Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pip from Great Expectations

Pip is the main protagonist in Great Expectations, he was a poor child; an orphan who brought up “by hand” by his sister, a wife of a blacksmith on a small village near a marsh. While I understand that Pip’s sister mush have been tired of living in poor condition, I still cannot understand how people could be that mean to an innocent child. Anyway, despite of his sister’s bad treatment, Pip did not grow up bitterly. I believe Joe’s lovable character has a good influence over Pip’s soul. Then a convict run away and came across Pip’s faith…

Since his encounter with Magwitch—the convict—Pip’s soul had been restless, he was haunted by his own conscience because he had stolen from his sister and Joe to avoid the convict’s threat to kill him. Although Magwitch took Pip’s deed as a great loving deed, I don’t think Pip has ever thought it the same. I believe Pip wanted to scrap his action from his history if he could.

After that, Pip met Miss Havisham, whose life’s sole purpose was to take revenge to men. This stage brought a huge influence to young Pip, from ordinary child, he now know the different between common and uncommon people. He got embarrassed by his commonly manners, and along with his frequent visits to Satis House, his dislike to his own life grew bigger to the level of disgust. Yet, I could not blame Pip, who won’t feel that way when one was frequently introduced to fine things? Plus, Pip had been attracted to Estella, and it’s natural that he dreamed to have a life as a gentleman.

The trial of his character came when he got his great expectations from a mysterious benefactor. Pip finally became a gentleman as he dreamed of, and as what often happens to us, he became snobby. Pip began to feel uncomfortable with Joe’s presence or other aspects from his youth. But it all changed after he realized what his real benefactor had done for him. I think this was the point of return of Pip’s transformation to the greater end. This and the hard times he experienced as the result of his new lifestyle. He finally knew that being a gentleman was not only a lifestyle or manner, it’s also about doing honorable things.

I’m very glad that Pip could overcome his anger to Magwitch (for forcing him to stealing) and to Miss Havisham (for using him for her revenge plot). He forgave those two persons who had bigger influence to his transformation. Pip even had affection to them in the end; I think Magwitch and Miss Havisham could be regarded as Pip’s father and mother—two figures that Pip never had. It amazes me how Pip kept visiting Satis House (other than trying to see Estella), I think he somehow felt bound to Miss Havisham (I don’t remember Pip ever said bad things to or about her).

Being an orphan, it’s quite remarkable that Pip could transform to a better way. I believe that hard times would somehow build our personalities, and when you had people who love you, or at least you have someone you love dearly, those aspects help you to develop.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Miss Havisham from Great Expectations

Gillian Anderson in 2011 BBC miniseries
If I must choose, which character in Great Expectations who had experienced the most extreme transformation, I’d choose Miss Havisham—instead of the main protagonist Pip (I’d feature him for next week). Miss Havisham was born in a rich family; she must have grown up very comfortably, used to get anything she wanted, that when her fiancée left her on the wedding day, she could not accept that reality. So big her resistance was, she stopped living at the same minute as she received the rejection letter. All the clocks were set on the time she received the letter, she dressed like when the letter came (in wedding gown and only one shoes on), and the reception party was left as it was for years (I wonder whether Dickens had the idea from the famous tale Sleeping Beauty?...).

The fact that she wanted to stop dead everything in the house, indifferent of anything else outside her own life, only reflected Miss Havisham’s severe egotism. Egotism usually leads to narrow-mindedness. Miss Havisham did not want to think about anything else other than her own revenge. She could not or refused to see that being left by a man was not the end of the world for a girl, and she was not the first nor the only nor the last girl in the world who suffered for it. She just closed her mind and soul, and only had a sole object in her mind: to revenge!

As she could not take revenge to the man concerned, Miss Havisham adopted and raised a little girl for that sole purpose: revenge. But what happened when the girl had grown up to be the lady-like young woman with iron heart as Miss Havisham had wanted? Estella left her just like that. Although she had raised Estella for revenge only, I think Miss Havisham unconsciously—deep in her heart—loved her. The fact that Estella left her and didn’t care about her, really hurt Miss Havisham. Perhaps there was still a little affection left in Miss Havisham’s heart despite of her selfish anger. And I believe Pip had something to do with that. Despite of Miss Havisham’s taking advantage of Pip’s soul, Pip never hated her, he even forgave her. He kept visiting Miss Havisham even after he knew his real benefactor. I think there was kind of sympathy grew between Pip and Miss Havisham, that Miss Havisham regretted what she had done to Pip, which caused him terribly suffering the anguish of love, just as Miss Havisham’s.

Helena Bonham Carter in 2012's movie

In the end—instead of having her revenge—Miss Havisham experienced what her victims had felt. Her iron heart melt away, and she asked for forgiveness from Pip and granted what Pip asked from her—as if she wanted to repentant her sin of taken a life from an innocent boy by giving a life to other man. Wasn’t it nice to see a cold-hearted lady finally realized that love was about give and take, not only take?

Anne Bancroft in 1998 modernized movie

A little about who's playing the best Miss Havisham on screen. I have only watched two version: the 1998 movie (with modern setting) where Miss Havisham played by Anne Bancroft. She could make out Miss Havisham's eccentric quality very well, but I think she was too old for the role (assuming that when Pip met her, Miss Havisham was about 37-40 years old).

The second one I watched very recently was the 2011 BBC's miniseries, where Gillian Anderson took Miss Havisham's role. She fit more to the age, but maybe she was rather too soft for the cold hearted woman such as Miss Havisham.

I haven't watched the newest version of Great Expectations, where Helena Bonham Carter played Miss Havisham, so I can't give her any judgement, but from the trailer and from what I know about Helena, I think Miss Havisham here would be more grotesque than the predecessors.

I can only give my fair judgement after I watch the 2012 movie, but for you who have seen all, which one is your favorite?

Friday, December 14, 2012

[Movie Adaptation] Great Expectations

First of all I must thank Melisa for copying this miniseries of Great Expectations for me (come with it also Dorian Gray and Importance of Being Earnest which I haven’t yet watched). This three-part miniseries was produced by BBC in 2011, an adaptation work of Sarah Phelps.

