Great Expectations: Injustice

With that, she pounced upon me, like an eagle on a lamb, and my face was squeezed into wooden bowls in sinks, and my head was put under taps of water-butts, and I was soaped, and kneaded, and towelled, and thumped, and harrowed, and rasped, until I really was quite beside myself. (I may here remark that I suppose myself to be better acquainted than any living authority, with the ridgy effect of a wedding-ring, passing unsympathetically over the human countenance.)

When my ablutions were completed, I was put into clean linen of the stiffest character, like a young penitent into sackcloth, and was trussed up in my tightest and fearfullest suit. I was then delivered over to Mr. Pumblechook, who formally received me as if he were the Sheriff, and who let off upon me the speech that I knew he had been dying to make all along: “Boy, be forever grateful to all friends, but especially unto them which brought you up by hand!”

My sister’s bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter. Within myself, I had sustained, from my babyhood, a perpetual conflict with injustice. I had known, from the time when I could speak, that my sister, in her capricious and violent coercion, was unjust to me. I had cherished a profound conviction that her bringing me up by hand gave her no right to bring me up by jerks. Through all my punishments, disgraces, fasts, and vigils, and other penitential performances, I had nursed this assurance; and to my communing so much with it, in a solitary and unprotected way, I in great part refer the fact that I was morally timid and very sensitive.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

I just started listening to Great Expectations and I am enjoying it far more than Hard Times. It took a long time for Hard Times to coalesce into a story I could follow and none of the characters were very compelling, but Great Expectations grabbed me from the first line. This is by far the most sensitive and perceptive treatment of childhood I’ve yet encountered in Dickens. Abused orphans abound in Dickens but we really get to know this one. He’s not just a poster boy. I haven’t read Oliver Twist yet and perhaps Dickens pulled it off there as well. The writing in Great Expectations  is superior also, colourful and lively. I will have to investigate whether it was written as a serial or whether he had the time to refine it. So far I’ve been content to just listen to Dickens but I think this is one book I’ll be buying for my collection.


6 comments on “Great Expectations: Injustice

  1. Ed says:

    I think Great Expectations is better than Oliver Twist and most critics also seem to think so. However I love both books. I have read a lot of criticisms of the shortcomings Oliver Twist, and I have agreed with them, but I find that I enjoy the book so much that I don't even think of its faults when reading it (and I have read it three times). I won't give too much away, but let's day there are a lot of coincidences.

  2. Sylvia says:

    Great quote, Jonathan, thanks for that. Indeed I hit rewind to hear the wedding ring part again. Priceless.
    Ed, I'm not surprised to hear Great Expectations lauded, and I know what you mean about Dickensian coincidences! I do plan to read (or listen to) Oliver Twist but I suspect it's Great Expectations that I'll want to reread. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Stefanie says:

    Great Expectations is one of my most favorite books. I love Pip and his struggles and I love dear old Joe. And later in the book, Mr. Wemmick and the Aged. So many great characters and a wonderful story to boot!

  4. Sylvia says:

    Joe is indeed a dear! Right now I am getting creeped out by Miss Havisham, but I'm glad to hear there are some less sinister characters up ahead.

  5. Good! I have Great Expectations on my iPod now, but I was putting it off because, while I enjoyed Hard Times well enough when i listened to it a few months back, I wasn't so wild about it that i was in the mood to dip into the same well so soon.
    I will reconsider.

  6. Sylvia says:

    Oh do, it's *much* better than Hard Times. The story, the writing, all of it.

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