Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review #15: What the Dickens?

Writer: Charles Dickens [adapted by Jen Green/Brigit Viney]

Artist: John Stokes

Published: Gale/Cengage Learning, 2010

I've never read any Charles Dickens. Shocking, I know. I have, however, seen The Muppet Christmas Carol and the South Park episode based on Great Expectations, but that was so long ago that I had forgotten everything except that there's a crazy old lady.

Dickens actually wrote the part of Bob Cratchit with a frog in mind

So, thanks to another comic book adaptation, I have now read Great Expectations.


Meet Pip, the young orphan who will be our narrator. He lives with his bitchy sister and her husband, Joe, the local blacksmith. Pip is sent by his sister to the home of one Ms. Havisham, to play with her adopted daughter, Estella. Turns out, Ms. Havisham is an old, bitter woman because some guy left her at the alter years ago. She still wears her wedding dress and keeps the dinner table set up as it was on the day her heart was broken. Needless to say, she has issues. And she is determined, nay, adamant in her plans to pass these issues on to her daughter.

Because of the beautiful Estella's disdainful treatment of him, Pip becomes ashamed of his “common” status. He immediately gets his friend “Biddy” to begin tutoring him so that he can start down his path toward uncommonness. Over the following months, he continues going to Ms. Havisham's to play with Estella and falls in love with her, though she is cruel to him. Pip eventually becomes a blacksmith apprentice and stops going to see Ms. Havisham and Estella. He works for Joe for a few years, but he is still unsatisfied with life as a commoner.

bitch, please!

One day, a lawyer named Mr. Jaggers [Mick?] shows up to tell Pip that he has a secret benefactor who will fund his journey into gentlemanhood. So, Pip moves to London, where he lives with a Mr. Pocket, his instructor on gentlemanliness. Pip not only learns to be a gentleman, but he begins to learn about Ms. Havisham's mysterious past, as well as the identity of his mysterious benefactor. So much mystery!


Seeing as how it was written around the same time as Pride & Prejudice, it is not hard to draw some parallels. The language was very similar, of course, but I found Dickens less stuffy. Austen was born into a higher social class, so it makes sense that her language would be more pretentious. “Good manners” and all that jazz are a central theme in both, but P&P operates only from an insider's perspective. P&P was about social class in the same way that a private jet is about air travel: all it had was rich people problems, without any lower-class context for comparison. Like I said, Austen was probably unfamiliar with the struggles of being “common”, which is understandable, but it makes for a one-dimensional world.

Dickens' world has things like “intrigue”, “characters with depth”, and “stuff that is identifiable for a modern young man”. I could actually identify with the characters in this story. P&P was about rich people getting married. Being neither rich nor interested in marriage [like a friend of mine recently asked me, “would you cross the street if statistics told you half of people who cross the street are hit by cars?”], I was bored out of my gourd. Also, there was never any doubt in my mind about how P&P was going to end: everyone is married and happy. If it had ended any other way, it would have been boring AND depressing. And who wants to read that?

Dickens is more interested in the personal costs of status. Pip gives up a life that he may have been happy with, had he not fallen in love with a girl who rejects him because of his class. When Pip discovers the truth about his benefactor, he learns that some things are better left unknown. And by the end, he learns that despite everything, people can still change for the better. That's character growth. I just didn't see that in P&P.

Man, why do I keep hating on Jane Austen? Sorry, Jane Austen... you did your best.

Anyway, if there's one thing I took away from Great Expectations, it's that class is a meaningless social construct.

The artwork was OK, but it had a certain generic quality to it. I found that some of the characters looked too similar, like the artist had five different designs and had to keep reusing them. I enjoyed how the text itself is lowercase to show when a speaker is whispering, and the comic-standard ALL CAPS FOR NORMAL SPEECH AND YELLING.

well, I thought they all looked similar, anyway...

There were a few parts that I suspect had more significance in the novel, like when Pip falls asleep by the shore when he is pondering his new life that awaits him in London, or the dinner party at the Pocket residence when the cook is drunk. They seem like odd little interjections that were likely fleshed out in the original, but perhaps could have been left out of the adaptation.

Also, I learned in my research that Dickens changed his original ending because people thought it was too much of a downer. I thought that was funny. Upon reading both, I prefer the downer ending.

So, I was pleasantly surprised at how non-boring this book was. You could say I had some... NOT-SO-GREAT EXPECTATIONS!! BAHAHAHA.

On that note, I think I need to leave the house, as I have not yet done that today.

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