Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stars and shadows ain't good to see by.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens)

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Huck Finn begins in Missouri with a boy who doesn't want to be "sivilized", a slave who doesn't want to be sold down the river, and a mean drunk of a father. Huck's being raised by Miss Watson and the "old widow" in St. Petersburg, Missouri. His father left town at the end of Tom Sawyer, the precursor to this novel, but he returns at the beginning of Huck Finn when he finds out Huck has come into some money. Huck's dad steals him away from the widow and Miss Watson and they go off to a little cabin by the Mississippi. Huck is mostly happy, though his father is a raging alcoholic, because Huck likes to live off the land, and enjoys catching fish for dinner and not needing to be "sivilized". After a few too many rip-roaring beatings from his dad, however, Huck hatches a plot to run away. He slaughters a pig they have taken and drags the blood everywhere to make it look like someone has come in and murdered Huck. He steals off on a raft he found a few days earlier that he has loaded up with food, and he hides out in Jackson Island. He chances upon Jim, Miss Watson's slave, who has run away because he heard Miss Watson talking about selling him down south, and the two become friends. They soon find out that Jim has been accused of killing Huck, however, and begin their escape. They plan to head to Cairo, Ohio, where Jim can buy his freedom, but realize after some time that they are, in fact, heading south. They have a series of crazy adventures along the way, including a trip onto and off of a floating house, a series of cons with the "Duke" and the "Dauphin", a run-in with a Hatfield-McCoy style family feud, and Jim's eventual capture by none other than relatives of Tom Sawyer! Huck pretends to be Tom when he realizes who they are, and when Tom arrives, he pretends to be his own brother, Sid, and they hatch a plan to help Jim escape. After hatching a ridiculous number of incredibly complex plots to help Jim escape, Tom and Huck execute a hapless plot to free Jim that ends with Jim getting recaptured and Tom getting shot in the leg. Tom and Huck's true identities are revealed, and Tom makes a full recovery, only to inform everyone that Jim has been free for two months because Miss Watson felt so bad for threatening to sell him down river that she freed him in her will. Tom and Huck head back to St. Petersburg, but Huck doubts he will stay for long, because he doesn't want to be "sivilized" again.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

-As exciting as the end of the book is, the real denouement comes when Huck realizes that he'd rather go to hell than give Jim up as a runaway slave. He feels torn for a large portion of the novel about helping Jim, as his "morality" has taught him that he should not break the law and shouldn't help a slave to run away from someone who has helped him (Huck) in the past. My ever-astute grandmother pointed this out in an email to me just a few weeks ago, saying, "Weren't you proud of Huck when he decides that even if he was to be sent to hell itself, he was not going to turn in Jim as an escaped slave? That was a heroic decision." I was, indeed, proud of Huck at that moment.

-My grandmother also asked me what I thought of the new attempts to "sanitize" Huck Finn by removing the "n-word" and replacing it with the word slave. I think we need books like Huck Finn to remind us of what our past contained. I found this book challenging to read, and after spending years asking students not to use the "n-word" in our "safe spaces" in their schools out of respect for my request not to give "permission" or "license" to people to use it who would use it in a derogatory way, it was quite hard to come across the word again and again and in the way that it was originally intended. But that difficulty that I experienced while reading is one that I think we must all continue to challenge ourselves to experience. Racism still exists; discrimination still exists; African-Americans are still facing the repercussions of slavery, and they are still working to pull themselves up socio-economically, and these are issues we CANNOT forget. If it causes us some discomfort, then good - let us lean into the discomfort, and remind ourselves that we must not forget our past and we must continue to work hard to forge the kind of future that we believe in.

-Huck is an amazing liar. He has an innate ability to prevaricate on the spot, which serves him well in various situations, like when he disguises himself as a girl (though his lie doesn't succeed in that case), or when he calls himself George Jackson when he gets caught up in the Grangerford-Sheperdson family feud, or when he becomes Tom Sawyer, his good friend, to help save Jim. At one point, he gets so caught up in his sundry disguises that he forgets his name. Ever crafty, he bets his new friend Buck that he can't spell his name, and gets him to reveal his pseudonym. (Buck's spelling needs work, though - "Yep, I can, G-E-O-R-G-E J-A-X-O-N.")

-Twain has a flair for descriptions, and says at one point that it "looked late, and smelt late." He follows up, saying, "You know what I mean - I don't know the words to put it in." I know what you mean, Mr. Clemens. There's a night smell, and a just after the rain smell, and a winter and a fall smell.