As I like to compare the movie with the original book, I watched this miniseries only several days after I have finished reading the book (when the story and the emotion were still quite fresh in my memory). So, here’s my review:


Overall it’s okay, I had only two objections. First, the cast for Joe which I think was too old and less innocent. Joe in this miniseries didn’t look like a hopeless husband under his wife’s domination. In fact once or twice Joe bravely grasped Pip from his wife’s beating; while in book Joe did not even dare to confront his wife, afraid that he too would be beaten by his wife. Joe was also supposed to be a shy guy, that when he must meet Miss Havisham, he kept directing his words to Pip instead of talking directly to Miss Havisham. The Joe in the miniseries seemed to have more confidence. And I’m just wondering, why Joe did not look older at all at the later part, while all others did. :) My same complaint goes for Wemmick’s cast. He’s much too old, almost as if he’s in the same age as Mr. Jaggers! About Mr. Jaggers, I think he had played in Agatha Christie’s movies as Hercule Poirot!

Is Gillian Anderson too pretty to be Miss Havisham?

But the worst, I think, is Estella’s cast. I’m so disappointed that she was far from “very pretty” that made many men attracted to her. When Miss Havisham presented the grown up Estella to Pip; when Estella stood next to her mother, well….Miss Havisham was even prettier than her, despite of Miss Havisham’s pale face (Gillian Anderson played as Miss Havisham). Estella in this miniseries looked too boyish with her skinny and bony body (especially when she wore strapless gown that seemed to hang loosely and rather un-proportionately on her body, ugh!). Young Estella reflected much better Estella's original character from book.

Grown-up Estella

Young Estella

Story and Plot

Overall the plot followed the original one, only simplified here and there as we could expect in movie adaptations. However, there are few things I did not agree with. First of all, Biddy never showed up. This perhaps will make the plot more complex, but I think Biddy has also some influences in Pip’s development. The second one was how Pip resisted to Magwitch for—for me—too long; it only made Pip looked like an ungrateful person—which I don’t think so. In the book Pip involved in the runaway preparation, and Pip was tortured badly in the waiting of the event.

The last one was the relationship of Pip and Estella; I know that movies tend to make everything smooth. As if without at least one kissing scene—and it happened always on romantic places which involving water (sea shores, by the lakeside…)—you won’t be able to attract audiences. Perhaps it’s right, but watching how Estella seemed to suddenly and quite easily loosen her resistance against Pip right after leaving Satis House was ridiculous to me.

Setting and Costumes

Now, while the castings and plot might be slightly disappointing, the settings and the costumes were really an entertainment! The misty marshes was fabulous, the forge and Pip’s home were everything I always imagine them to be. Satis House with the dusty and gloomy atmosphere, and the room with cobwebbed party left-over was also cool. So pity we can’t see Wemmick’s country house, that would be very interesting! :)

Wedding hall at Satis House

I like the gentleman’s costumes here, especially Pip’s. Gillian Anderson looked elegant in Miss Havisham’s old wedding gown, but I hate the choice for Estella’s costumes, they were too plain—considering that Miss Havisham did everything she could to make Estella shinning with beautiful jewelries. The jewelries had never appeared in the miniseries, and compared to other ladies in the ball—for example—Estella seemed too pale and ordinary, that if I had been one of the gentlemen there, I would have not regarded her at all.

One thing that was also interesting is the opening credits. I like the idea of the transformation of a cocoon to a beautiful butterfly; it represents Pip’s transformation so beautifully. He must get through hard times before finally become a true gentleman (not only in outer appearance, but also in heart).

All in all, it is quite enjoyable, especially if you have never read the book, or you have read it long time ago that you have forgotten most of the details. 7 to 10 is the best I can give for this miniseries.

...and this is the trailer:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Estella Meant to Pip in Great Expectations

This is a passage of what Pip said to Estella, a reflection of his desperation in his everlasting love to Estella…

You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then.

What makes it more tragic is that it was so true, that Pip’s strong determination to be a gentleman was mostly to melt Estella’s cold iron heart. It can be said that Pip’s life changed after he had seen Estella for the first time. What a love! And when I thought at first it’s only a childish love, it lasted until Pip grown up to become a gentleman. Once again, what a love that someone you love can be part of your existence!

Friday, December 7, 2012

[Review] Great Expectations

I don’t think one would be worthy to be called a Dickensian before reading Charles Dickens’ masterpiece: Great Expectations. I have just done it, so I’m now proudly calling myself a Dickensian! :) I don’t know why it took me rather long before I come to Great Expectations; maybe because I had long time ago watched its modern-setting movie adaptations—1998 version with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow— which was rather weird to me and I didn’t like at all (bookish lesson #1: do not watch a movie before you read the book!). Anyway, I have read it at last, and I admit now that enjoyed Great Expectations very much from the first to the last page.

Great Expectations was written as an autobiography of a fictional character: Pip. It was started when Pip was very young (around seven years old)—an orphan boy who was brought ‘by hand’ by his sister, wife of a kind-hearted blacksmith named Joe. In the real life, Pip might have grown up as a simple and humble blacksmith in a small village, marrying a simple and smart girl like Biddy, have kids, and would have finally buried in the church’ cemetery, just like his father. However, faith brought him to another scenario of life. I don’t know which one between the runaway convict and the eccentric Miss Havisham who had the most effect in shaping Pip’s life into its new mold. I believe both of them had an equal share, just like our lives molded by so many circumstances.

Pip and the convict

If little Pip had never been to Satis House, he would never had realized that he was a coarse and common boy, he would have never wanted more than life had been providing him up to that moment. And with that realization, come the need to have more. I’ve been reflecting, if Pip had never been granted with the great expectations, would he be happier then—as a poor boy who longed to have more but didn’t have the power to reach it? I think Pip would always be tormented by his own dream, he would always feel unworthy to love Estella, yet he loved her still.

