Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Great Expectations, post the second

Chapter 4
  • Spoke too soon. The Gargery-Pirrip family will be going through the Christmas rituals after all.
  • "So, we had our slices served out, as if we were two thousand troops on a forced march instead of a man and boy at home; and we took gulps of milk and water, with apologetic countenances, from a jug on the dresser."
  • "Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself."
  • "I was always treated as if I had insisted on being born in opposition to the dictates of reason, religion, and morality, and against the dissuading arguments of my best friends."
  • "I opened the door to the company,—making believe that it was a habit of ours to open that door,—and I opened it first to Mr. Wopsle, next to Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, and last of all to Uncle Pumblechook. N.B. I was not allowed to call him uncle, under the severest penalties."
  • " the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye"
  • If you've gotten this far into the book and are not feeling profoundly sorry for Joe Gargery, I'm not sure we're on speaking terms any more. That man needs a hug. And while I don't remember all the details from the last time I read the book, I'm fairly sure he's not going to get one.
  • For the moment, things look bad for Pip, as it turns out he didn't water down the brandy to cover what he gave the convict, he poured the infamous tar-water into it.
  • There's another reference to the fact that Pip is looking  back and telling this story, and it's a curiously phrased one: "I moved the table, like a Medium of the present day, by the vigor of my unseen hold upon it." But I guess the paranormal stuff didn't really get started until the last third of century.
  • This is one of the rare occasions in literature where the arrival of soldiers bearing handcuffs is actually a good thing. In a way.

Chapter 5
  • For a character who never gets a name of his own, the sergeant is a rather clever bit on Dickens' part. He knows just what to say to everyone -- and manages to flirt with Mrs. Joe while keeping a straight face.
  • Poor Joe. Everyone else gets to sit around and drink wine while he has to follow his Christmas dinner with a stint at the anvil.
  • "I thought what terrible good sauce for a dinner my fugitive friend on the marshes was."
  • I love that Pip now thinks of the man as "my particular convict."
  • Curiouser and curiouser: When they catch the two convicts down at the marshes, Pip's convict makes a point of noting that he captured the other one. When the sergeant points out it's not likely to get him any time off, "'I don't expect it to do me any good. I don't want it to do me more good than it does now,' said my convict, with a greedy laugh. 'I took him. He knows it. That's enough for me.'"
  • Clearly there's a history between these two men. Otherwise, wouldn't they put a little more effort into dealing with the fact that the soldiers have recaptured them?
  • "It had been almost dark before, but now it seemed quite dark, and soon afterwards very dark."
  • And Pip's convict is demonstrating his humanity here, claiming he stole the food Pip brought him. This chapter is really just a stroke of luck for Pip.

Chapter 6
  • This is an excessively short chapter.
  • Why Pip doesn't make a confession of his own: "The fear of losing Joe's confidence, and of thenceforth sitting in the chimney corner at night staring drearily at my forever lost companion and friend, tied up my tongue."
  • And there's the theme, right there: "In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong. I had had no intercourse with the world at that time, and I imitated none of its many inhabitants who act in this manner. Quite an untaught genius, I made the discovery of the line of action for myself."

Don't forget, Leila's got the full list of posts over at Bookshelves of Doom!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Great Expectations, post the first

Leila is blogging Great Expectations. Which is awesome.  (Follow her posts here.)

I haven't read it all the way through since high school.1 So let's see how far this attempt goes.

Chapter 1
  • Dickens knew his openings: "My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip." It doesn't make a lot of sense (or rather, parents who stick their kid with the name Philip Pirrip don't make sense, though they're certainly plausible), but the way he says it suggests there's more to it.
  • It's always struck me as odd when adults in nineteenth-century fiction call each other by their married names, especially when they grew up together (e.g. "my sister Mrs. Norris), but Pip only thinking of his sister as Mrs. Joe? Totally makes sense.
  • I am a sucker for marshes. Have I mentioned that before?
  • Also skillful: first-person narration that keeps its distance from the narrator: "At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dikes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip"
  • The convict? Utterly terrifying. And yet we're not very much in Pip's head here; we get lines like "I earnestly expressed my hope that he wouldn't."
  • The w-for-v substitution in "wain" and "wittles" -- what dialect is that supposed to be?
  • More great writing: "The marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as I stopped to look after him; and the river was just another horizontal line, not nearly so broad nor yet so black; and the sky was just a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed."

Chapter 2
  • Does Mrs. Joe have any redeeming qualities? We certainly don't find out about them when we first meet her.
  • Of course, Joe has his merits, but Dickens isn't too kind to him either: "a sort of Hercules in strength, and also in weakness."
  • "Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame."
  • Pip gets tucked into the chimney and then out onto a stool in a matter of sentences. There is clearly room for exploration here if you're turning this into a film.
  • Mrs. Joe's bread-and-butter preparations? Oh, my. What a look into the household.
  • Secreting one's bread in one's trouser leg is never a simple operation: "The effort of resolution necessary to the achievement of this purpose I found to be quite awful."
  • "At the best of times, so much of this elixir was administered to me as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about, smelling like a new fence."
  • It's Christmas Eve. And we're only just now finding this out. The Germans have definitely not made their impact on English traditions yet. (Because, after all, Pip is looking back to his youth, which must have been pre- or proto-Victorian.)
  • "But she never was polite unless there was company."
  • "from Mrs. Joe's thimble having played the tambourine upon it, to accompany her last words"

Chapter 3
  • Does this remind anyone else of the troll in Harry Potter? "I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief."
  • "One black ox, with a white cravat on,—who even had to my awakened conscience something of a clerical air"
  • Pip's definitely identifying with the convict here. First the bread down his trousers reminds him of the leg irons, and now it's the way the cold attaches itself to his feet.
  • "Something clicked in his throat as if he had works in him like a clock, and was going to strike."
1 During which I remember being less than impressed with it. I definitely remember making the argument that this was basically a soap opera, and the only reason those got sneered at while this got studied was that it was Dickens who wrote it. Which fact I do not remember my teacher appreciating.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Reading break links

I'm halfway through Paul Shackel's Memory in Black and White, so I've put down the notebook for a few minutes so I can post some links instead:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I Vote

It sounds glib, but I'm voting because there is absolutely no reason not to.
  • It's legal. Nothing stopping me there.
  • I'm registered in Massachusetts. Even that was almost frictionless. I filled out a form at a table set up directly in front of my T stop on National Voter Registration Day, and a week or two later, my confirmation arrived in the mail.
  • I have time. Polling stations here are open from 7 AM to 8 PM on Tuesday. (Yes, Tuesday. Apparently there are robocalls in the area suggesting otherwise. Nope.) I start work at 9 and get out of class by 6:30. 
  • I know who I'm going to vote for. None of that undecided business here. (And I care about the outcome of the two important races on the ticket.)
  • My polling place is easy to get to. I walk down the street two blocks, turn the corner, and I'm there. (It is not, however, the closest I've ever lived to where I vote. When I lived in Wisconsin, I voted at the DMV branch directly across the street from my apartment. Wisconsin also had same-day registration, which was great.)
I don't deny that I tend toward laziness (see: amount of note-taking I still have to do for Tuesday's class). But -- especially compared to these people -- voting is an easy thing for me to do. So look for my "I voted" sticker.