-When Huck tries to masquerade as a girl to get information on Jim's escape and where he's suspected to be hiding, Judith Loftus calls him out on his lie. She calls him out in the following summary: "You do a girl tolerable poor, but you might fool men, maybe. Bless you, child, when you set out to thread a needle don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it... And when you throw at a rat or anything, hitch yourself up a tip-toe and fetch your hand up over your head as awkward as you can, and miss your rat about six or seven foot... And, mind you, when a girl tries to catch anything in her lap she throws her knees apart; she don't clap them together, the way you did when you catched the lump of lead. Why, I spotted you for a boy when you was threading the needle; and I contrived the other things just to make certain." Smart lady. :0)

-Huck experiences a short-lived joy with the Grangerfords before an all-out war ensues. I loved the way Twain described the Colonel - "He was sunshine most always - I mean he made it seem like good weather."

-Tom's plans for Jim's escape are frustratingly perverse. At first, they seem comical (we must use knives instead of shovels to dig a hole under Jim's hut), then ill-advised (we must deliver Jim a pie with a rope ladder baked in it so that he can escape from his hut. which is on the ground level.), then downright infuriating (we have to tell everyone that someone is planning to help Jim escape before we actually escape with him). The irony of Jim being free to begin with is bittersweet; Jim is free, which is great, but Huck also feels validated in having questioned Tom's morality in being so willing to help free a runaway slave. (Jim was free the whole time, which Tom knew, so Tom was only willing to help because he knew Jim was free to begin with.)

All in all, I enjoyed this book. I found the plot to be a bit dull in the middle (with the Duke and the Dauphin and their various escapades) but the beginning and end were delightful.

I'm off (finally!) to lose myself in a classically circuitous canon of Russian lit, that famous favorite, Battles and Tranquility. Oh wait, that's not right, it's Combat and Restfulness. Something like that, you get the picture.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The yellow butterflies would invade the house at dusk.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
This tale of magical realism takes place in the town of Macondo. Macondo is founded by Ursula Iguaran and Jose Arcadio Buendia. They leave their original town because Jose Arcadio kills a man (Prudencio Aguilar) and they are haunted by his spirit. So they set off into the wilderness, followed by a few of Jose's friends, and they found Macondo. Jose Arcadio and Ursula have three children: Colonel Aureliano Buendia, Jose Arcadio (confusing, right?) and Amaranta. The novel follows each of these characters and their eventual descendants as well as the town itself, over the course of one hundred years. (Thus the title.) The story is full of too many twists and turns to name them all, but common themes over the generations include attraction to inappropriate family relations (aka incest), war, procreation, sex with whores, fortune telling, moments of magic, both seemingly real and seemingly fantastical, love, hate, happiness, sorrow, and solitude. The story takes us through the lives of three more levels of Arcadios and an extreme amount of Aurelianos (20, to be precise) and ends up with the last 2 family members, Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula, having a torrid love affair (they are aunt and nephew, in case you were wondering) and giving birth to a child, who they decide to name, CAN YOU GUESS? Aureliano. Yes. Amaranta dies in childbirth and Aureliano finally deciphers the code the gypsy/wizard Melquiades has left (which was written in Sanskrit, of course) and reads his family's history as well as the future, which foretells that Macondo will cease to exist and that his child, Aureliano, will be dragged away by ants. Which happens. Um, yeah. Everyone else dies in the book some way or another, like I said, too many generations to give you all the specifics. If you have to answer a quiz on it, I'd guess (a) Aureliano (b) Jose Arcadio (c) incest or (d) all the above.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

This was an interesting read, though I must admit that I greatly enjoyed the first 150 pages or so and then was both bored and annoyed that the story continued on through so many generations. I understand that some cultures reuse names with great frequency, not just reusing a family name over generations, but having 4 or 5 or 20 Aurelianos and Jose Arcadios just got REALLY frustrating. And it didn't help that Marquez would claim that because they shared a name, they all had these shared traits, which only further made all of them blend together.


- The descriptions in this book are truly exquisite. Definitely reminded me of Steinbeck's sentences in East of Eden. Here's one for you to enjoy:

"They got into a small carriage that looked like an enormous bat, drawn by an asthmatic horse, and they went through the desolate city in the endless streets of which, split by saltiness, there was the sound of a piano lesson just like the one that Fernanda heard during the siestas of her adolescence."

- Magical realism. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, in this novel it plays out as sort of extended willing suspension of disbelief. The events of the novel take place in a grounded village, with human beings, and amidst very "real" events like wars and births and deaths, but some things are stretched, or merely exist, without explanation or question. For instance, some people in the novel live to be 150 years old, flying carpets are featured in one part of the story, and the dead frequently resurface as important characters in the novel. This leads to a sort of stylized reality, which gives Marquez the freedom to discuss nitty gritty events that I'm sure actually happened in Colombia, but to intermingle them with fantasy and place them in a land that exists ostensibly out of time and outside of a natural, known geographical location.

- Sort of in the same vein as magical realism, Marquez included several characters who suffered from manias of sorts. They were described in a sort of comical way, or in a sort of frantically amusing way, but they were symptomatic of real problems, which I thought was interesting. For example, one character, Rebeca, when she is first adopted by the Buendias, eats dirt and the whitewash paint off the walls of the house. She won't eat real food, and the family has to try several tactics before they are able to rid her of the habit. But as time goes on and stressors play a role in her life, Rebeca returns to eating dirt and whitewash. This reminds me of real-life manias like people who compulsively eat toilet paper, or their own hair. Each moment of "magical reality" made me wonder where Marquez's inspiration derived from and whether the origin was real or imaginary.

