Places to Go: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Literature provides us with one of the most powerful experiences of travel, all from the comfort of our front living room. Places to Go, People to See is a special feature that The Reader is bringing to you in the hope that it may provide some inspiration on how we can spend our time at home during lockdown. We will be posting extracts from stories which highlight special moments of travel and adventure for you to enjoy. This week Suvi Dogra shares a reading of, and her thoughts on, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
If ever there was a time to get into classics, it is perhaps now when you can spend quality time with the beautifully sketched out characters. Great Expectations is one such book. While I first read it many years ago and have read various excerpts in different shared reading settings since, my re-reading of it in recent days has given me a deeper insight into the characters, especially Pip. Have you ever felt like a fish out of water? That is perhaps how the young impressionable Pip feels when he is invited to the grand house of Miss Havisham.
In this excerpt from chapter 8 of the book, Pip is mesmerized by this enchanting yet spooky place he has come to. He soon picks on the fact that all is not well in this household, and time stopped here a long time ago. He is taken in by the grandeur of this life and also perceives how his life is very different. I remember reading this with an elderly reader who reminisced about visiting a grand house in the village she grew up in and how once a year they were invited for a feast to celebrate the harvest. “They had bananas on display in abundance, while for me bananas were a treat,” she mentioned. Much like Pip, she too grasped the difference in her regular farming household and that of the more prosperous family in the village.
Dressed in a wedding dress which has yellowed in time, Miss Havisham is a whimsical woman who tells Pip that she lives with a broken heart. Even though he is mesmerised by the ornate surroundings, Pip is quick to discern that the wedding dress was put on a young woman several years ago and the lady had never taken it off. However, she is also a woman who likes to keep herself amused, in this case by watching a boy play, which she orders Pip to do. Pip is too unnerved to acquiesce. He tells her that the situation is too new, too weird, and too melancholy. Miss Havisham remarks that the house is old and familiar to her, but she too finds it melancholy.
I find this moment poignant. It offers a glimpse into Pip’s aspiration for self-improvement and fitting in, his great expectation of himself. He wants to be a part of this new world that he has just entered, so much so that he chooses the word melancholy to describe Miss Havisham’s room instead of perhaps calling it what it was - daunting or scary even. It feels that in that moment, he has taken a big step of trying to belong to this newly discovered polite society of which he was oblivious until his visit to this mansion, albeit dark and devoid of its former glory. Yet it opened Pip’s world to new possibilities and dreams. It is truly fascinating how a new place or even a regular interaction can fuel our ambition to grow.