Great Expectations⎟ When Books Gobble You Up

Dearest Reader,

Do you remember when I was reading Great Expectations, and I even did a lot of legwork to do research via methodologies and theory? Well, a strange thing happened; I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I then got a massive book hangover. Yes, I know that the book is intensely flawed. It is full of white feminism, and that is super problematic. But, boy, oh boy, is it such a good love story. She also does an extremely good job at representing 19th-C strikes, and the need for employers to listen to their workers as they communicate their needs. I even purchased the audiobook because I know that I am going to want that shiz in my life pretty much always. Cue Snape references, now. After this dramatic and rather romantic literary interlude, I got sucked into E.M Forster’s Maurice (that’s Morris not More-eece, for the non-Brits out there). Dear lord, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Well, as you can imagine, I got sucked into a whirlwind of really good reading material. It totally detracted from my Great Expectations of producing multiple podcasts for you guys. Sometimes, books just manage our lives more than we’ll ever know. Please read these books and get sucked away with me.

This means that I am rather unsure if I should try to write a Dickensian podcast when I am no longer in the mood for it. My somewhat odd mood is due to the fact that I am now reading George Gissing’s The Odd Women. It feels like the type of book that every feminist should read, except that they should not. I am almost halfway through the text, and I find it dreadful. The writing is not awful, but it is too close to the daily lives that women lead. It isn’t telling me anything new. At the time, it was super revolutionary because Gissing’s female characters were espousing a marriageless life in favour of a working life.  The book is also super classist. Only a particular type of woman could have this life. Some women, according to some of the characters, are just to weak-willed to marry. Or, the poor women, they were too unintelligible and unrefined to be ‘saved’. Ugh, how patronizing. Additionally, women of colour do not feature at all. I suppose I wanted to read this book and hear myself go ‘YES!’ that is exactly how I feel about this and this. Rather, I find that I am forcing myself to read through it. I’m almost tempted to ‘did not finish’ (DNF) this book. It isn’t exactly the book I want to open my podcast. If I am not enjoying it, then how will a listener?

In all likelihood, I will finish it–haha! But, I do not think I am going to make notes whilst reading. I’m just going to read in the moment. Maybe, I might begin with Maurice. It made me love EM Forster so much. I have not been the biggest fan of A Room with a View. It felt a little hollow for me, but I am also struck by the thought that I may want to revisit A Room in the future to have my mind changed. That is one of my favourite things about reading; you don’t have to like a book the first time you read it. You can leave it there, or, on some future date, you can pick the book up and give the relationship another chance. And, in this case, you won’t feel like your ex is still as annoying as ever.

Books I’ve Been Reading: 

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I’ll leave it there, dear Reader. Keep very well!

 

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay Xx

Great Expectations ⎟ Pip’s ‘sympathetic’ narration

 

great expectations Pip's 'sympathetic' narrations

Dear Reader,

I have read the first two months worth of Great Expectations [on page 132/457]. I have begun reading the third month’s releases, and I have to say, Dickens is really great at the cliff-hanger. I intended to do reviews based on each section, but I now consider it might be a bit dull to just garble plot at you. I want to do some character sketches on Miss Havisham and Mrs Joe Gargery; I want to pick out the ways women, femininity, and the disavowal of woman-ness (ooooo, such a loaded invented term) is treated by Dickens and our narrator, Pip. I know that I am going to want to include Estella and Biddy, too, so I thought that I would finish my re-read before I endeavoured that task.

I’ve read to the part where Mrs Joe has been attacked by Orlick? Did he? Didn’t he? Orlick enrages me because he is that person that reverses Mrs Joe’s nature so she becomes this ideal Victorian woman in the domestic sphere, who causes no strife. Except, now she is unable to tend to the house. I suppose the point is, throughout the beginning of the novel, that Mrs Joe does very little. But that is how Pip represents Mrs Joe to us, and we have to consider Pip’s narrative unreliable. I mean, food just appears in front of Pip at Christmas without much thought given to how much work Mrs Joe put into making the meal. We are given other clues to draw the conclusion of Pip’s unreliability; when he is asked to re-tell his experiences to adults, he does not give truthful accounts that coincide to what we’ve previously been told. Consider, for example, when he describes his visit to Miss Havisham’s to Mrs Joe and Mr Pumblechook very differently than what he describes to us. Later, he confesses to Joe that he made up what actually happened. Throughout these early sections, Pip is often afraid to confess to the truth or tell Joe things because he is afraid he will not be believed because of his past indiscretions.  We should keep this in mind.