- Some of the interactions between family members reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited). I enjoyed the comic simplicity and the sort of loaded balance between extremely heavy emotions and events and trivial conversation.

- The totally bizarre occurrences, as well as the eloquently miserable ones, like the banana plague, the insomnia plague, Rebeca rotting in her house but being surrounded by yellow flowers, the yellow butterflies that follow Mauricio Babilonia, Pietro Crespi, a pianola man, and his love for Rebeca, then Amaranta, and his tragic demise, and many more.


- Some of the relationships are sort of gross. When Aureliano falls for a girl in town named Remedios, who is 9 (he's somewhere in his 30s at this point, I think), it felt a little too Humbert Humbert for me. She marries him when she's 13, and dies at fourteen with a baby in her belly. Gives me the heeby jeebies to think about being married, let alone pregnant, at that age. Also, several (and I mean, SEVERAL) family members engage in relationships with cousins, adopted siblings, and aunts/nephews.

- By the time we got to the later generations, I literally couldn't keep the characters straight. Aureliano Buendia goes off to war and has 17 sons named Aureliano, all of whom are systematically murdered by the government. Each character, however, gets developed, but then simultaneously sort of detaches from everyone else. Ursula, the matriarch, is my favorite character, and keeps whipping everyone into shape well into her early 100s, even though she goes blind and manages to hide it from everyone. But so many of the other characters pull away from life, or pursue love with an intensity that leads to death (either their own or their lover's) that it becomes hard to remember who you actually cared about or felt an affinity for in the story. Macondo goes from being a town that has not seen death in its early days, to a town that sees the death of all 35 of the Buendias.

- There was very little dialogue in this book. I don't feel that books have to have dialogue to intrigue me, but the lack of dialogue meant that I was quite literally told the story by the author, which means I don't really have a chance to create my own feelings or understandings about characters based on their words and interactions, and I have to trust what the author is dictating to me. Not my favorite style of writing or reading.

I didn't really understand the way solitude featured in the novel. Marquez referred more and more often to solitude as the book progressed, but the characters who were feeling this solitude were constantly surrounded by the rest of the Buendia family. I understand that one can feel completely alone even when surrounded by others, but I guess I sort of expected someone to actually be alone when they were feeling the solitude. I also didn't really understand how it was relevant to the story.

Ultimately, this was a book I really enjoyed the first half of, and which I'm pretty sure I only understood half as well as Marquez would have liked. If you've read it and feel you have thoughts or opinions to share, please feel free - I'm certainly open to anyone else's interpretations and ideas.

I'm off to the deep south, slave days, and unusual friendships.

Monday, January 10, 2011

There is nothing to do until tomorrow. I can't sleep.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
This Dickens novel straddles, as the title suggests, two cities: Paris and London. Our story begins with Doctor Manette being "recalled to life." He was imprisoned for an unknown cause for about 20 years in a Parisian prison, and in the opening chapters of the book, he is brought back to London and reunited with his daughter, Lucie, by a banker and family friend, Mr. Lorry. The next major event is Lucie and the Doctor serving as witnesses at the treason trial for Charles Darnay. He is accused of being a traitor and is about to be brutally murdered, but at the last minute, he is acquitted because the defense points out that another man, Sydney Carton, looks just like him. This is apparently enough for an acquittal; clearly they didn't have enough Law and Order episodes to teach them how to prosecute properly. Incidentally, Darnay was not really a traitor, but we find out he is actually a FRENCHIE, Charles Evrémonde. Charles falls for Lucie, they get married, they have a daughter named Lucie (because they're clearly unoriginal when it comes to naming) and all seems to be going swimmingly. The Doctor is all better from having been in prison (mostly - he regresses from time to time by going back to making shoes, the occupation he was allowed to perform in prison). Charles wants to tell the Doctor his real name, and the Doctor says he only wants to know on the wedding day. Charles tells him on the wedding day, and after the lovebirds go on their honeymoon, Daddy goes back to making shoes. UH OH! Oh, and Sydney professes his love for Lucie, but says he doesn't want to be with her, he just wants her to know that he would do ANYTHING for her. Really. Anything. So we store that nugget away and Charles gets a letter from his old servant - did I mention his uncle was killed because he's a really nasty rich Monseigneur who treats laborers like dirt and because the revolution is now RAGING in France? - saying that he has been imprisoned and that only Charles can save him. So Charles decides, HEY! why don't I go to France and help old Gabelle out. So he goes, and guess what - he is IMMEDIATELY imprisoned. Lucie finds out, comes to France with her dad, and daddy the Doctor is a hero in the new regime because he was a well-known prisoner in the Bastille. Charles is imprisoned for over a year, but the doctor is able to get him set free. The very same day, however, Charles is re-imprisoned, and we find out that the people who have charged him are Monsieur et Madame Defarge, who were the old servants of Doctor Manette but are now CRAZED REVOLUTION BLOOD-THIRSTY monsters. AND, in a surprising turn of events, we find out that the doctor's hero-status is no good at the second trial because... DUN DUN DUN... he wrote a secret letter in prison describing the people who got him put in prison (it was a pair of noble brothers who asked him to tend to a patient who turned out to be a servant woman one of them was sleeping with after he killed her husband, and these evil brothers were... DUN DUN DUN... the MONSEIGNEUR AND HIS BROTHER, aka, Charles's uncle and his daddy. Whoops! Charles didn't know about this history, he was only a baby at the time. He knew his uncle was no saint, but nothing about the history with the doctor) and he vowed to get revenge against the whole family, including, unfortunately, the descendants, being Charles. So Charles is getting ready to die and everyone feels bad that the Doctor knew ever since the wedding that his son-in-law's family led to his imprisonment after he told the government about what they had done to the servant girl and her husband. In yet another twist, we find out that Madame Defarge was the sister of the servant girl - EEk! So much connectedness. Anyway, Sydney Carton comes over from England and he stages a switchout, sacrificing himself in Charles's place. Charles, Lucie, the Doctor, little Lucie, and Mr. Lorry all go back to England, and Sydney is executed by guillotine.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I enjoyed this book, though I felt at some points that the surprises weren't all that surprising, given how few major characters there were in the plot. There was also an intense amount of foreshadowing, which was simultaneously really cool and REALLY ANNOYING.

