Frederick's Reviews > Great Expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
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's review
Mar 14, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: dickens, novels

SPOILER ALERT. Stop reading if you don't want crucial details revealed. (And I reveal stuff about another novel here, DAVID COPPERFIELD. So, be warned.)
Without summarizing the plot, I'll make a few observations.
My favorite chapters deal with the home life of Wemmick. I think the cannon on top of Wemmick's house must have inspired the bit about Admiral Boom in MARY POPPINS. (I don't know if Admiral Boom is in the Mary Poppins novels -- which, of course, were written in the mid-twentieth century by P.L. Travers -- or just in the Disney movie, but the same jaunty mood surrounds descriptions of Wemmick's house, with its drawbridge, flag and utter Englishness.
Wemmick, while at his office, does something terribly cruel to somebody, as does Steerforth (in DAVID COPPERFIELD) while at school. Wemmick is mean to a client, Steerforth is mean to a teacher. Dickens does not dwell on these instances of cruelty, but, had he been alive , say, in 1955, I think these moments of cruelty might have taken center stage. As it is, we are meant to like Wemmick and also Steerforth. The flaw we are meant to see in Steerforth is another flaw altogether, having to do with him running away with a woman who is engaged to another man. His lack of charity toward his teacher, near the beginning of DAVID COPPERFIELD, never gets another mention in the novel. Wemmick's cruelty to a client, occurring toward the end of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, is never referred to during the rest of the book's VERY fond treatment of Wemmick. We are told, throughout, that Wemmick completely separates his work life from his home life, which shows he would have made an interesting central character had Dickens chosen to make someone like him the focus of another novel, but the cruel side of Wemmick seems, really, to be an anomaly, as is Steerforth's cruelty. Maybe Dickens didn't know what to do with cruelty when an otherwise benevolent character showed it.
Miss Havisham: Obviously Faulkner and Tennesse Williams ran into a fair number of ladies rather like this one. The thing is, they were able to make such characters emblematic of their tragic society, the post-Civil War American South. But Dickens goes about as far with Miss Havisham as someone could go who was NOT making a point about his culture. She's fun and scary, but it is Jaggers and Pumblechook who represent the wretched class system, not Miss Havisham. She's as close to a ghost as this story has to offer, but the ghosts of A CHRISTMAS CAROL are ghosts to a "T". She's whack-a-doodle-doo, but I can't say she moves me.
Joe Gargery is a great character. He SEEMS two-dimensional, but he is, I think, the conscience of this novel. He is an example of self-sacrifice, but not of blind self-sacrifice.
Mrs. Joe is absolutely believable.
Herbert Pocket is to Pip as Traddles is to David Copperfield and Dickens is really good at showing the dynamics of friendship here. How Pip and Herbert initially meet is one of the delights of this novel, and I, for one, found their first encounter quite plausible. And funny as get all.
Magwitch: He would not have been out of place in HUCKLEBERRY FINN. He is Pap, Jim and the Duke and Dauphin rolled into one. Twain certainly took a major cue from Dickens.
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