The great expectations molded Pip’s life even beyond his own dream, from a coarse poor boy, he became a gentleman. He could now live the life he has always wanted. Yet, happier was he? At first everything was so fantastic, but after that Pip went through a lot of hard times that in the end he missed his old time again, and wished he’d never have met either Miss Havisham or Magwitch the convict.

Pip met Miss Havisham & Estella

Back to my reflection again, which one would be better for Pip? I believe the later one. The hardship opened Pip’s realization of what were true and what were abstract in life. Through the prosperity, and through Estella’s cruel and cold respond towards his love, Pip learned so many things in his journey to be a grown up man, that he finally knew by himself what he really wanted and what was the most important and valuable in life for him. The great expectations have built Pip’s personality much greater than if he lived as a blacksmith all his life.

To me, Pip is representing our own lives. He was not perfect, he made a big mistake as a matter of fact by being snob at Joe and Biddy, but he endured all his hard times very well, and he could learn from his mistake. I am happy because Pip was forgiveness and grateful to his benefactor, despite of all the negative consequences they had brought him. I think Pip know that people could bring you their influences, but at the end, it’s you who must make the final decision. Pip had made his own decision, wrong it was, but he learned, he regretted, he asked for forgiveness, he learned for the good.

[might contain spoiler] The copy I read (Penguin English Library) contains George Bernard Shaw’s analysis of Great Expectations and other Dickens’ works, and from it I know what kind of ending Dickens had originally put for this book—but being asked to discard by Bulwer-Lytton. What we read now was the second ending Dickens wrote, but I somehow felt that it was still not a perfect ending after all. I would have preferred Dickens to end Pip and Estella’s love story for good, than being hung with: “I saw the shadow of no parting from her”. I felt that Dickens was forced to put a happier ending, but somehow did not want to explicitly make it a ‘they-lived-happily ever-after” tale-kind of ending. [spoiler ends]

Anyhow, I grant five stars for Great Expectations, it was a great moral lesson in a great story telling with aspects you can hope from a Victorian novel: romances, mystery, action, the gothic atmosphere of Miss Havisham's Satis House, and criticism to hypocrite society who over-praised wealth and gentlemanship.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dick Swiveller from The Old Curiosity Shop

Dick appeared at earlier chapters only as a comical accessories to the main characters. He was brought to the scene by Fred Trent, Nell’s big brother who suspected that their grandfather was actually a very rich man, and all those times had hidden his treasure to be given to Nell when she has grown up. Fred was a bad boy, and in order to persuade his grandfather, he brought his flamboyant and poetical friend, Dick Swiveller. So, we can assume Dick to be one of antagonists, as besides Fred, Dick also worked together with Quilp, the main antagonist of this story.

Dick’s personality is quite a unique and unforgettable one, he is not as perfect as Nell and Kit—I personally never like perfect characters too much, they are only in tales, not in real life—but Dick is not a totally wicked person too as Quilp, he’s just a person who praised pleasure and wealth, not a hard-worker, an opportunist, and was quite indifferent to others or to the world. Dick liked to imagine himself as a rich person, he used to mention his apartment as ‘apartments’, and imagined his bed as a bookcase. He depended his life on his rich aunt’s mercy, and although was not holding any pence in his pocket, he would fulfill his expensive appetite with a luxury dining from different restaurants (and left a lot of debt traces in almost every dining place in London).

As an easy-going person, Dick was very easy to be tempted. When Fred offered him to marry Little Nell to gain her inheritance, Dick—without many considerations—decided to break up his present relationship with Sophie Wackles. Quilp has also used him for his own plan, by getting Dick a job in Sampson Brass’ law office. The indifference in Dick’s character was clearly stated in his own expression:

There are some people who can be merry and can’t be wise, and some who can be wise (or think thy can) and can’t be merry. I’m one of the first sort.

Dick Swiveller & Sophie Wackles

I have thought Dick Swiveller as and would be the little villain, someone who would execute the plan to get Kit to his downfall, however something then happened. One night Dick met the little servant of Brass family, a dirty poor-nameless-abused-and-neglected girl who used to live downstairs. His involvement with the Marchioness—a nick name Dick had given the servant girl—was later on proved to be the turning point of Dick’s character development, from an indifferent person, to become someone with more affection for others. He was the one who took the responsibility to take care of Kit’s mother and family when Kit must went to jail. And I think, somehow, Dick felt that Kit was actually innocent, and that there was something wrong with his bosses. Dick also sent a cheerful present for Kit in jail. He was now a kind-hearted person with care for others. His heroic action, however, did not occurred until he suffered a sever fever that almost took his life, if the poor and sweet Marchioness did not take care of him like a mother and nurse. In his sorrow, all his concerns were on the falsely accused Kit. He—along with the Marchioness of course—was the key actor of Kit’s release.

Dick Swiveller in the movie

I was wondering, what was the cause of Dick Swiveller’s change? I guess the poor life of the Marchioness was the trigger. Dick—I think—was quite deeply touched by the injustice and abuses that the Marchioness had lived her life with. And from there, Dick must have changed his mind about the Brass family, and thus saw things with a different point of view, and lead him to doubt that Kit was guilty. After Marchioness scene, Dick’s heart was easier to be moved by a helplessness situation, such as happened to Kit and his mother.

Dick Swiveller & the Marchioness

So, here was Richard ‘Dick’ Swiveller, from zero to hero, and although his change was not so drastically as Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, but still, he deserves to be praised as a hero in this story. And I’m glad that in the end Dickens gave him a woman to love and love him in return, someone who shared his eccentricity and interests. I must admit that I would miss Mr. Swiveller’s character, he’s someone who had given this story more color and more cheerfulness within the gloomy atmosphere we felt with poor Little Nell and the grotesque wickedness of Quilp. Dick Swiveller was indeed the savior of The Old Curiosity Shop, to make us love it more!  