The first page has an amazing description that sets the scene. It, of course, begins with the famous lines, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." But it also contains the following lines, abridged here:

"...there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history...there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread."

This is unbelievable - it definitely falls under the heavy foreshadowing section mentioned above, but how inCREDIBLE is that description? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

- Madame Defarge knits throughout the story, and we find out about halfway through the story that she is knitting a register of names and descriptions of the people that fit the names so that the revolution can properly EXECUTE them. Nice, right? I knit scarves for my buddies, Madame Defarge knits DEATH SENTENCES.

- Mr. Lorry works for Tellson's bank, which is crucial to the story in that the bank is one of the few organizations that continues to work in both cities during the tumultuous revolution. Dickens has a marvelous description of the Tellson employees here:

"When they took a young man into Tellson's London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books, and casting his breeches and gaiters into the general weight of the establishment."

- There were so many crazy plot twists that when the Doctor's secret prison letter is revealed and the Monseigneur and his brother are described as twins, I was like - I KNEW IT! Sydney and Charles are twin brothers, too! But guess what? They're not. Their freakish look-alikeness is just a Dickensian twist of fate.

- The doctor has an interesting role in the novel, in that he is pretty weak and wounded in the beginning of the book, then becomes strong, then really takes the lead when they go to France to save Charles, saves Charles, and then loses it completely when Charles is recaptured. The doctor goes out to implore higher ups to save Charles a second time, but when he comes back, he demands to know where his shoe bench is so that he can finish his shoes.

- Sydney knows full well that he plans to die, and the title of this post is from his musings to himself on the night before his death. He follows Lucie's path around the city, walking where she walked each day to the prison to stand in a spot where Charles could sometimes see her, and he thinks about his life and how it was meaningless until this moment. I love the simplicity of the title phrase.

- Sydney meets a seamstress who is also to be executed. She is terrified, and at first she thinks it is Darnay, because she met him in prison before, but when she realizes it is not, she whispers, "Are you dying for him?" To which Sydney responds, "And his wife and child. Hush! Yes." She then asks to hold his hand, and they go to their deaths, hand in hand until the very last.

- The BEST scene in this book (in my humble opinion) is the SHOWDOWN between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge. Miss Pross is Lucie's faithful maidservant who has been with her for life. She has stayed at home to cover for Lucie's departure, because at the end of the novel, Lucie and her child have a death warrant out because Defarge wants their heads. Miss Pross is a mostly comical character in the novel, but she is utterly devoted to Lucie. She also stoutly refuses to learn French because, as she says, she is "an Englishwoman." When Madame Defarge appears looking for Lucie and her daughter, the two face off. Miss Pross realizes that the longer she can get Mme Defarge to stay, the longer Lucie and her daughter have to continue their escape. Dickens notes that the two women are cursing each other in their separate languages; neither one understands the words, but they both understand the intent. Mme Defarge is outraged when she realizes the rooms behind Miss Pross are empty and Lucie and her daughter have gotten away. She lunges at Miss Pross, but Miss Pross grabs her around the waist, and after a few minutes of struggling, Defarge's pistol goes off and Miss Pross realizes that Mme Defarge is dead. She composes herself and then runs to the meeting point where she connects with Lucie. Mme Defarge's absence is noted by her friend, The Vengeance (I KNOW! amazing name, right? I think I'm going to start going by The Rancor. like it?) Mme Defarge's knitting waits for her at the execution, but she does not come.

