Great Expectations 3 Essay Research Paper The

Great Expectations 3 Essay, Research Paper

The very title of this book indicates the confidence of conscious

genius. In a new aspirant for public favor, such a title might have

been a good device to attract attention; but the most famous

novelist of the day, watched by jealous rivals and critics, could

hardly have selected it, had he not inwardly felt the capacity to

meet all the expectations he raised. I have read it as it appeared in

installments, and can testify to the felicity with which expectation

was excited and prolonged, and to the series of surprises which

accompanied the unfolding of the plot of the story. In no other of

his romances has the author succeeded so perfectly in at once

stimulating and baffling the curiosity of his readers. He stirred

the dullest minds to guess the secret of his mystery; but, so far as

I have learned, the guesses of his most intellectual readers have

been almost as wide of the mark as those of the least apprehensive.

It has been all the more provoking to the former class, that each

surprise was the result of art, and not of trick; for a rapid review

of previous chapters has shown that the materials of a strictly

logical development of the story were freely given. Even after the

first, second, third, and even fourth of these surprises gave their

pleasing electric shocks to intelligent curiosity, the denouement

was still hidden, though confidentially foretold. The plot of the

romance is therefore universally admitted to be the best that

Dickens has ever invented. Its leading events are, as we read the

story consecutively, artistically necessary, yet, at the same time,

the processes are artistically concealed. We follow the movement of

a logic of passion and character, the real premises of which we

detect only when we are startled by the conclusions.

The plot of Great Expectations is also noticeable as indicating,

better than any of his previous stories, the individuality of

Dickens’s genius. Everybody must have discerned in the action of his

mind two diverging tendencies, which in this novel, are harmonized.

He possess a singularly wide, clear, and minute power of accurate

observation, both of things and of persons; but his observation,

keen and true to actualities as it independently is, is not a

dominant faculty, and is opposed or controlled by the strong

tendency of his disposition to pathetic or humorous idealization.

Perhaps in The Old Curiosity Shop these qualities are best seen in

their struggle and divergence, and the result is a magnificent

juxtaposition of romantic tenderness, melodramatic improbabilities,

and broad farce. The humorous characterization is joyously

exaggerated into caricature,–the serious characterization into

romantic unreality. Richard Swiveller and Little Nell refuse to

combine. There is abundant evidence of genius both in the humorous

and pathetic parts, but the artistic impression is one of anarchy

rather than unity.

In Great Expectations, on the contrary, Dickens seems to have

attained the mastery of powers which formerly more or less mastered

him. He has fairly discovered that he cannot, like Thackeray,

narrate a story as if he were a mere looker-on, a mere knowing

observer of what he describes and represents; and he has therefore

taken observation simply as the basis of his plot and his

characterization. As we read Vanity Fair and The Newcomes, we are

impressed with the actuality of the persons and incidents. There is

an absence of both directing ideas and disturbing idealizations.

Everything drifts to its end, as in real life. In Great Expectations

there is shown a power of external observation finer and deeper even

than Thackeray’s; and yet, owing to the presence of other qualities,

the general impression is not one of objective reality. The author

palpably uses his observations as materials for his creative

faculties to work upon; he does not record, but invents; and he

produces something which is natural only under conditions prescribed

by his own mind. He shapes, disposes, penetrates, colors, and

contrives everything, and the whole action is a series of events

which could have occurred only in his own brain, and which it is

difficult to conceive of as actually happening. And yet in none of

his other works does he evince a shrewder insight into real life,

and a clearer perception and knowledge of what is called the world.

The book is, indeed, an artistic creation, and not a mere succession

of humorous and pathetic scenes, and demonstrates that Dickens is

now in the prime, and not in the decline of his great powers.

The characters of the novel also show how deeply it has been

meditated; for, though none of them may excite the personal interest

which clings to Sam Weller or little Dombey, they are better fitted

to each other and the story in which they appear than is usual with

Dickens. They all combine to produce the unity of impression which

the work leaves on the mind. Individually they will rank among the

most original of the author’s creations. Magwitch and Joe Gargery,

Jaggers and Wemmick, Pip and Herbert, Wopsle, Pumblechook, and “the

Aged,” Miss Havisham, Estella, and Biddy, are personages which the

most assiduous readers of Dickens must pronounce positive additions

to the characters his rich and various genius has already created.

Pip, the hero, from whose mind the whole representation takes its

form and color, is admirably delineated throughout. Weak, dreamy,

amiable, apprehensive, aspiring, inefficient, the subject and the

victim of Great Expectations, his individuality is, as it were,

diffused through the whole narrative. Joe is a noble character, with

a heart too great for his powers of expression to utter in words,

but whose patience, fortitude, tenderness, and beneficence shine

lucidly through his confused and mangled English. Magwitch, the

“warmint” who “grew up took up,” whose memory extended only to that

period of his childhood when he was “a-thieving turnips for his

living” down in Essex, but in whom a life of crime had only

intensified the feeling of gratitude for the one kind action of

which he was the object, is hardly equalled in grotesque grandeur by

anything which Dickens has previously done. The character is not

only powerful in itself, but it furnishes pregnant and original

hints to all philosophical investigators into the phenomena of

crime. In this wonderful creation Dickens follows the maxim of the

great master of characterization, and seeks “the soul of goodness in

things evil.”

The style of the romance is rigorously close to things. The author

is so engrossed with the objects before his mind, is so thoroughly

in earnest, that he has fewer of those humorous caprices of

expression of which formerly he was wont to wanton. Some of the old

hilarity and play of fancy is gone, but we hardly miss it in our

admiration of the effects produced by his almost stern devotion to

the main idea of his work. There are passages of description and

narrative in which we are hardly conscious of his words, in our

clear apprehension of the objects and incidents they convey. The

quotable epithets and phrases are less numerous than in Dombey & Son

and David Copperfield; but the scenes and events impressed on the

imagination are perhaps greater in number and more vivid in

representation. The poetical element of the writer’s genius, his

modification of the forms, hues, and sounds of Nature by viewing

them through the medium of an imagined mind, is especially prominent

throughout the descriptions with which the work abounds. Nature is

not only described, but individualized and humanized.

Altogether we take great joy in recording our conviction that Great

Expectations is a masterpiece. We have never sympathized in the mean

delight which some critics seem to experience in detecting the signs

which subtly indicate the decay of power in creative intellects. We

sympathize still less in the stupid and ungenerous judgements of

those who find a still meaner delight in willfully asserting that

the last book of a popular writer is unworthy of the genius which

produced his first. In our opinion, Great Expectations is a work

which proves that we may expect from Dickens a series of romances

far exceeding in power and artistic skill the productions which have

already given him such a preeminence among the novelists of the age.


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