Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Great Expectations update

Once again I've finished reading Great Expectations, and once again I've remembered how much I love this novel and how much I hate the endings--for there are two endings, and both are awful. Most of you probably haven't finished the book yet, so I won't start blatting on about this topic. But inevitably they are a letdown and thus are on my mind.

Nonetheless, I will try to ignore the endings, and focus on the character of Pip. Dickens's handling of this character is masterful. He begins by making us love the child, and we continue to love the boy and the man, though we wince again and again at his errors . . . at least partly, in my case, because I recognize myself in those errors. I, too, have been painfully embarrassed by the people who have loved me best. What Pip does to Joe, I have done to my own parents and grandparents. It's a sin, and an unforgivable one, yet generation after generation of adolescent children detach themselves from their elders, assert a foolish superiority over them, forget to remember their loneliness. Perhaps it's the flip side of independence, this ignorance. Perhaps it's a necessary way to cut the ties of childhood; but if so, it's a cruel necessity.

Here's a passage from GE that I read a few days ago and have been thinking about since:

That [Miss Havisham] had done a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded pride found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that her mind, brooding solitary, and grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker; I knew equally well. And could I look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in the world?

I think this list of vanities is terribly moving, and apt, and delicate in its comprehension of the poisons inherent in self-examination. Unworthiness and remorse can indeed be vanities, and Miss Havisham's character is not evil so much as diseased by its own misery.

Tomorrow I'll write a little about Moby-Dick. I've reached chapter 37 and should start moving more rapidly now that Great Expectations is behind me.

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