advertisement
advertisement

Raised by his tyrannical sister and her kind, doting husband Joe, Pip is contented enough to become a blacksmith and live out his life by the misty Kent marshlands. That is until he is unexpectedly thrown into the path of two extraordinary people. The first is a convict, escaped from the prison barges offshore, a terrifying man who coerces the young Pip into stealing him some supplies from his sister's larder. Stricken by guilt and terror, Pip complies. The second is the mysterious Miss Havisham, a spinster woman who employs Pip as a playmate for her young ward, the beautiful Estella. Estella is regal, snobbish and cold - naturally, Pip falls head over heels in love with her, despite the realization that she's far beyond his status. Wretchedly aware of his own shortcomings, Pip yearns for a chance to make a gentleman of himself, and win the hand of fair Estella.

And then, just as unexpectedly, fortune is thrown his way. He is informed by Miss Havisham's lawyer that a secret benefactor has endowed him with great expectations, and that he is to travel to London in order to prepare for his future. The only catch is that Pip is forbidden from investigating the origins of his newfound fortune, although logic dictates that it must be Miss Havisham, who surely has designs for both Pip and Estella. Locked up in a house full of bitter memories after she was jilted by her lover, Miss Havisham is certainly one of Dickens's most famous creations, with her own disturbing brand of revenge against mankind: to unleash her protégée Estella out upon the world, to break hearts wherever she goes.

Dickens has created a twisty and labyrinthine plot, with plenty of intrigue and adventure throughout, as familial bonds, secret alliances and loyalty among friends and work colleges are tried and tested. In typical Dickensian style, there are several extraordinary coincidences concerning shrouded parentage and wayward meetings, but everything hangs so well together that it's instantly forgivable. "Great Expectations" is Dickens at his best in terms of plotting and characterization; though there is a melancholy twinge throughout that no doubt stems from Dickens's personal trouble (he had recently divorced his wife, and has carrying on a stress-filled love affair with a young actress). As such, romanticized domestic bliss that so often concludes a Dickens's novel (reflective of Dickens's own longing for such a state) is completely absent here. The domestic angel-woman that is given so many names and forms throughout the canon of Dickens novels (here called Biddy, though she is virtually identical to dozens of other Dickens heroines) comes to a surprising end in "Great Expectations", as does Pip himself.


advertisement

Pip himself is certainly an interesting character; in that he is woefully aware of his own shortcomings, yet unable drop certain attitudes that make him miserable. After becoming accustomed to the life at Miss Havisham's manor house, he is frustrated to find that he now holds his beloved brother-in-law Joe in contempt, embarrassed at his low breeding and lack of gentlemanly manners (despite the fact that Joe was always his staunch ally against Pip's terrible sister, and the epitome of the virtuous commoner). Likewise is Pip's self acknowledgment that his love for Estella never brings him any happiness, only pain and longing. The fact that Pip is narrating his own story from a point in time *beyond* the proceedings mean that we are never overly critical of Pip, considering he is his own harshest critic when relating his behaviour - and it certainly makes you consider your own shortcomings.

This is not to say that the whole story is woe and misery, as there are plenty of comedic characters that help lighten the mood, such as Pip's best friend Herbert Pocket, who (at their first meeting) challenges him to a fight, and Mr Wemmick, who survives his job by assuming two personalities: a grim and dour one during working hours, and a cheerful one when he returns home. There are several moments of humour in Pip himself, (though they are usually tempered by a sense of disappointment or miscommunication) such as his misreading of his parent's gravestone, or his excitement in reaching London gradually dissipating when he realizes that...well, that it's a bit of a hole.