Latest Book: “Great Expectations”

May 26, 2009    By: Geoff J @ 4:20 pm   Category: Book Reviews

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.

Grade: A-.

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.

9 Comments »

  1. Geoff, Brigham Young was also fond of Dickens, although off the top of my head I don’t recall any specific references to Great Expectations. People don’t seem to read Dickens anymore — it was fun to read your post.

    I’ve sometimes thought LDS singles groups contained mild versions of Miss Havishams — no ragged wedding dresses and rotting wedding cakes, maybe, but unable to move past some failed relationship.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — May 26, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  2. Hehe. Yeah it was pretty easy to see some modern folks in the characters (like your Miss Havisham reference).

    As I mentioned, I was startled at how amusing the writing was and how relevant the story seemed. I guess that is one of the markers of good art — it holds up over time.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 26, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

  3. I have tried Dickens several times and failed. He is one of the few classic authors I haven’t read, except for A Christmas Carol. This post makes me want to try again.
    AAnd a Book on Tape is how I finally got through Moby Dick, but the main thing I got from that experience is the ability to say I have read Moby Dick whenever the smallest opportunity arises; like right now.

    Comment by TStevens — May 27, 2009 @ 6:52 am

  4. Nice Moby Dick name-drop TStevens.

    What I discovered is that local libraries are chock-full-o’ good books on CD. With the advent of iPods and huge hard drives it is pretty easy to get a book on the iPod long enough to listen to it and then erase it when one is done.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 27, 2009 @ 9:22 am

  5. My library system now carries Digital Audio Books. They are the size of a pack of gum, require a AAA battry and some headphones. Otherwise the entire book is preloaded. They are small and convienent making it easy to carry the whole book around with you.

    Comment by TStevens — May 27, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

  6. When I saw the title of the post I optimistically clicked on it hoping it would be about the Dickens version because I’m such a fan. I studied this book in school circa 1999 and it’s always stuck with me. I’m definitely going to investigate an audio version asap.

    When my wife was pregnant I flirted with the idea of naming the child with a character name but the closest I got was Elle for a girl which I could claim derived from Estelle. Maybe there is time for a Magwich yet.

    Great book. And when I have heard it, or A Christmas Carol quoted I always feel a bit proud, for no reason at all.

    The two authors I’ll always think of Pres Monson referring to in talks are Charles Dickens and Halle Berry.

    Comment by barcelo — May 27, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

  7. Oh, the actor who read the book was incredible. I think this version was done in the 80s. His skills definitely enhanced the experience.

    Alright — you gotta explain the Halle Berry comment barcelo. (Great line BTW)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 27, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

  8. Well it looks like I got my ‘leaders of the church’ top trump cards mixed up because it was actually Elder Holland that quoted Halle Berry. The text of the talk only refers to “A Hollywood actress” (see footnote 10) but I’m pretty sure he referred to her by name in the talk or else I probably wouldn’t of remembered it.

    However, as a witness I’m clearly not very reliable as I would of sworn yesterday that it was Pres. Monson who spoke those words.

    Just on the issue of quoting Halle Berry, this is clearly something only an apostle could get away with doing.

    The only other similar experience I have had is a bishop of mine choosing a 5th sunday lesson to be about preparedness. He had just seen the movie The Day After Tomorrow and was clearly very excited about it. So much so he really wanted to show everyone part of it, he stood with the remote control and a piece of paper prompting him when to turn the volume down as to avoid the profanities. The funniest thing was seeing the 6 missionaries we had in the ward at the time, quite independently reach for their scriptures, turn to what looked like the same part of scripture and cover their ears, resulting in what looked like some weird sitting-on-a-chair-fetal position. Once the movie clip was over they resumed their participation in class.

    Ok so not quite the same, but pretty sure if that same Bishop had quoted Halle Berry , then those missionaries would have gone into a similar for of disapproval/auto pilot.

    Comment by barcelo — May 28, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  9. he stood with the remote control and a piece of paper prompting him when to turn the volume down as to avoid the profanities

    Ha! Awesome.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 28, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

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