The first thing that Great Expectations makes me think of is that line in that Alanis Morrissette song “All I Really Want” where she yodels, “I’m like Estella, I like to reel ‘em in and then spit ‘em out”—which during my middle-school years I thought was “I’m like Costello,” which led me to vaguely believe that Alanis and Elvis Costello had had a sordid romance, much like her actual love affair with Uncle Joey from Full House, which… really… if you had gone down on him in the theater… it just wouldn’t be the kind of thing you’d put in your lead single.
I like Charles Dickens enough. I think he’s extremely humorous at times and I love the London that his books are set in—this motley, dirty, dangerous, watery urban space that’s now pretty well covered up by today’s stylish candy-box London. Rereading this book, which I did last week, I was also struck by how perfectly stylized Dickens’s visual details are: “It was a dark night, though the full moon rose as I left the enclosed lands and passed out upon the marshes. Beyond their dark line there was a ribbon of clear sky, hardly broad enough to hold the red large moon. In a few minutes she had ascended out of that clear field, in among the piled mountains of cloud.” He has a way of being both dramatic and subtle at the same time, which I appreciate—and personally, I’m far too self-centered to ever spend an hour just kind of observing the moon, so I genuinely enjoy reading about it from time to time.
However, the true theme of Great Expectations is not the power of conditioning or ignorance or knowledge or even (durr) expectations. Rather the theme is: Miss Havisham is a seriously nasty old lady. Do you remember? She doesn’t take off her wedding dress or see the sun for twenty years. She literally sits in the same room every day, staring at a decaying wedding feast, just stewing in jilted-bride hatred and emanating necrotic soul-death through every pore, reaching the blissful shores of Hades only when she accidentally catches on fire. Think about how scary that is. Luckily this book was assigned to me during one of those years where all you do during class is think about how weird your teacher is, so Miss Havisham trauma averted.