My friend Jerry gave me a copy of this book since I had never read it before. I wanted to read more Dickens (a writer whose works were noticeably missing from the list of books I’d read) and this was a great one.
To briefly sum up this book, it is the story of Pip, an orphaned boy who is brought up by his harsh aunt and her kind but timid husband Joe. Pip is “hired” by the rich and bitter Miss Havisham to spend time with her foster daughter, Estella, with whom Pip falls hopelessly in love. Pip then mysteriously comes into wealth from an unknown source and moves from the country to London to become a gentleman. As the story plays out, it becomes an exploration of social contrasts: expectation and reality; country life and city life; rich and poor; public and private; free and incarcerated; and so forth.
Throughout the book, people with great expectations often suffer the pain of having those expectations crushed by reality. I found this as a representation of Romantic idealism failing in the harsh light of social realism. A great example of this early in the book is Miss Havisham, who was duped by a con-man and left on her wedding day. Her shattered dreams and expectations caused her to crumble and decay internally. This internal decay is also reflected in her surroundings, as she allows her grand home to decay around her.
“On this day of the year, long before you were born, this heap of decay,” stabbing with her crutched stick at the pile of cobwebs on the table but not touching it, “was brought here. It and I have worn away together. The mice have gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed at me.”
She held the head of her stick against her heart as she stood looking at the table; she in her once white dress, all yellow and withered; the once white cloth all yellow and withered: everything around, in a state to crumble under a touch.
One of the sad realities of life that I have personally come to accept is the loss of friendship, not as a result of anything drastic, but just because people end up taking different paths in life which often lead us in divergent directions. Dickens poignantly expresses this in a scene where Joe accepts that he will no longer share the close relationship with Pip because Pip’s life has taken a different course.
“Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there’s been any fault at all to-day, it’s mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends. It ain’t that I am proud, but that I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I’m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’marshes. You won’t find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe. You won’t find half so much fault in me if, supposing you should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work. I’m awful dull, but I hope I’ve beat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so God bless you, dear old Pip, old chap, God bless you.”
(pp. 248 – 249)
One of the things I found fascinating about this book is how relevant it still is to today’s society. We are still obsessed with wealth and often judge individuals by their material success. We also judge people by appearance, especially those we feel fall into the category of criminal types (I’m thinking about racial profiling here). There is no doubt that incarceration in prison changes a person, but we as a society see that as a permanent stain on that individual’s character, regardless of any effort made by that individual to change. This is expressed in a scene where Pip is harboring the escaped convict, Provis. Regardless of Pip’s attempts to disguise him, he still looks like a convict in Pip’s eyes.
Next day the clothes I had ordered, all came home, and he put them on. Whatever he put on, became him less (it dismally seemed to me) than what he had worn before. To my thinking there was something in him that made it hopeless to attempt to disguise him. The more I dressed him and the better I dressed him, the more he looked like the slouching fugitive on the marshes. This effect on my anxious fancy was partly referable, no doubt, to his old face and manner growing more familiar to me: but I believe too that he dragged one of his legs as if there were still a weight of iron on it, and that from head to foot there was Convict in the very grain of the man.
At first, it was difficult for me to feel pity for Pip, because he is often so arrogant and treated those who loved him poorly because he was embarrassed by their social standing. But then as I thought about it, there were certainly times, particularly in my youth, when I was embarrassed by certain friends and family and didn’t want to appear to be too close with them while with other acquaintances that I wanted to make a good impression with. But like Pip, as I matured and went through life experiences, I changed and became a better person (I think). By the time I reached the end of the book, I saw more of myself in Pip, a person humbled by life’s experiences, willing to take responsibility for mistakes made, and eager to make amends to the loved ones he had harmed.
As I mentioned in the title, this is my 500th post on Stuff Jeff Reads. I have to say that this has far surpassed my expectations for this blog. At this point, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and to share yours. It’s only because of the interesting, creative, and supportive people I’ve met through blogging that I have continued thus far. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and I hope your day is filled with books and happiness!