That Pip confesses his lies to the adults to us works to convince the reader that we are getting the honest narration from Pip. We sympathise, or empathise depending on how well the effect works, with being young and being misunderstood or the anxiety of having to relay our experiences when in the past we’ve not been entirely honest or truthful. Thus, when Pip describes Miss Havisham, thus far, we really only get his account. Mr Pumblechook, when he offers Pip to Miss Havisham, says he has not met her. He cannot give an account of her personal character other than what he has learnt through others, including what Pip will tell him. Joe, who does meet Miss H, does not even respond to her. He does not give an account of her to collude with Pip’s description of her in a decayed wedding dress with spiders emerging from the black hole that is her wedding cake (obviously Joe did not witness this peculiarity, but the point still stands). We take Pip’s word that Miss H is what she is.

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The narration functions such that we are meant to identify with Pip. And, I think that the reason many people dislike Pip is because, perhaps, they do not identify with him–so they find him unreliable, annoying, prone to terrible choices, and a bit whiney. So, I thought my earlier reluctance to re-read Great Expectations was me just being fickle to this Dickensian experience, but I think it has to do more with the ways my skills of empathy have shifted; I remove myself from Pip and his actions, rather than trying to identify with him. Of course, there are things I do identify with, and that’s what makes Dickens so clever–it’s hard to untangle the web. So, perhaps, those readers who find the book dull or difficult to read are just not convinced by Pip and the story he is telling.

Thus, an ongoing thread of discussion that I will maintain throughout this series on Great Expectations is Pip’s narration. Pip does share politely embarrassing accounts of his youth. The story with the convict will become a formative part of the plot and Pip’s (false-)actualization of being a gentleman, but he does share his role in aiding said convict to escape. He thieves from his brother-in-law, Joe, and takes the Christmas pork pie, and gives it to the escaped man. These are fairly damning acts. But they are also the acts of a child, who is alone, afraid, and who has no person(s) but us to confide (as an adult). That is something we need to remember, Pip, as a child, would not have had the language to articulate how and what he feels the way he is able to describe as an educated adult, reflecting. Joe, thus, becomes a foil to Pip’s self-expression. And we should take note of the way that Joe narrates his past (as told to us by Pip) and how Pip expresses his own sense of growing up, coming of age, and years of formulation.

If we need a clear sense of Pip’s inability to express himself, when he is young, we need to look no further than his shyness around Miss Havisham and Estella. The older Pip clads his narrative by explaining that he was gaining a consciousness of his lowly class, but younger Pip is quiet, shy, and rather upset. When he is left alone after this first encounter, he cries. He cannot verbally express his emotions, so we are told that he was overwrought. Tears are important here, too, to contrast Estella’s learned hardness, crafted and fuelled by Miss H, with Pip’s emotional display that enhances his softness and vulnerability. Pip defends his display of emotions in the description of his next visit, when he encounters the young boy who encourages him to fight him. Pip easily wins the fight against this physically soft young man. Thus, we get the older Pip forming his younger self as wronged by a particular kind of femininity that is wrong but more masculine than the supposedly genteel, young man, who performs a false masculinity and cannot defend himself against Pip. Even in this encounter, Pip cannot communicate to the other boy what he feels. He simply does what he is told to do. It is the elder Pip who constructs and contrasts the characteristics of other persons to inform us how we should read and relate to him and his story.

Alright, reader, I had better get back to reading more about Pip. Let me know what you’re reading and what you think about it in the comments. 

Heaps of love,

wordplay xx

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Great Expectations ⎟ Materiality of the Book & Serialization

great expectations - materiality of the book & serialization

I called this project Serial because of the serialization of Dickens’s novels. Serialization is really fascinating; I would describe it as being akin to the scheduled release of television shows. In fact, that is *definitely* the origin of the filmic medium. And, that, to me, is absolutely hilarious—can we all share a group chuckle? I don’t know why I find it so peculiar; we often use analogy to describe things that are historical or out of our current experience, but I just love the idea that the serialization of novels/fictions is how we consume cinematic/filmic media instalments of television shows. I imagine that DVD collections, Netflix, and other streaming services that offer all of the episodes would be akin to the publication of the whole book. Would I carry around a boxed-set of DVDs? Maybe. Like, if it was Harry Potter or The West Wing or Poirot, mais oui, but of course!

Great Expectations was published in 35 parts from 1 December 1860 to 3 August 1861 in All the Year Round, a magazine of which Dickens owned the majority holdings. It was also published in the U.S by Harper’s Weekly.

  1. December 1860 had 5 parts released, consisting of chapters 1-8.
  2. January 1861 had 4 parts released, consisting of chapters 9-15.
  3. February had 3 parts released, consisting of chapters 16-21.
  4.  March had 5 parts released, consisting of chapters 22-29.
  5. April had 4 parts released, consisting of chapters 30-37.
  6. May had 4 parts released, consisting of chapters 38-42.
  7. June had 5 parts released, consisting of chapters 43-52.
  8. July had 4 parts released, consisting of chapters 53-57.
  9. August had 1 part released, consisting of chapters 58-59.