Monday, July 16, 2012

[Review] The Old Curiosity Shop

This is my fifth Dickens, and I can say that The Old Curiosity Shop has just become my new favorite. Usually I don’t quite like tales, where there were only black and white, the good ones must be perfect: handsome, kind-hearted, yet weak and poor; while the bad ones were always imperfect: ugly, wicked, heartless and powerful. Can you see Little Nell and Quilp in those two opposite frames? Like I said, if I don’t like tales, then I should have disliked The Old Curiosity Shop. However, it turned out that I really enjoyed reading this book. One of the reasons perhaps, because this book spoiled me with many adventures scenes during Nell and grandfather’s pilgrimage, which made the plot went quite fast. Other reason is the appearance of comical characters like the funny-eccentric Dick Swiveller or the street entertainers Nell met within her pilgrimage. Mrs. Javier’s waxwork company and Whisker the funny pony of Mr. Garland were also highly entertaining!

Besides the entertaining aspects, I also found satisfaction in Dickens’ concerns of injustice—especially to children—which became this book’s main theme. For your information, I always love to read novels that bring concerns for injustice as the main theme! Here we got two cases, one was Little Nell and the other was Kit. Both were innocent and kind-hearted children who must suffered from adult’s faults, crime and greediness. Dickens interestingly crafted these two cases in two separate frames of story with Quilp being one of the main red-thread that related them both to be concluded in the last chapters.

Nell & grandfather in Mrs. Jarley's caravan
Speaking of the last chapters, they were very emotional, and this aspect is the one I like the most from this book. **spoiler** I can feel that Dickens had poured out his own emotion into these last chapters—the scene of Nell’s death, that he wrote them while remembering and memorizing the death of Mary Hogarth—her sister-in-law—in her seventeenth age, almost as youth as Nell was. You might have read on his biographies, that Dickens have an affection towards Mary, and was quite shocked when Mary died from heart failure in his arm. “Mary’s death affected him grievously and the shock never seemed completely to dissipate.” [from Dickens’ Bicentenary 1802-2012 by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley]. I can’t but share Dickens’ grief when he wrote about Nell’s burial, and how his grandfather and others felt about it, feel how Dickens must have felt on Mary’s sudden death, and the consolation he must have seek at that time, just as what he wrote here...

“Oh! It is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach, but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn, and is a mighty universal Truth.”

And from the same book too—Dickens’ Bicentenary—I learned that writing about Nell’s death had re-opened Dickens’ old wound of Mary Hogarth: “I am ….nearly dead with work—and grief for the loss of my child.**spoiler ends**

And last but not least, I also like how Dickens concluded every piece of fragments nicely. I am a reader who judges a book from its ending, not about happy or sad ending, but more on whether it was cleanly closed or not. I don’t like it when there were still one or few things unfinished or unclear, it will make me keep asking questions like why that should happened, or what caused this or that, etc. In this book, one concern raised in my mind near the ending. I noticed that Kit—after his release from jail—had met and thanked everyone except the biggest heroes: Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness, whom Kit never mentioned nor made initiative to come to thank personally. You might think I’m being absurd to think of such small things like that, but as I said, I am a perfectionist when it comes to story ending, everything must be cleared up before I closed the book (most likely) forever. However, thanks to Dickens, I was rewarded by the final page where Kit and Barbara named one of their children as Dick “whom Mr. Swiveller did especially favour” (p. 544). And so…this story becomes one of my favorites of Dickens so far, and I rewarded him with five stars!

Title: The Old Curiosity Shop
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Published: 1995
Pages: 544 + notes

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Nell’s Grandfather from The Old Curiosity Shop

Talking about Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop, is impossible without talking about her grandfather, for everything that happened to poor Nell throughout the book must have been related to her grandfather, the owner of an old curiosity shop in the suburb of London, with whom the orphan Nell lived and the only one Nell ever loved. After Nell’s parents died, her grandfather took over the responsibility to take care of her. I can see that he loved Nell very much.

“Do I love thee, Nell,” said he (the grandfather). “Say, I do love thee, Nell, or no?”The child only answered by her caresses, and laid her head upon his breast.“Why dost thou sob,” said the grandfather pressing her closer to him. “Is it because thou know’st I love thee, and dost not like that I should seem to doubt it by my question? Well, well—then let us say I love thee dearly.”“Indeed, indeed you do,” replied the child with great earnestness.

Basically Nell’s grandfather was a good man, he was just an old man who loved his grandchild, and tried to do something to give her a bright future. Unfortunately, he had chosen the wrong way to gain it. Couldn’t be patient to run his old curiosity shop business properly, he tried a faster way to earn money, by gambling. I don’t know which one comes first in Nell’s grandfather’s case, the gambling-addict or the greediness. However I can say one thing about him, that in spite of his kind heart, Nell’s grandfather has an obvious weakness, he could not resist the temptation of gambling though he knew deep in his heart that what he did was wrong and that it would make Nell sad.

I was torn between love and hate with the old grandfather at first, but reading along this book I’d rather think that he used Nell’s future to be his reason for gambling. Perhaps at first he was really a good grandfather who earnestly loved his grandchild, but having tried gambling as a desperate way to enrich himself—in his obsession to fight the poverty, and to make Nell become a lady or a woman who have a better place in society—he became addicted to gambling. It seems from the book that Nell’s grandfather has never won, but I think it’s hardly possible that a man should lose again and again. I think he sometimes won, but he used the money he won to raise his bet, until he lost all his money. And the same as a drunkard, an addicted gambling would do anything to get money, robbing if he must!

Although I felt pity to Nell’s grandfather—and all other men with same problem—I can’t sympathize with him. I do believe that men have their weaknesses, and must try to improve all their lives, but deceiving himself that he is doing it for the sake of the one he loves, well…it’s unacceptable for me. So, old and pitying Nell’s grandfather is, I can never love him, especially that he had been in many times disappointing Nell—and had been reminded by the little child—but kept doing it and deceiving himself and his grandchild. No, I can’t but blame him for all the sorrows that Little Nell must have endured.

