Sunday, April 29, 2012

In which I repurpose some Dickens' characters, as I believe they are in the public domain. (Sundays With the Classics)

On Sundays With the Classics, I blog each week about the current classic book I'm reading.  Right now, I'm on Great Expectations.

I've further refined what I think this feature will be like.  Because I don't want to read nothing but classics all the time, I've decided that Monday through Saturday I can read whatever I like, but Sundays, if I read, the only thing I read will be the classic I'm currently reading.

And also: when I post about them, I'm going to limit myself to 10-15 minutes or so to do the post, tops, to keep this from getting too long.

And also: I'm not sure what book I'll read next, but I'm nearly 1/3 of the way through Great Expectations, so if you've got some ideas, let me know.

Part one of Great Expectations is here.

Here's what I was thinking as I read today:  Have you ever stopped to think how grim the beginning of Great Expectations is?

It opens in a graveyard, for crying out loud, and moves from there to a scene in a pub where Pip is accosted by a stranger who makes gun-pointing gestures at him and shows him the file he stole for Abel Magwitch, and goes from that to the bizarre and haunting estate of Miss Havisham -- an abandoned brewery, weed-strewn courtyard leading to a nearly dark house in which a half-dressed, waxlike corpse-y woman lingers clinging to a timeless existence, making Pip walk her around what was to have been a wedding feast but which is now infested with mice, spiders and beetles.  Then, Mrs. Joe Gargery is nearly killed and rendered insensible by a mysterious assailant (just after the entry of Dolge Orlick, who appears out of nowhere).

Everything is dark and misty and mysterious and full of death and mysterious portents; on the very night that Pip visits Miss Havisham and Mrs. Joe is nearly killed, he spends the evening with Mr. Wopsle and Mr. Pumblechook, with Mr. Wopsle acting out "the affecting tragedy of George Barnwell."*

*The affecting tragedy of George Barnwell is a play about a man who is seduced by a courtesan and convinced to rob his employer and murder his uncle.  It was apparently routinely performed for apprentices, probably because George Barnwell dies, repentant, in the end.  In that respect, it seems to me it was something like the training video a lot of companies relied on in the 1980s, the main training in Dickens' day being "don't murder your relatives or steal from your employer."  Thanks to The Digital Dickens for that info.

If Edgar Allan Poe had written this kind of thing, we couldn't help but be thinking "This is quite a grim story going on, here."  Instead, Friday night, having a burger with my old law school roommate, we were talking about my re-reading the book, and I mentioned that while it wasn't "laugh out loud funny" I found it to all be quite amusing.

I think it's the language.  It has to be the language.  Through all his disliking himself and the scary, gothic doings, Pip remains a funny storyteller and a wry observer of the human condition.  Looking at Camilla, Miss Havisham's relative, as she recounts her tale of the troubles she goes through to worry about Miss Havisham (being so troubled by her thoughts that she must frequently lay down), Pip says:

"Here, Camilla put her hand to her throat, and began to be quite chemical as to the formation of new combinations there."

I don't know why I found that amusing, but I do - -just as I found amusing the story of the fight with the Pale Young Gentleman.

So there's what I noticed most about the book this week: filled with convicts, the Hulks, a bereavement, a spider-filled cake in a gloomy sepulchral room, a fight, a near-murder, fog, marshes, a graveyard, and more -- and Dickens has me chuckling about it. 

I also noticed this line, which isn't funny but which I liked, a lot.  Pip goes into the room where Miss Havisham's bridal-cake rots, and says (in part)

 "Certain wintry branches of candles on the high chimney-piece faintly lighted the chamber; or it would be more expressive to say, faintly troubled its darkness."

Faintly troubled its darkness is such a better way to say that than barely lit the room -- because darkness is the accustomed state of affairs in the room, and the light, rather than being welcome in that horrible place, faintly troubles it.  I couldn't stop thinking about that phrase, all day.**

**the other phrase I couldn't get out of my mind was the part where Miss Havisham's terrible relatives are all talking about some recent event where the children were supposed to be dressed in better bereavement clothing than the husband wanted, and the husband finally gives in and "said with a D" that he would pay for the garments.  I looked up "said with a D" and it apparently means "Said with a Damn."  I bet that back then, Victorians couldn't bring themselves to say Damn anymore than they could say God's name. ***

***The other thing I've been doing all day is calling Mr F and Mr Bunches, respectively,  Pumblechook and Wopsle, because those are fun words to say.*4

*4 Also, I had the idea that perhaps I could do a series of short stories in a collection I'd call "Pumblechook & Wopsle's Guide To Surviving Every Dimension," in which it's revealed that the two men only showed up in Dickens' book as such buffoons because they were real-life Victorian scientists, of a sort, who had adventures in multiple dimensions and were thus heroes of high society, leading Dickens to be jealous of them and want to bring them down.


Andrew Leon said...

I dropped Three Musketeers back onto my reading stack after my younger son finished it. It's been since high school since I read it, and I want to see what's like now.

Sylvia Ney said...

What a fun way to meet this challenge! So glad I stopped by.

New follower here. I’m enjoying reading my fellow “A to Z”ers. I look forward to visiting again.


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