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Great Expectations
Charles Dickens
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1860-1861



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The World According to Garp
John Irving

[Mystiek lichaam]
Frans Kellendonk

On Beauty
Zadie Smith


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"When, as a child, I wrote my name for the first time, I knew I was beginning a book."
—Edmond Jabes, The Book of Questions

Considered by many critics to be Charles Dickens's most psychologically acute self-portrait, Great Expectations is without a doubt one of Dickens's most fully-realized literary creations.

Work on Great Expectations commenced in late September of 1860 at what proved to be a peak of emotional intensity for its author. Two years before, Dickens had separated from Catherine, his wife of twenty-two years; and several weeks prior to the beginning of this novel, Dickens had burned all his papers and correspondence of the past twenty years at his Gad's Hill estate. This action, in retrospect, can be viewed as a sort of spiritual purge (think of Pip's burnt hands / Miss Havisham on fire)—an attempt to break decisively from the past in order (paradoxically) to fully embrace it, as he does so resonantly in this work.

The writing of Great Expectations, and by extension the creation of its protagonist, Pip, therefore, can be viewed as a kind of excavation for its author, a cathartic attempt to come to terms with the painful facts of his childhood—particularly the family's chronic economic instability, culminating in his father's imprisonment due to financial insolvency. Also paramount in his psychological make-up were Dickens's consignment at the age of twelve to work as a child laborer at Warren's Blacking factory (a secret no one but his closest friend, John Forster, knew) and his subsequent separation from his family as a result—all of which took place over the course of two months. This period in the young boy's life, then, represents both a literal and meta-phorical "orphaning" and was certainly the crucible in which his personality was formed. This sense of primal loss, and fear of impending economic ruin manifested itself later in Dickens's own Herculean and obsessive efforts to busy himself (often simultaneously) as a writer, editor, and public speaker— as if this were the only way he could ensure himself of financial solvency.

Where the creator (Dickens) and his creation (Pip) diverge is that the protagonist (through his suffering and disappointment), learns to accept his station in life. By the end of his saga, Pip has, for the most part, shed his illusions (his "expectations") and is able to live a simple but fulfilling life as a clerk in the company of his great
friend, Herbert Pocket.

Dickens, on the other hand, it seems never adequately internalized the lessons of his own life and success. In an autobiographical fragment, he wrote: "Even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and wander desolately back to that time of my life" (as a child laborer).

Written in the last decade of his life, Great Expectations is also a meditation on the act of writing (as a book of memory) and the creative imagination, opening as it does with the young Pip (aged seven) in the churchyard, attempting to conjure up through sheer will, a physical picture of his (never-seen) parents by carefully studying the lettering on their tombstones. This memorable scene is a metaphorical attempt to raise the dead through an act of pure imagination.

Serialized between December 1, 1860 and August 3, 1861, Great Expectations was an extraordinary success, selling (midway through its run), over one hundred thousand copies weekly in Dickens's magazine All the Year Round. Published in book form in July 1861, it was considered by contemporary critics to represent a return to Dickens at the peak of his powers, deftly mixing comedy and tragedy and with a rich brew of major and minor characters. By the end of that summer, the book had gone through four printings. Later critics were equally responsive. Playwright George Bernard Shaw felt that Great Expectations was Dickens's "most compactly perfect book." The poet Swinburne believed the story of the novel to be unparalleled "in the whole range of English fiction."

Narrated by a middle-aged Pip, Great Expectations can be read on many levels—as a morality play of a young boy's coming of age; and his sudden and unexpected rise from the lower to that of the leisure class (due to the anonymous efforts of a mysterious benefactor). The novel can also be read as an ironic commentary: a social critique on money (as commodity) and how that commodity affects everyone around it. It can also be enjoyed as a rattling good mystery story replete with secrets; as well as with shady characters, thieves and murderers of all stripes. In the end, Great Expectations is an unforgettable tale about fate, and how a chance encounter between an orphan named Pip and an escaped convict radically and arbitrarily alters the lives of everyone around them. (from: penguinputnam.com)

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ON DICKENS' BOOKSHELF

Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1605 / 1615
A comic study of delusion and its consequences; Don Quixote, the old gentleman of La Mancha, takes to the road in search of adventure and remains undaunted in the face of repeated disaster.

Tom Jones
Henry Fielding, 1749
The protagonist, Tom Jones, is introduced to the reader as a ward of a liberal Somerset squire, appearing a generous but slightly wild and reckless boy. Misfortune, followed by many spirited adventures as he travels to London to seek his fortune, teach Tom wisdom to go with his good-heartedness.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Laurence Sterne, 1759-1767
Part novel, part digression, this gloriously disordered narrative interweaves the birth and life of the unfortunate 'hero' Tristram Shandy, the eccentric philosophy of his father Walter, the amours and military obsessions of Uncle Toby, and a host of other characters.

Volpone: Or, The Fox
Ben Jonson, 1606
A rich Venetian pretends to be dying so that his despised friends will flock to his bedside with gifts in the hope of an inheritance.

The Alchemist
Ben Jonson, 1610
Seventeenth-century comedy about three swindlers.

Arabian Nights: Book of The Thousand Nights and One Night
Anonymous, 14e eeuw
Originating from India, Persia and Arabia, these tales represent the lively expression of a lay and secular imagination in revolt against religious austerity and zeal in Oriental literature. They depict a fabulous and fanciful world of jinns and sorcerers, but their bawdiness, realism and variety of subject matter also firmly anchor them to everyday life.