The moral lesson from this character is obvious, that gambling could destroy—not only the gambler’s own life—but also his family and people he loves. And, the only way to stop is to stay away from the temptation. Nell has done the best thing for her grandfather by bringing her grandfather away from the temptation, no matter high the risk was.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop

Little Nell aka Nelly Trent
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Little Nell is a fourteen years old girl who lived in poverty with her grandfather, the owner of a small curiosity shop in London. She was described as a very beautiful little girl, polite and kind hearted child. Nell was an orphan, and thus only has her grandfather who loved her and whom she loved very much. As a child and then teenager, Nell had to go through many hard times. His grandfather often went at night for a mysterious work which—he said—was for Nell’s future good, leaving Little Nell at home, lonely, without anyone to protect her, always felt anxious that something bad might happened to his grandfather. Maybe, all these hard times strengthened her character, so that Nell—despite of her innocent appearance—could think as an adult.

She was often wiser than her grandfather, and it was more often than not, that it was Nell who took the role of leader and protector of the family, instead of the grandfather. Nell was soon alarmed when their new friend acted strangely, an intuition that only a grown up woman can own. During their escape from some bad people, Nell was so brave and resilient that though she was scared and worried, she could always encourage her grandfather.

Although she was used to live in poverty, the most important thing for Nell was not wealth or comfort, but love and affection. I have written about how Nell would prefer to beg on the road if that means she could be together with her grandfather, than to live in their dark and melancholy house.

As usual, Dickens always created a perfect-too-good-to-be-true character such as Little Nell in his books. I have met Oliver Twist before, and so am not surprised to meet Little Nell. Yes, it’s seems unreal, yet we can still learn a lot of things and values from lovely Little Nell.

Monday, June 18, 2012

[Review] Sketches by Boz

Being his earliest work, Sketches by Boz has already shown Dickens’ witticisms and satires that we would find later in most of his works. Consisting of 60 short stories, Boz is a combination of literary journalisms and fictional stories, as the result of Dickens’ thorough observation of his surroundings. Sketches by Boz was first published as installments in The Monthly Magazine from 1833 to 1836. Later on, the sketches were sorted and categorized under four big parts: Our Parish, Scenes, Characters, and Tales, to be made into a book. Outside the four parts, there are three more collections of sketches, and the book is finally closed with Familiar Epistle From A Parent To A Child, which is—no doubt—something Dickens wrote for one of his children. So far, the epistle is one of my favorites from all sketches.

The tale of The Black Veil—which is the most touching of all stories—is also one of my favorites. It depicted the faith of a widow after her son hanged for a crime he committed. The touching part is when the young surgeon who attained the case, being a generous and kind hearted fellow, was willingly to take care of the widow now and then, despite of his unfruitful business. The widow on the other hand, always prayed heartily for her young supporter, that at the end her prayers was heard by the Heaven and resulting a good business for the young surgeon in return. A tale of love always touches my heart!

The most intriguing tale is perhaps The Drunkard’s Death. It’s about a drunkard who neglected everything in his life for drinking. Dickens wanted to speak about the risk of alcohol which can lead men and women into poverty and death. This tale is very similar to Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir, although Dickens wrote it more on the melancholy aspect, rather than its brutality as depicted by Zola. It’s interesting to see two different ways of writing, from two great authors, for the same topic at the same era. But of course, in this case, my winner is Zola.

I think the main strong point of this book is Dickens’ thorough observation, especially on human’s character. I am only imagining, if I was being in a dinner party where Dickens was also invited; would I become his observation object too? And if I happened to subscribe The Monthly Magazine, would I find myself illustrated on one of his sketches few days after the party? What would he write of me? That’d be interested! But of course I wouldn’t know whether Dickens was going to write good things or bad things about me. Anyhow, I think, people cannot get angry with him for writing about them. In worst cases, I think they would only put sour smiles on their lips. Or it is most likely that they would laugh heartily on their own sketches. Like Dickens said in ‘The Pantomime of Life: “A pantomime is to us a mirror of life; nay more, we maintain that it is so to audiences generally, although they are not aware of it, and that this very circumstance is the secret cause of their amusement and delight.” For people who lived at that certain time, Sketches by Boz is also a mirror of their own everyday life, either they were aware of it or—most likely—not. Boz was like a pantomime, where people can see and laugh at themselves. And that’s why they love Boz. Boz was something new and different than any other Victorian readings when it is first published. And the success of Boz then brought further success for Charles Dickens, until today!

Three and a half stars for Boz, as although it’s a unique work, Sketches by Boz is sometimes boring. Anthologies have not been my favorite, so maybe this is why I cannot put a high appreciation on Boz. It is good but unfortunately flat…

Title: Sketches by Boz
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 1987
Pages: 688

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Miss Martin from Sketches by Boz

Miss Amelia Martin
Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens

I’m still engaged with Sketches by Boz when I wrote this meme, and this time I bring up an interesting character in which Dickens would like to illustrate the danger of pursuing an instant ambition.

The young Miss Amelia Martin is a respectable milliner and dressmaker in London, to whom great many young ladies had given their trust for their fashionable dresses and hats. And not only skilful, Miss Martin had also been a professional who knew what her customers need, both in fashion term and in social daily conversation. If Miss Martin kept focusing in her business, I believe she would achieve success in the future. However something unexpected happened…

illustration of a milliner

Miss Martin had been invited to her friend’s wedding party. And that night our Miss Martin got to know—among the guests—the Jennings Rodolph couple, the owner of a music institution called White Conduit. With much encouragement from Mr. Jennings Rodolph, Miss Martin showed her voice that night, and received appreciation from everyone. The Jennings Rodolph couple soon encouraged Miss Martin to “come out” without delay, meaning to join the entertainment industry and become a singer. So, Miss Martin prepared herself and studied hard for her opening act on the White Conduit’s orchestra, with the consequence, of course, that Miss Martin must neglect her millinery and dressmaking business. Maybe she thought that millinery and dressmaking is only an ordinary job, while being a singer should give her a more glamorous life, fame and fortune.

Then at the night of the orchestra, the excited Miss Martin was gracefully led on to the stage for her performance. The symphony began, but…where was the singer’s voice?... Seemed that Miss Martin had started to sing, however “a faint kind of ventriloquial chirping” was all she could produce despite of her great effort. You can imagine what happened next. The performance was a great failure and brought quite a humiliation for Miss Martin, which I think should end her instant ambition of glamorous life.

