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.

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