All in all, this book definitely captured my attention. It is very different from Great Expectations, and it was certainly interesting reading them back to back. This one was much more plot-driven, whereas I feel that Great Expectations really enriched each scene, setting, and character. Fascinating back-to-back read.

I'm off to some time by myself. Back in a hundred years or so!
(HAhA. I am SOOOOO funny. Did you get it?)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Is it to be wondered at if my thoughts were dazed, as my eyes were, when I came out into the natural light from the misty yellow rooms?

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Halloa! Our main character in Great Expectations is Philip Pirrip, aka Pip. His parents are both deceased at the beginning of the story, and he is being brought up "by hand" by his older sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, and her husband, Joe. Joe is a blacksmith who runs his own forge, and the family is a common laboring family. Pip is meant to become the apprentice for Joe, and Mrs. Joe is well-meaning, but an aggressive and sometimes violent surrogate parent. Joe sticks up for Pip, and the two are great friends. In the beginning of the book, Pip is at the graveyard staring at his parents' graves, and he comes upon a convict who has escaped from the "hulks", or prison ships. The convict scares Pip into offering to bring him back a file and some "wittles". Pip brings these items the next day, but Pip's convict discovers that another convict has also escaped, and he attacks that convict, risking his own re-imprisonment to ensure that the other convict doesn't get away. Both convicts are re-captured as Pip and Joe and several other neighbors watch. Pip's aid to the convict is not revealed.

Life returns to normal until Pip is asked to visit Miss Havisham, a very wealthy neighborhood lady. He goes to play with her, and she is UBER bizarre. Ready for the description? She lives in a house that is lit only by candles. She doesn't see the light of day because she spends most of her time in a room with no windows. She's wearing her tattered to-be wedding dress and still sports her wedding veil and dried flowers in her hair. She's ancient. She's wearing one shoe and the other shoe is sitting on a table; it has clearly never been worn. And all of her clocks are stopped at twenty minutes to nine.

Miss Havisham has an adopted daughter, Estella, who - well, how should I describe her? Has a HEART OF STONE. No really.

Pip, of course, is GAGA for Estella (what do you wear to cause a gaga at ze go-go? a toga full of long beautiful hair!). Estella enjoys torturing Pip emotionally. Miss Havisham likes to watch. This goes on for a great deal of time, after which Miss Havisham eventually gives Pip enough money to become apprenticed to Joe. Pip, however, is no longer satisfied with his life as a laborer, and Estella has made him ashamed of his status and who he is. (GO, ESTELLA! you rock.)

Yes, I recognize this is a long plot summary, but HELLO, haven't you missed these? Moving on.

Pip is going about his business, pining for Estella and wishing he were rich, and then, BLAM! He gets rich. A weird random man approaches him and tells him that someone has decided he is going to make Pip a gentleman. Pip assumes it is Miss Havisham, and he happily deserts Joe and heads off to London. (PS - I forgot to mention that Pip's sister is brutally attacked and suffers severe brain damage. And then dies a little while after. We "don't know" who did it. (AHEM.))

Pip makes friends with a man named Herbert Pocket, a relative of Miss Havisham, and they live well beyond their means for a while in an apartment in London. Pip pines after Estella, befriends his intense lawyer (Mr. Jaggers)'s assistant Wemmick (who has 2 personalities - one at work in London and one at home in Walworth) and waits for his assumed benefactress, Miss Havisham, to tell him that she wants him to marry Estella. Meanwhile, no one has confirmed that Miss Havisham is his benefactress, and Estella has given him ZERO indication that she is capable of any kind of non-alien, human affection. Pip doesn't seem to mind.

CUE THE CONVICT. One day, completely out of the blue, Pip's convict, who turns out to be named Abel Magwitch, appears at Pip's door and reveals that he is Pip's mysterious benefactor. Pip is HORRIFIED. Not only are his hopes dashed of meeting Estella, he played with a CRAZY lady for nothing, and he is now attached intimately to a dangerous criminal. To add salt to the wound, Magwitch reveals to Pip that he is has been exiled to Australia, and faces death if he is caught in England. Pip has to decide what to do with Magwitch, so he disguises him and hides him at Herbert's girlfriend Clara's house, with the intention of escaping to a foreign country with him at the opportune moment.

HOWEVER, of course the situation is complicated by the fact that Pip goes back to visit Miss Havisham to tell her that it was very cruel of her to let him believe she was his benefactress, and she, presumably in a rage because Estella is getting married to a loser (Bentley Drummle) and leaving her alone, promptly manages to light herself on fire. Pip helps her roll herself out, getting some pretty serious arm burns in the process. Miss Havisham is permanently laid up in her fave room (the creepy room described previously) and eventually kicks it on the table.