Don’t you think this happens quite often in our real world too? Leaving behind something fruitful and promising that was already in our hand, to pursue something that was still vague. Miss Martin didn’t even look for second opinion or at least found a teacher to take singing lesson more thoroughly. She just trusted her future in the hand of Jennings Rodolph couple. I mean, who were they actually? They were just the owner of a music club, maybe they often searched for new talents, but that didn’t mean they knew everything about singing career. Oh Miss Martin…maybe you were just so naïve.. there isn’t such an instant success. What you have been doing with your millinery and dressmaking business was already great, you just have to keep developing it!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

[Biography] Charles Dickens: Dickens’ Bicentenary 1812 – 2012

[conclusion in English is in the bottom of this post]

Dalam rangka perayaan 200 tahun kelahiran Charles Dickens 7 Februari tahun ini, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley—seorang keturunan Dickens—bekerja sama dengan Charles Dickens Museum, London, menerbitkan sebuah biografi sang penulis besar Inggris ini. Jika sebelumnya telah banyak biografi Dickens yang telah diterbitkan, apa yang membuat biografi yang satu ini berbeda? Tak lain dan tak bukan adalah ciri khasnya yang menjadikannya layak (atau ‘wajib’) dimiliki para Dickensian (penggemar dan pecinta Dickens) di seluruh dunia. Biografi ini bukan hanya mengisahkan kehidupan sang penulis, namun juga karya-karyanya, bagaimana mereka ditulis, dan apa yang melatarbelakangi tema mereka, juga bagaimana kondisi psikologis Dickens saat itu memberikan pengaruh pada novel yang ditulisnya.

Namun yang paling menarik, mungkin, adalah koleksi imitasi relik-relik yang berhubungan dengan kehidupan Dickens dan karya-karyanya yang disisipkan dalam buku ini. Aku sudah pernah memamerkan’ isi buku ini sebelumnya, dan kurasa relik-relik itulah yang membuatku bertekad memiliki (dan membaca) buku ini.

Biografinya sendiri diawali dengan kelahiran Dickens serta sedikit latar belakang kedua orang tuanya, John dan Elizabeth Dickens, dalam chapter Early Years. Kemudian sedikit demi sedikit alurnya maju ke masa kecil Dickens yang pahit saat bekerja sebagai child laborer di blacking factory, cinta pertama Dickens, perkawinannya, dan seterusnya hingga ke saat kematian Dickens. Selain itu, buku ini juga mencantumkan kisah singkat ke-sepuluh anak-anak Dickens. Dan di sela-sela kronologis kehidupan Dickens itu, terselip kisah tentang novel-novel Dickens sesuai dengan waktu penulisannya. Dengan demikian kita jadi mengetahui pada tahap mana dari kehidupan Dickens sebuah novel ditulis, sehingga kita akan memahami latar belakang penulisan dan temanya. Bagian tentang novel-novel ini mengungkap banyak hal menarik yang akan membantu kita memahami kisah dalam novel-novel itu. Maka, biografi ini perlu dibaca untuk melengkapi pemahaman anda akan novel-novel Dickens, apa yang ingin dikatakan Dickens di dalamnya.

Bagian yang paling menarik bagiku, selain tentang karyanya, adalah tentang Ellen Ternan—kekasih Dickens selama 13 tahun terakhir kehidupannya, dan pengalaman Dickens dalam kecelakaan kereta api yang mengubah lima tahun terakhir hidupnya. Dari cerita tentang perceraiannya dengan istrinya Catherine, membuatku mengenal sisi lain kepribadian Dickens yang negatif. Memiliki affair dengan wanita lain mungkin tak mengherankan bagi sosok se-populer Dickens, namun sikapnya yang mencampakkan Catherine begitu saja memang sulit untuk dimaafkan. Bagaimana pun juga, Dickens tetaplah seorang manusia yang memiliki kekurangan, dan hal ini tak menyurutkan kekagumanku pada kejeniusan Dickens dalam menulis, dan perhatiannya yang besar terhadap ketidakadilan di dunia yang ia tuangkan dalam tulisan-tulisannya.


This is not an ordinary biography. Like all biographies, you will find the complete story of Dickens’ life—from his early years, child laboring, first love, children, marriage, love affair, his fond of theatre, his journeys to other countries, to his final years and at last..his death. But besides that, this book also contains facsimile items from Dickens personal clippings, from his handwriting in manuscripts, his marriage certificate, his photographs, to the newspapers which Dickens edited. These items are attached within the pages, and would certainly become valuable collectible items for all Dickensians. Through these items, I feel very close to Dickens himself, as if I was visiting him in his writing room, where he’d showed me his clipping. Looking at the facsimile item of Oliver Twist reading material, for instance, I feel like Dickens was showing me how to read it, adding scribble notes in the margin to emphasize certain parts, and then asked me to read it loud for him (which I actually did! J).

This book is written in a chronological style, including the writing process of his novels. From this part, I get to learn how much Dickens’ personal life affected his writings. As I planned to read all Dickens novels, this book provides me a study of theme and background of each novel, which gives me a better understanding for my readings. I found several interesting facts about his novels, for instance, the ending alteration of Great Expectations. How many of you know, that the first edition of Great Expectation had a different ending than what we read now? It was Dickens’ fellow novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton who had persuaded Dickens to change it to be more acceptable to the readers.

Other interesting fact I find in this book is about Dickens’ love life. Dickens ended his marriage with Catherine soon after he fell in love with Ellen Ternan—who become Dickens’ lover in his last thirteen years of life. One of Dickens’ negative personal characters is, perhaps, his selfish idea about women’s youthfulness. One of the reasons Dickens dump his wife was because Catherine become fat and lazy after giving birth to ten children. The same feeling Dickens had for his first lover, Maria Beadnell. After finding out that Maria wasn’t as pretty and slim-waisted as he remembered from her youth, Dickens dumped her. No wonder, that Dickens’ female main characters in most of his books are always young, tender, and beautiful. More about his separation with Catherine, I don’t agree with his abandoning Catherine after their separation. He didn’t even consult Catherine when their boys were planned to study abroad. I think it’s rather funny, that Dickens had big concerns on child and women injustice, but he just dumped his own wife who—as a woman—didn’t have any power to fight at that time.

