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.