Friday, July 06, 2012

Small Expectations . . . Exceeded

There wasn't a specific reason that I picked up Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It's an unusual* choice for me because although I'm a big reader, I've intensely disliked Dickens because I found everything I tried to read of his when I was in high school (this would be for fun, he was never assigned reading) excruciatingly boring.

Perhaps it is because I had my expectations set so low that I enjoyed the book so much. I admit, there were parts that dragged, but for the most part, I found it quite engaging. There are characters I've heard about all my life, like Pip and Miss Havisham.

There is a lot about the stratified classes here. Pip, the protagonist, starts out poor and then climbs his way out of poverty with the help of an anonymous benefactor. But this isn't America we're talking about. Becoming upper class isn't a matter of getting money or access to money. There are a hundred different things that give you away as coming from dirt. Let me share with you a delightful passage. Directly after being told that has this benefactor, Pip is sent to London to get an education by tutor, Mr. Pocket. He fact becomes friends with Mr. Pocket's son and asks him that, since he "knew very little of the ways of politeness, I would take it as a great kindness in him if he would give me a hint whenever he saw me at a loss or going wrong."

We had made some progress in the dinner, when I reminded Herbert of his promise to tell me about Miss Havisham.
"True," he replied. "I'll redeem it at once. Let me introduce the topic, [Pip], by mentioning that in London it is not the custom to put the knife in the mouth—for fear of accidents—and that while the fork is reserved for that use, it is not put further in than necessary. It is scarcely worth mentioning, only it's as well to do as other people do. Also, the spoon is not generally used over-hand, but under. This has two advantages. You get at your mouth better (which after all is the object), and you save a good deal of the attitude of opening oysters, on the part of the right elbow."
Can you imagine a more gentle remonstration?

* Wow, the word unusual has the letter "u" three times.

1 comment:

  1. You never had Dickens as assigned reading? We read this. And David Copperfield as well. The thing that I must always remind myself is that these were written as serials and not meant to be read all in one sitting.