*wipes tears* I just finished my …third? re-reading of Great Expectations for the Classics Club Spin #4. Gosh, I love this book! Dickens somehow wrote this incredibly dark but funny, human but over-the-top, damning but forgiving masterpiece. He points his finger not just at Pip, or Miss Havisham, or Pumblechook, but at each one of us: “Why did you who read this commit that not dissimilar inconsistency of your own, last month, last week, last year?” (354) Dickens repeatedly asks the reader to pause and consider their own behavior throughout the book. Ultimately, it’s not that you do something wrong (that’s human, that’s everybody) but that you realize it, you suffer, and that you crave forgiveness.
It also contains completely stinging social commentary, and will make you think about what it is to be ambitious, what exactly you are striving for, and what truly defines wealth. The same goes for who is guilty, who is innocent, and what is crime (in many ways I kept on recalling Crime and Punishment as I read Great Expectations — Dickens and Dostoyevsky both delve into the grey area/things are not what they seem-ness of the so-called Law).
I love Dickens’ use of doubles throughout the novel: Estella and Biddy, Magwitch and Compeyson, Mrs. Joe and Miss Havisham, two instances of benefactors, two people who try to use children as a means to an end, two sides to Mr. Wemmick (how I love Mr. Wemmick! The wedding scene is the best wedding scene ever written!), two death masks in Mr. Jaggers’ office (and isn’t Mr. Jaggers an incredibly drawn character), two major asking for forgiveness scenes, and even two endings!
Speaking of the two endings, I used to feel very strongly that the original ending was the right one. Now, I’m not so sure. I think that once you’ve been batted around by life a bit and really understand this whole forgiveness thing you don’t see the second ending as a “happy sell out” ending per se, but maybe as a double to Pip and Joe’s reunion. It feels right structurally and it feels right heart-wise.
Go ahead — call me a sap. I forgive you.
image: “We found the aged heating the poker, with expectant eyes” by F. A. Fraser. c. 1877. An illustration for the Household Edition of Dickens’s Great Expectations. Every scene with The Aged P made me chuckle!