Pip is rather flustered by this whole situation, but he returns to London and is getting ready to make his escape with Magwitch when he gets a mysterious note saying he should come back to the moors near his house if he wants to save his "uncle Provis", which is what they've been calling Magwitch. He goes alone (STUPID) and it turns out to be a message from Orlick, who, BIG SURPRISE, we find out is the disgruntled ex-employee of Joe who attacked Pip's sister earlier in the book. Orlick is getting ready to kill Pip, apparently just because he hates him and has resented Pip's rise to wealth, (and manages to seriously mess up his burned arms even more) when Herbert and their friend Startop intervene, having followed Pip from London.

Whew! Still with me? I'll speed it up. In a nutshell, we find out that Magwitch is Estella's father (HAHA!) and her mother is Mr. Jaggers' housekeeper (RANDOM!) and Estella's marriage ends badly and then she gets married again and that one doesn't go so well either. Magwitch is identified during their escape attempt by Compeyson, who turns out to have been the other convict from the beginning of the story. Turns out Compeyson was the man who broke Miss Havisham's heart (on her wedding day, at 20 minutes to nine, GET IT?) and Magwitch was working for him. They were basically into a lot of bad things, scheming and cheating people and the like, but Compeyson was in cahoots with Miss Havisham's brother, who went CRAZY after they tried to cheat her out of her money, and Compeyson made it seem like Magwitch was to blame for everything, when he was really just the grunt man. Magwitch lunges at Compeyson, Compeyson drowns, Magwitch is seriously injured, he goes to jail, and Pip visits him often and eventually Magwitch dies in jail. Pip turns around and ends up really loving Magwitch, and feeling bad for being such an ass toward Joe and Biddy (who I didn't introduce but was basically like a platonic friend of Pip's). Herbert gets a decent job as clerk and then a partner in a shipping house (which has been secretly subsidized by Pip, first by his own money, and then by Miss Havisham at Pip's request) and eventually marries Clara, his long-time gf. Herbert offers Pip a job at his house, now that Pip is destitute (all of Magwitch's money went to the state when he was jailed). Joe comes back to take care of Pip after Magwitch dies, because Pip falls very ill and then goes into debt. Joe pays all of Pip's debts, and just as Pip and he are getting back to the way things used to be, Pip is better, and Joe disappears. Pip follows him back to his old stomping grounds and decides he should just marry Biddy, because even though he doesn't love her, she's a good common girl with a good heart, but when he gets there, it is Joe and Biddy's wedding day, and Pip realizes he's being a dummy, and he celebrates with them. They have a son and name him Pip, and the book ends with Pip walking with little Pip and bumping into Estella, who is still cold, but seems a bit more like she has a real heart instead of one made of stone. They are both mostly miserable. HOORAY!
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

So, I know what you're thinking. BEST BOOK EVER, right? Oddly enough, this is actually one of my favorite books. Okay, so it might have taken me six odd months to read it this time around, but I took the GREs and the LSATs, worked full-time, and applied to grad school. It's still an excellent book. Allow me to tell you the parts I like best.

-When Pip goes home from meeting Magwitch and attempts to steal "wittles" for him in secret, he shoves a piece of buttered bread down his pants. Joe, shocked by how quickly Pip has consumed this slice, accuses Pip of "bolting", and though he is apologetic that Pip will get in trouble with Mrs. Joe, he says, "manners is manners, but still your elth's your elth." The ensuing description of the lump of buttered bread sliding down Pip's pant leg is delightful.

-Pip is placed on display at various points in his childhood as the only child in his sister's group of friends. During one of the very awkward dinners he is forced to sit through, Joe gives Pip gravy each time he feels Pip is being verbally abused by the crowd. At one point, Dickens claims Joe pours Pip a half a pint. Excellent example of Dickensian wry humor - Joe offers Pip gravy about six more times during the meal.

-In a discussion of reading and writing, Joe's limited abilities are revealed. When Pip asks him how he spells Gargery, Joe promptly replies, "I don't spell it at all." He says he's "uncommon fond of reading", and happily points out that he can find a J, an O, and a J-O, JO in any piece of writing. This leads to one of my favorite lines in the whole book, "I derived from this last, that Joe's education, like Steam, was in its infancy." I know some people can't get behind him and accuse him of being verbose because he was getting paid by the word, but Dickens is a wordsmith, truly. His sentences may be long and his descriptions in-depth, but each word and phrase carries weight and wit.

-When Pip first returns from visiting Miss Havisham, he embellishes wildly, perhaps to hide the true bizarreness of his visit. He describes them as playing flags, waving swords wildly, and suggests that if he had been prodded further, he would have included a balloon in the yard and a bear in the brewery next door. Amusingly enough, the true story was probably twice as odd as his tale, but when he fesses up to Joe, Joe is extremely disappointed. I love the way Joe pleads with Pip: "But at least there was dogs, Pip? Come Pip, if there warn't no weal-cutlets, at least there was dogs?" Pip responds, "No, Joe." Joe replies, "A dog? A puppy? Come?" He discusses with Pip why Pip would feel compelled to lie, and then adds in, "which reminds me to hope that there were a flag, perhaps?" And Dickens inserts in a parenthesis of Joe's next line, "I'm sorry there weren't a flag, Pip." Brilliant.