Rather than follow each part’s release date, which would leave me with 35 posts on Great Expectations, [Bah, said Scrooge, Humbug///]. I will go by the monthly releases, which should give me about 8-9 plot-driven discussions, with space to add a few more posts or not, to talk about things that I feel I’ve over-looked or about which I’ve changed my mind.

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First serial of Great Expectations. Courtesy of: George C. Gordon Library.

Let’s consider how the release of the parts of the novel in serial form make the work more digestible and approachable for a reader. According to Robert Patten in Charles Dickens and His Publishers, about 100,000 copies of All the Year Round sold each week. The portability of the magazine meant that it could be shared, meaning that, although 100,000 copies sold each week, the readership was much higher. Dickens’s stories were read aloud in groups, shared, and, I like to imagine, pilfered by unsuspecting readers in coffee shops, the most dubious of public spheres. That is a lot of readers, particularly in an age (in Britain) where literacy was inconsistent. 

I think that most of the reason readers don’t pick up Dickens’s works is because of how large they are. But imagine, not watching Orange is the New Black because there are TOO MANY episodes, without SENSE, am I right? The hand-held, portability of the magazine serialization made Dickens’s words travel, across space, classes, and nations. I love to imagine the sheer volume of Dickens’s words travelling across London as rail travel made living out of the city viable and desirable, John Wemmick, a character in this very story, for example. Work on the Tube, as it is known now, began in 1860, as the Metropolitan Railway, from Paddington toe Farringdon Street. That is something we should also remember when reading Dickens. Just as we are attached to new and developing technology, advances are also to be noted and found in Dickens’s works. We might not notice them because they have existed for us for all time, but railways and travel by rail was a huge topic of debate. Let’s not forget that the railway in Tolstoy stood for the dangers of modernity, the artifice of women (such as in Anna Karenina). 

So we’ve noted that Dickens’s words were portable. The heavy tomes that we now, lovingly, lug around in handbags or saddlebags, whichever your fancy, were not the same that its original readers experiences. Indeed, collated publications of Dickens’s novels usually occurred within the year of its last serial publication. So, they did exist in his time. Today, I sometimes think that the books we read in public also dictate to other people information that we may or may not want to share about ourselves. Like the clothes we wear and the airs we adopt, the public face of reading also indicates things about us to other people. I’m not sure I have any conclusions to draw about this at this time, but it’s something to consider about the books we read, where we read them, and their visibility.

Let’s also take a moment to think about the illustrations of Dickens’s novels. My edition does not have any illustrations, which is such a loss. It doesn’t make the book more adult when you remove the illustrations!!!! I love that Dickens’s stories had accompanying illustrations. I think that the visual world offered by these illustrations gives so much more to the text. It opens a space for more information and different interpretations of the texts. It also provides information that less literate or less-well-read readers can use to piece together information. Since, my edition doesn’t have illustrations, I am going to have to align them when I’m reading. From a cursory examination of the original publications, the illustrations were a later addition. So, I forgive Barnes and Noble their lack of illustrations–not. Ahah! The original illustrations were completed by Frank Stone in 1862; he completed eight for the Library Edition. Later illustrators include F.A Fraser, John Mclennan, Sol Eytinge Jr., and Henry Mathew Brock. 

The serialization of the novel also permits the author to employ cliffhangers and other plot techniques to keep the reader hooked. This might make the work seem to be fighting for your attention, or to have artificial highs and lows, but it also means that the author has to work hard to keep the story gripping and engaging because, if nineteenth-century readers are anything like me, I always forget to tune in next week to find out what happens. Luckily, I have the internet to sort that out. But, I also think that as the member of a very small family (there is only 4 of us AT ALL), with friends strewn across the world, I have an experience that means I hear about a lot less things on a daily basis, compared to when I was in high school or at uni. 

I love the disparity between our experience with Dickens as somewhat unapproachable and out of touch–his books are big AF and his language is complex and full of allusions and his experiences and those of his contemporaries. I am sure that many allusions flew over people’s heads, as they do mine, but that’s part of reading and all creative media. I mean, when I was about 12 and I tried to read Little Dorrit I had no idea what the heck a Marseilles was, turns out it’s a place–HAHA. But because I didn’t know it, it made me want to know it. So, I lived life, and when I learnt that Marseilles was a place, I got it more. And, later, as I learnt history and ideas of nationality and character, I got that the story started outside England in a very meaningful way–but we’ll get to Little Dorrit a little later. Spoiler: IT IS MY FAVOURITE DICKENS *jumps up an down like an over-excited toddler*

Heaps of love,

wordplay xx

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