Anyway, I realized that Dickens is only a human—an eccentric one perhaps—however his writings and legacies keep inspiring us today and many years ahead. There are still many other interesting aspects of Dickens, including his journey to America, France and Italy, as well as his connection to many famous artists and writers (do you know that Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Elliot and William Makepeace Thackeray had appeared as debutants in Dickens’ magazine: ‘All The Year Round’?). All I can say is, that this book would be a perfect companion for your Dickens reading.

To close this review, I will quote an article of Charles Eliot Norton, an American academic and writer, about Dickens (published on 1868):

No one thinks first of Mr. Dickens as a writer. He is at once, through his books, a friend. He belongs among the intimates of every pleasant-tempered and large-hearted person. He is not so much the guest as the intimate of our houses. He…helps us to celebrate Christmas with heartier cheer, he shares at every New Year in our good wishes: for, indeed, it is not in his purely literary character that he has done most for us, it is as a man of the largest humanity, who has simply used literature as the means by which to bring himself into relations with his fellow men.

This review is published for memorizing the death of Charles Dickens, 142 years ago, on 9th of June 1870.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Simon Tuggs from Sketches by Boz

Simon Tuggs
Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens

Being some kind of short stories collection, it is difficult to pick an interesting character from this Sketches By Boz. I usually like characters that are experiencing character switch within the story, which is impossible to find in a short story. However, I’ll try to discuss about a character which appeared in 20 pages of chapter IV in ‘Tales’ section.

This is what Dickens described about a young man named Mr. Simon Tuggs:

He was as differently formed in body, as he was differently constituted in mind, of the remainder of his family. There was that elongation in his thoughtful face, and that tendency to weakness in his interesting legs, which tell so forcibly of a great mind and romantic disposition.

Frankly speaking, I didn’t quite get in the plot very well, but from what I gathered, Simon is a son of a grocer who had just possessed twenty thousand pounds from a will. The family didn’t take any longer to close the grocery and moved to Ramsgate. On the ship to Ramsgate, the family got acquainted with a couple: Captain Masters and Mrs. Belinda Masters. Shortly enough, Simon found himself attracted to Belinda, who seemed to return the feeling, despite of her marriage with Captain Masters. And after six week being together, Simon fell in love with Belinda, a feeling that they both called “platonic love”.

From Dickens’ description, I can see that Simon is physically weak and emotionally romantic. When the solicitor announced that the Tuggs had won the will, Simon fainted twice (the sign of weakness). And seeing how quickly he became attached to Belinda, only showed that he is a romantic person. It seems from this story, that weakness and romanticism are not a perfect combination, actually it’s a dangerous combination. Add a large sum of money (remember what the Tuggses just got from the will?) in it, and bad people can use someone like Simon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

[Review] A Christmas Carol

I think you would agree with me, that Christmas is the most festive days in a year—whether you celebrate it or not. Christmas is identical with sparkling of lights, thus representing a season full of laughter and joy. It’s hard to not being happy during Christmas, why, with all the cakes, ornaments, gifts…and holiday of course! But, it does not work out the same for a sour and stingy man named Scrooge. Well, sometimes name does speak of everything about a man, right?

Scrooge dedicates his life solely for his business. He doesn’t care about Christmas; he even hates Christmas because it is a time when he cannot make much money. So, on that day before Christmas he rejected his nephew’s invitation for a family Christmas dinner, then rejected a man who asked for donation and sent him away. He also scowled at his clerk who asked for a half day off, and instead asked him to come earlier on Christmas day! What a miserly man...scrooge!

But on that eve of Christmas, Scrooge got a surprise. His late business partner who has passed away seven years ago—Marley, ‘came’ visiting Scrooge at his apartment. When approaching his room, Scrooge saw a shadowy image of Marley’s face on his door knocker… It’s a phantom! Marley’s ghost! At first Scrooge got scared, and all he would have said is: “Humbug!”, meaning ‘nonsense’, which seems being one of Scrooge’s favorite word! However, it did not take too long before the phantom made Scrooge believe in it. But why did Marley haunt his ex-partner?

the illustration of Marley's ghost and Scrooge

Apparently, Marley wanted to tell his friend that he regretted what he had not done during his short life, years ago. Marley did not realize then, that the most important thing in life was not business and wealth, and that he had misused his opportunity of life given to him. Now it is too late for him to reconcile them, not when he is only a ghost. So, Marley came to tell Scrooge that, in order to give him a second chance of life, Three Spirits would haunt him starting from the next night when the bell tolled One. It will be followed by the second and third visits the following consecutive nights at the same hour. And then...Marley's ghost faded...

In no time Scrooge fell a sleep, only to woke up abruptly when the bell tolled. Oops, it’s one o’clock already! And there it came, the first ghost who called itself The Ghost of Christmas Past. As promised by Marley, this ghost was followed by two more, The Ghost of Christmas Present and…. (can you guess from the pattern?)...The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come! Each of them took Scrooge to different time sets of his life.

First, The Ghost of Christmas Past took Scrooge to his past life, three past Christmases. From these scenes, you will have clues to what might have changed Scrooge from once a lovable boy to the bitter man he is now. I think sometimes we ought also to review our own life like Scrooge did. That way we can see how far we have transformed from the kind and lovable child we used to be, to what we are at present. Then we will know what was going wrong with our life, so that we will be able to resolve it.

The second turn, The Ghost of Christmas Present took Scrooge to the lives of people surround him. First they visited Bob Cratchit's (the clerk) poor house. On that Christmas, Bob's son--Tiny Tim, was cripple and ill, and he might not be able to see the next Christmas, because his father cannot afford to buy the required medicament from his little salary. Nevertheless, they all live happily, love each other, and especially that night, they had a merry Christmas with what they can afford. The ghost also took Scrooge to his nephew Fred's Christmas party. The party Scrooge had rejected the invitation earlier that day. The party which turned out to be very entertaining, that Scrooge himself enjoyed the games and the singing. Of course, out of the sights of the others!