Quentin Durward
Sir Walter Scott, 1823
Quentin Durward is a young Scotsman seeking fame and fortune in the France of Louis XI in the 14th century. Walter Scott represents his ignorance and naivete as useful to 'the most sagacious prince of Europe' who needs servants motivated solely by the desire for coin and credit.

Rob Roy
Sir Walter Scott, 1817
This novel is set in the north of England and Scotland in the years before, during and after the first Jacobite rising in 1715. Rob Roy is a swashbuckling chieftain of the clan MacGregor who is forced to become an outlaw for his alleged espousal of the Jacobite cause.

The French Revolution
Thomas Carlyle, 1837
The classic history of the origins, events, and results of the French Revolution from 1774 to 1795.

BOOKS BY CHARLES DICKENS:

Bleak House
1852-1853
A savage, but often comic, indictment of a society that is rotten to the core, Bleak House is one of Dickens' s most ambitious novels, with a range that extends from the drawing rooms of the aristocracy to the poorest of London slums.

WHAT TO READ AFTER BLEAK HOUSE?

'NOVELS OF MANNERS' BY 19TH-CENTURY DICKENSIANS
The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame, 1908
The tales of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad. When Mole goes boating with the Water Rat instead of spring-cleaning, he discovers a new world. As well as the river and the Wild Wood, there is Toad's craze for fast travel which leads him and his friends on a whirl of trains, barges, gipsy caravans and motor cars and even into battle.

[Klaasje Zevenster]
Jacob van Lennep, 1865-1866
Foundling grows up in Dutch class society.

Les misérables
Victor Hugo, 1862
France in the first quarter of the 19th century: Jean Valjean, a poor man, steals a loaf of bread and then spends years trying to escape his reputation as a criminal. In later years he rises to become a respectable member of society; but policeman Javert will not allow him to forget his past.

Demons
Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky, 1871-1872
A powerful political tract and a profound study of atheism, depicting the disarray which follows the appearance of a band of modish radicals in a small provincial town. (Also published as The Possessed and The Devils)

CONTEMPORARY DICKENSIANS
[Publieke werken]
Thomas Rosenboom,
The overconfident violin-maker Vedder and his nephew Anijs, a country pharmacist, walk into a trap of their own making.

The Bonfire of the Vanities
Tom Wolfe, 1987
One night in the Bronx a millionaire, Sherman McCoy, and his mistress have an accident. The next day a young black man is in the hospital in a coma, as McCoy heads for disaster. His humiliation is at the centre of a satire on the decaying class, racial and political structure of New York in the 1980s.

The Road to Wellville
T.C. Boyle, 1981
An account of: Dr John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the cornflake and peanut butter; his profligate, degenerate and opportunistic son; and the birth of America's first health fanatics.

The Cider House Rules
John Irving, 1985
Set in the rural town of Maine, this tale follows the bizarre story of Hormer Wells, from his apprenticeship in the orphanage surgery to his adult life running a cider-making factory and the strange relationship he has with his wife's best friend.

The Great Fire of London
Peter Ackroyd, 1982
Ackroyd's first novel, The Great Fire of London, is a reworking of Dickens' Little Dorrit.

The Quincunx
Charles Palliser, 1989
A complicated tale of a codacil containing a crucial entail, the possible existence of a second will, and a multiplicity of characters - all mysteriously related - seeking to establish their claims to a vast and ancient estate.

Jack Maggs
Peter Carey, 1997
Jack Maggs, raised and deported as a criminal, has returned from Australia in secret and at great risk. What does he want after all these years, and why is he so interested in the comings and goings at a plush town-house in Great Queen Street?

Oliver Twist
1837-1838
As with most of Dickens' work, Oliver Twist directs the public's attention to various contemporary social evils, including the workhouse, child labour and the recruitment of children as criminals. Full of sarcasm and dark humour, it's greatest triumph was perhaps to reveal the hypocrisies of the time.
The Old Curiosity Shop
1840-1841
A frequently and deliberately sentimental story of pursuit and courage in adversity, of malevolent and vile villains and the plucky and downtrodden characters who oppose them and their evil actions.
David Copperfield
1849-1850
The 'widow and orphan novels'.
Portrait of the artist as an outcast.
Hard Times
1854

Little Dorrit
1857-1858

Great Expectations
1860-1861
'Dark period novels'
Village boy has mysterious benefactor.
Our Mutual Friend
1860-1861
'Dark period novels'
A satiric masterpiece about the allure and peril of money, Our Mutual Friend revolves around the inheritance of a dust-heap where the rich throw their trash.
A Christmas Carol
1843
Scrooge, the most miserly of all misers, is shown the true meaning of Christmas by four ghostly visitors -- his partner Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come. By Christmas day, he has learnt his lesson and is willing to enter into the spirit of things.
The Chimes
1845

Cricket on the Hearth
1846

The Haunted Man
1848

The Pickwick Papers
published in monthly installments March 1836 - Oct 1837
"The Pickwick Papers" began as a literary spoof centred around sketches by caricaturist Robert Seymour. Charles Dickens was recruited to compose the words to accompany the illustrations. This tale is a journey from innocence to experience by the portly middle aged hero and his guide and mentor.
A Tale of Two Cities
1859
'A Tale of Two Cities has the best of Dickens and the worst of Dickens: a dark, driven opening, and a celestial but melodramatic ending; a terrifyingly demonic villainess and (even by Dickens’ standards) an impossibly angelic heroine.'
- Simon Schama
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