January 22, 2012

Charles Dickens and My Great Expectations

It will soon be the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, one of the greatest English writers to live.
It will soon be about 200 months since I began to read Dickens' famous novel, Great Expectations, at the suggestion of a young friend who is now no longer quite so young.
Why, you might ask, has it taken me so long to read the book? There are all sorts of excuses: work, life, restarting it several times in order to refresh my memory, switching from my hectic daily life to the leisurely pace of nineteenth-century literature...but the best reason I can think of for my slowness can be found on page two of the book.
"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!"
A fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared, and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.
When I first came to this passage, I stopped. I read it again. I'd never read prose like this, that was so utterly poetic, so filled with rhythm, and which created so evocative a scene. I read it aloud. I  copied it down and posted it above my desk. Later, I memorized it. This one snippet from a scene had grabbed me and so thoroughly mesmerized me that I've been reading that same passage over and over for the last 200 months.
That's my excuse for not finishing Great Expectations
What is your favorite Dickens' work? Why?

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