I have recently picked up a new habit. I started checking books on CD out and listening to them when I can. I figured I’d post my thoughts on some of the books I read as a new series here at the Thang. My first book was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
I was a little surprised by this book. There were parts in that book that were really funny. I was shocked when I found myself laughing out loud as Dickens amusingly described the adults surrounding young Pip (the main character) in the early parts of the book. I didn’t expect that at all going into this book written in 1861.
Great Expectations really is a lovely book. What I enjoyed most was the genuine beauty Dickens paints in human beings contrasted with the coldness and hardness that humans can display at times. I liked how our hero Pip displayed both strengths and weaknesses throughout the decades of his life portrayed. Most of all I loved how it showed that people living in the early 1800s in England were essentially no different than us. Technology changes quickly but apparently the basic characteristics of humanity don’t change much over time.
I might have given the book a a full fledged A if it weren’t so long. Dickens probably could have shaved 30-50 pages without losing much at all. I also think he went too crazy with the coincidences. One or two strange coincidences with characters overlapping is fine but Dickens takes these coincidences to ridiculous levels in his plot.
Here are a few random observations about the book:
I noticed that Dickens seemed to be a huge believer in a person’s character arising from nurture rather than nature — from their upbringing rather than their genes. For instance Pip’s sister who raised him was so different from Pip in personality that it was almost difficult to believe they came from the same gene pool. Pip’s love interest, Estella (who coincidentally turned out to be the child of his secret benefactor and the servant of his lawyer), was a strange sociopath and reportedly became a sociopath based entirely on her being raised by a crazy rich lady, Miss Havisham. The implication was that the crazy jilted Miss Havisham molded Estella into a ice-cold weapon designed to destroy the hearts of males. There is no indication in the story of Estella bringing any genetic propensities into life.
This book was written in Victorian England so it is not surprising that there is nary a mention of sex in the book. But it seemed a little strange to my 21st century mind that Pip grew up to be a 40 year old perpetual bachelor and while Pip was madly in love with Estella as a young man, there was no mention whatsoever of anything along the lines of his interest in women in general as an adult.
One of my favorite characters in the book was Mr, Wemmick, the grim-faced clerk of Pip’s lawyer/caretaker Mr. Jaggers. The great thing about this hard man Wemmick was that when he left work he became a jolly hail-fellow-well-met who lived a happy life with his aging deaf father (whom he amusingly called “The Aged Parent” or “Aged P”). The sweet joyful relationship they had at home was heart warming. Pip became real friends with Wemmick and ended up being the best man at Wemmick’s surprise wedding late in the book.
Pip was surrounded throughout the book by true friends who loved him and supported him even when he let them down at times. None was more saintly than his adopted father Joe, the simple blacksmith who never failed Pip regardless of how many times Pip failed Joe.
If you have read Great Expectations sound off here on your thoughts. If you have never read it let me assure you that this book is a classic for a reason. Well worth your while. Plus, President Monson is fond of quoting this book so if you read it you can nod with me in knowing appreciation with President Monson next time he mentions it.