The most terrifying part of this book is, perhaps, the visit of The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Taking the form of a black hooded spirit, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come showed Scrooge things that were going to happen in the future. Things that scared Scrooge enough to promise that he will change his life. What scenes had Scrooge seen this time? And did those Three Spirits succeeded in convincing Scrooge to resolve his life? And how will he do that? Will he still get a chance to have a very merry Christmas?

This story is really simple. Dickens wants to remind us about love, passion, warmth, and kindness that are the true value of Christmas. But above that, Dickens also wants to show us that Christmas is not just about prosperity (expensive gifts, luxury hotels, fine foods), but more on the charity, acceptance and forgiveness. On the other hand, a party will bring joy only when you enjoy it among your loved ones. The atmosphere of British traditional Christmas in 19h century has been beautifully described with all the details in this book. This book is also included in the 50 Books That Changed The World (by Andrew Taylor), for creating the basic of Christmas tradition that is continuing until now.

So in conclusion, there's nothing wrong with being a serious and responsible adult. But, don't be too carried away--like Scrooge, that you forget the love and tenderness in you. It’s OK to be childish sometimes! Especially on a special day like Christmas....

Four stars for Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.


This time I read an e-book version (no translation is available yet). I like it, but unfortunately it doesn't come with an attractive cover (the one I put here is the color version). I searched through Goodreads and found two lovely covers that I think would be most suitable for this book. Here they are..

Hopefully one of our publishers will publish the translated version of this book in one of these covers!

Finally, have a merry Christmas for you who celebrate it, and a happy new and prosperous year of 2012!

Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Sony Connect Inc.
e-book source: The Pennsylvania State University, 1998
Published: 2007
e-pages: 100

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dickens' Love Life

Love Life here is reviewing Charles Dickens’ love story with women other than his wife (Catherine), while the Marriage will tell you all about his marriage with Catherine.

Maria Beadnell

Dickens's first love occurred when he was 17 years old with a girl named Maria Beadnell. Maria is the daughter of a wealthy banker. She was two years older than Dickens. Their romance was not sanctioned by her parents because at the time Dickens was "nobody", and did not have any connections with wealthy families. Dickens secretly showered her with flowery love letters, though she never quite returned Dickens’ feeling.

Maria Beadnell

In 1832 her parents sent her to Paris, and after returning a few months later, Dickens broke their relationship after realizing that the effort to make her love him was fruitless. The unrequited love is apparently incised a very deep wound in Dickens’ heart, that when he wrote David Copperfield, Dickens put Maria into the character of Dora.

In 1855 when Dickens and his wife Catherine realized that their marriage was cooling down, suddenly came a letter from Maria who had now become Mrs. Winter. Dickens then told her to read a specific section in David Copperfield. Young David is said to be in love with the character of Dora which had been widely criticized as "unrealistic", but is ridiculed by Dickens because he obviously knew the truth ...

After exchanging several letters, the two decided to meet. But Maria has been now totally changed; she was no longer the beautiful slim Maria who had made Dickens crazy in love. Dickens’ impression towards Mary was revealed in a quote in Little Dorrit. Maria used to be "better" in everything than Dickens. She was richer, higher in social class, and her life was more sparkling. Then in 1855, the situation was reversed. The young man who had been insulted and rejected by her father, and who had been seduced and then rejected by Maria has become much richer and more famous than the father and Maria’s husband. And now it’s Dickens’ turn to reject Maria, and Maria was the one who suffered the harassment.

Mary Hogarth

Mary is the younger sister of Catherine--Dickens’ wife. Mary was 4 years younger than Catherine, and 7 years younger of Dickens. Immediately after Dickens and Catherine had married in 1836, Mary who was 17 years old came to live with the young couple. One Saturday night on May 6, 1837 Dickens, Catherine and Mary has just returned from the theater to watch opera written by Dickens. Then, not long after Mary came into her room, they heard a strange sound. Dickens and Catherine rushed in and found Mary was seriously ill. Doctor was called immediately, but the next afternoon Mary died of a heart attack in Dickens’ arms.

Mary Hogarth

Surprisingly, for many years later Dickens kept insisting to be buried in the same grave with Mary when he died. Besides, Dickens always wore Mary’s ring on his little finger all his life. Those were two strange things which were assumed as a sign of "love affair" between Dickens and Mary. Mary's death greatly affected Dickens, he grieved deeply for her. Later in his novels, Dickens wrote quite often of young women of around 17-year of ages. It is most likely that this is a manifestation of Dickens’ memories towards Mary.

One of those 17-year-old characters was Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. When it comes to Dickens to "kill" Little Nell, the wound at his heart from the death of Mary Hogarth bleed again. Dickens wrote to his illustrator: "I am breaking my heart over this story." and "I am.....nearly dead with work - and grief for the lost of my child."

Georgina Hogarth

Several years after Mary’s death, Georgina Hogarth—Catherine’s sister who was 12 years younger—filled Mary’s place at the Dickens’ residence. Georgina closely befriended Dickens, and many believed that they were lovers. The issue of "love affair" continued to resonate until today. It was clearly that Georgina loved Dickens. Dickens himself admired Georgina’s ability to manage household affairs and took care of Dickens’ children, not like Catherine who was kept busying herself with pregnancy, childbirth and post-birth trauma. This fact only worsened the Hogarth sisters’ relationship.

Georgina Hogarth

Later, when Dickens had separated from Catherine, Georgina stayed with Dickens and helped him raising the children. When the Hogarth family accused Georgina as Dickens’ mistress, Dickens was so angry that he arranged for Georgina to undergo a virginity test, in which she was eventually declared a virgin. This had been a humiliating experience for Georgina that she could never forgive her family. Georgina may have lost their parents and siblings, but she got the love and respect from Dickens and his children. In Dickens eyes, Georgina was "the best and truest friend [a] man ever had".