-Miss Havisham asks Joe to come to Satis House to make Pip his official apprentice, but Joe is too uncomfortable to address Miss Havisham, so during the whole interview, he addresses Pip when he answers Miss Havisham's questions. Example - when Miss Havisham asks, "Has the boy ever made any objection; does he like the trade?", Joe replies, "Which it is well beknown to yourself, Pip, that it were the wish of your own hart." Pip finds this to be (a) embarassing and (b) extremely frustrating, but it makes for an amazing comic interaction.

-Herbert Pocket, a relative of Miss Havisham, becomes Pip's roommate when he moves to London. Herbert is a kind, true friend, and from the beginning, is willing to help Pip to adjust to high society. This is hilariously portrayed in their first meal together, during which Pip asks him to point out any inappropriate table manners so that he can learn to correct them. Herbert doesn't like Pip's name (Philip) and thinks it too reminiscent of a book about a school boy, so he names Pip Handel, after a Handel piece about a blacksmith. In the process of discussing Miss Havisham and beginning the meal, Herbert points out, "Let me introduce the topic, Handel, 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." Dickens has a marvelous way of packing seemingly banal conversations with a dry humor. My other favorite line here is when Herbert interrupts his story to mention to Pip that a "dinner napkin will not go into a tumbler."

-Wemmick, the assistant to Mr. Jaggers, Pip's lawyer and guardian while in London, is one of the best characters in the book. He is extremely strict and straightforward with the clientele at the law firm, but when Pip manages to crack Wemmick's hard exterior, he finds out that Wemmick is a totally different person at his home in Walworth. He lives in a bizarre house with a drawbridge and a small moat, and he lives with his father, whom he refers to as the "Aged Parent", or sometimes simply, the "aged P". Dickens' description of the scene where Pip first meets the aged P is hilarious. Wemmick asks Pip to oblige the aged P by nodding, as he is exceedingly deaf.

"You're as proud of it as Punch; ain't you, Aged?" said Wemmick, contemplating the old man, with his hard face really softened; "there's a nod for you': giving him a tremendous one; "there's another for you; giving him a still more tremendous one; "you like that, don't you? If you're not tired, Mr. Pip - though I know it's tiring to strangers - will you tip him one more? You can't think how it pleases him."

Wemmick also shoots off a sort of cannon that he nicknames the Stinger, and calls this the Aged's nightly treat. Pip describes this as it happens for the first time, "Upon this, the Aged - who I believe would have been blown out of his arm-chair but for holding on by the elbows - cried out exultingly, "He's fired! I heerd him!" and I (Pip) nodded at the gentleman until it is no figure of speech to declare that I absolutely could not see him."

-Joe and Pip frequently refer to adventures they will have by saying "What larks" - this theme recurs throughout the novel, even after Pip begins to ignore Joe. When Joe comes to visit Pip (and Pip ends up feeling embarassed and ashamed of Joe - SAD!) Joe asks Biddy to write a letter to Pip announcing his arrival, and the post script reads, "P.S. He wishes me most particular to write what larks. He says you will understand. I hope and do not doubt it will be agreeable to see him even though a gentleman, for you had ever a good heart, and he is a worthy worthy man. I have read him all excepting only the last little sentence, and he wishes me most particular to write again what larks."  This phrase is a delightful representation of Joe and Pip's playful connection, and it appears in circumstances where Pip is mistreating Joe, but also later on in the book when Pip realizes how mean his treatment toward Joe has been. It acts as a sort of code for their relationship and its potential. This letter also captures both Biddy's good heart (for she gives Pip more credit than he deserves at this point in the novel) and Joe's playful innocence and charm.

-When Pip confronts Miss Havisham after finding out that she is not his benefactress, he asks, "But when I fell into the mistake that I have so long remained in, at least you led me on?" She replies, "Yes. I let you go on." Pip demands, "Was that kind?" To which Miss Havisham replies, in a wrath, "who am I, for God's sake, that I should be kind?" This interaction really sums up her feelings of total absolution from responsibility toward Pip or Estella. Her own abuse and heartbreak have ruined her ability to empathize or, perhaps, feel anything at all.

-When Pip comes back to visit Miss Havisham after Estella has gotten married, Miss Havisham, in an odd change of heart, begs his forgiveness for her ill treatment of him. She doesn't really apologize for being so cruel and hard-hearted, but she explains that in the beginning, she hoped only to save Estella from misery, but in the process, she "stole Estella's heart away and put ice in its place." Pip responds "better, to have left her a natural heart, even to bruised or broken." This is the last conversation Pip has with Miss Havisham before she lights herself on fire.

