. Pip then paid a regular visit to Satis House until at some point Miss Havisham bestowed him with a kindness; she funded Pip’s apprenticeship to Joe. At first it really was Pip’s dream, to be a good blacksmith like Joe, a person he admired with all his heart. But his meeting with Estella changed everything. Pip didn’t want to be a blacksmith anymore; he didn’t want Estella to think that he is common anymore.
When Pip was older, a lawyer named Mr. Jaggers came to Joe’s house to announce that Pip has a benefactor who wishes Pip to be “immediately removed from his present sphere of life and from this place, and be brought up as a gentleman, in a word, as a young fellow of great expectations.” Before Pip could start living a life of great expectations, there are two requirements he must agreed on. First, that he will always bear the name Pip, and the second, the identity of his benefactor would remain a secret, until the person him or herself chooses to reveal it. Pip must not ask or try to find out who his benefactor was. Pip was sure that his secret benefactor was Miss Havisham, and his bringing up to be a gentleman was intended to match him with Estella. This would lead us to the second stage of Pip’s great expectations, where he would live in London, being brought up to be a gentleman, befriend a cheerful young man Herbert Pocket and a clerk with dual sentiments, Mr. Wemmick, meet the ever more elegant and beautiful Estella on many occasions, and at length fell into debts.
On the second stage the story gets funnier and not as grimly told as in the first stage. Pip would also learn the history of Miss Havisham. He would desperately fall in love with Estella, and would meet a rival of pursuing Estella in form of a Bentley Drummle, an ill-tempered fellow. Pip’s perseverance in loving Estella amazed me; she doesn’t deserve it, frankly saying, as she was heartless, and she was set to wreak Miss Havisham’s revenge on men. Pip came to acknowledge what Estella really was, and still he loved her.
Was this the effect of some sort of spell Miss Havisham uttered to him? “Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces—and as it gets older and stonger, it will tear deeper—love her, love her, love her!” I gathered a few quotes that could explain Pip’s love for Estella here, and I came to a conclusion that it was Pip’s decision to love Estella, no matter how cruel and heartless she was.
Moving onto the third and last stage of Pip’s great expectations, Pip would learn the true identity of his benefactor, and it was a dangerous truth. It is a stage when Pip’s great expectations turned into great disappointment, great struggle and great misery. There would come a time when Pip regretted meeting his convict and Miss Havisham, and there would be times when Pip makes mistakes. Through the full three stages we will see Pip’s growth, and how he copes with all things happened in his life.
From the very first time of my acquaintance to the story of Great Expectations, I have always thought it is some kind of a Cinderella story, with a rather unusual fairy godmother. I have watched and written a review of the 2011 BBC miniseries here (in Indonesian language). Well, this is the very first Dickens novel I have read in unabridged version and original language. Written as an autobiography of Pip, this work is a bildungsroman as well as a work of mystery, gothic fiction and social criticism in Victorian England. Dickens’s writing is amazing as usual, although I had a hard time understanding some dialogues of the characters, mostly parts of Joe and Magwitch. I think that you will need extra patience to read Dickens, as his works are mostly slowly narrated and could strike you to boredom if you cannot bear it. And still as usual, in Great Expectations Dickens made a wonderful story consists of colorful characters. From Pip we could learn perseverance, undying love, and the willingness to forgive, from Herbert optimism and cheerfulness, from Joe kindness and fatherly love, from Mr. Jaggers professionalism, from Miss Havisham the choice she made to avenge her ghastly fate. Can I say that human nature from its best to its worst can be found in Dickens’s works? If it’s true, then it will be my reason to love this book, along with its extraordinary story.
[A Little Thought About the Ending – Spoiler Alert!]
Not that I hate it, but it’s still hanging. I wouldn’t call it perfect like some Dickensians would. The re-marriage of Estella was mentioned, but with no further explanation. Has she been happy? Surely after eleven years, Estella has been through many things that could have shaped her into a more “humanly” figure. She said it herself on the final words of the novel (“I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.”) Could it be that there is an invisible happy ending for Pip and Estella? Call me mainstream for wanting happy endings, but I believe in second chances, and I believe even an Estella deserves a second chance. Or maybe it is my greatest desire to see a happy ending for Pip after all the trials and sufferings he has been through.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
592 pages, published April 2012 by Penguin Classics, a Penguin English Library edition (first published 1860)
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