-Pip has strict orders from Wemmick never to discuss his Walworth personality with Mr. Jaggers, nor ever to let on that Wemmick has a whole different life at home. However, in a fit of frustration at Mr. Jaggers boxing him out of the reasoning behind Magwitch granting Pip his "great expectations", Pip reveals to Jaggers that Wemmick has a pleasant home and an aged parent and innocent, cheerful habits at home. Jaggers responds in a shocked voice, "What's all this? You with an old father, and you with pleasant and playful ways?" Wemmick replies, "Well? If I don't bring 'em here, what does it matter?" A hilarious moment of each man re-evaluating the other occurs, after which Wemmick snaps at a blubbering client and tells him to stop "spluttering like a bad pen." He demands that the man leave the office, crying, "I'll have no feelings here. Get out!" It's a wonderful denouement to the storyline of Wemmick leading a double life.

-In the end, Pip loses his money, and realizes, in many ways, that Joe and Magwitch have been truer "gentlemen" than he ever was. When Magwitch dies, he feels affectionate, grateful, and generous, which is a huge turnaround from when Magwitch appeared on Pip's doorstep and Pip was tempted to throw him out on the street. He sums it up by saying, "I only saw in him a much better man that I had been to Joe."

-Wemmick tricks Pip into being a witness for his wedding after Pip has fallen into a deep depression after Magwitch's death. Wemmick grabs a fishing rod and asks Pip to go for a walk. Pip finds this odd once he realizes they are not going fishing, but Wemmick exclaims with surprise, "Halloa! Here's a church! Let's go in!" He proceeds to lead Pip through the wedding, following this line up with others like, "Halloa! Here's a couple of pair of gloves! Let's put 'em on!" and "Halloa! Here's Miss Skiffins! Let's have a wedding." and "Halloa! Here's a ring." The description of the Aged P's role in the day is as follows:

"The responsibility of giving the lady away devolved upon the Aged, which led to the clergyman's being unintentionally scandalized, and it happened thus. When he said, "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man? the old gentleman, not in the least knowing what point of the ceremony we had arrived at, stood most amiably beaming at the ten commandments. Upon which, the clergyman said again, WHO giveth this woman to be married to this man? The old gentleman being still in a state of most estimable consciousness, the bridegroom cried out in his accustomed voice, "Now Aged P. you know; who giveth?" To which the Aged replied with great briskness, before saying that he gave, "All right, John, all right, my boy!"

-The ending is intriguing, and sort of confusing. I'm not sure where we're supposed to assume Pip has ended up on his roller coaster of emotions toward Estella. He isn't totally miserable, in that he has a job working with Herbert, and Herbert is truly delightful, but he still pines for Estella, and in some ways his heart is never complete without her. My version of the book includes an alternate ending that Dickens wrote upon the suggestion of his fellow novelist who thought that the original ending was too dreary. In that one, Estella and Pip bump into each other during one last visit to Satis House, and she is still miserable, but she hopes that she and Pip can be friends, and she expresses openly that suffering has taught her what Pip's heart used to feel, and she is sorry for that. They still leave each other, but this time as friends, and Dickens remarks on the fact that she leaves with no accompanying shadow of a companion. I'm not sure if that's supposed to suggest that maybe she and Pip will end up getting together, or if that's just to reinforce the idea that she will always be alone. I think all told, I like the original ending better.

-The title of the post comes from the following line of thought that Pip expresses in reflecting on the time he spent at Satis House: "What could I become with these surroundings? How could my character fail to be influenced by them? Is it to be wondered at if my thoughts were dazed, as my eyes were, when I came out into the natural light from the misty yellow rooms?" While I'm sure that Miss Havisham's presence could not fail to influence such impressionable minds as those of Pip and Estella, I feel like the effect it has on Pip is remarkable in that it overpowers the positive effects of such relationships as that of Joe, Biddy, Herbert, and eventually Magwitch. It takes Pip most of the book to wash away the smudge that Miss Havisham leaves on his soul, and his attachment to Estella, though not Miss Havisham's fault, leaves him ultimately miserable because Estella has been turned into a heartless ice queen by Miss Havisham. If we really played the blame game out, though, Miss Havisham was who she was because of Compeyson, who was aided by Arthur Havisham and Magwitch, which brings us full circle, as Magwitch made Pip a gentleman and also eventually taught him compassion and love. Tada! Vicious cycle!

This book never ceases to fascinate me, in that I don't particularly like Pip, Estella, or Miss Havisham throughout the novel, and I think it's brilliant that Dickens manages to write a novel about three people I dislike and make me understand and empathize with them. The humor is equally brilliant, and unparalleled in any other book I've read so far. All told, I have no difficulty understanding this one's rating as a classic.

Deeper I go into the land of Dickens, off to Paris in the midst of a revolution.