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The Dickens Dilemma

Is it pathetic that I’m over forty and haven’t read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens? After all, just how did I manage to graduate from high school without that literary trophy under my belt? I imagine it’s no reflection on my English teachers. Left to my own devices to choose a book for a book report, I would have no doubt chosen an easier read like One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte over any classic. Time can be forgiving, and Masterpiece Theater an enabler. Like the proverbial moth to a flame, I was drawn to the movie adaptation of Great Expectations shown recently. Sadly, I caught only the second part, so I have to backtrack to complete the story. I decided to skip the Sparks Notes and wield my semi-neglected, like-new library card and check out the book, hoping to pump some culture into my brain cells.

If the task of procuring the book is any indication of my anticipated journey though Dickens’ London, I may as well pull out a comic book right now. Seriously, what self-respecting library doesn’t have a copy of Great Expectations in its main circulation?

“What does ‘Media: Mobile Library’ mean?” I asked the librarian, expecting him to yak, yak, yak, then point me to the proper section of the library so I could be on my way and enjoy the rest of my lunch hour.

Apparently it means that the library’s one copy of Great Expectations lives in the mobile library unit. In order to get it, I would have to make a reservation, and wait until it makes its way back to the physical library. How long that would take, no one can say for certain. When I realized he was serious, I simply thanked him and left. What other classics are on tour? Just in case I watch Pride and Prejudice next week.

Until now, reading the book was just an idea. Tell me I can’t and it becomes a mission. I trotted down to the nearest bookstore, determined to do exactly what I had been trying to avoid—buy the book. The first store (yes, I said ‘first’), had the book BUT it was one of those two-for-one deals that I wasn’t prepared accept. Amazon’s ‘Frequently Bought Together’ is obviously rubbing off, but I wasn’t in the mood to purchase ‘Tale of Two Cities’ just because it was attached to Great Expectations for $26.00, especially when I had planned to get the book for free. I had difficulty even finding the classics section in the second store (my third stop, in case you’re counting). A calm store clerk came to my rescue and located Pip’s story. Lest you think I’m completely inept, just know she had to look it up in the store’s computer inventory to find it. How’s that for digging for buried treasure!

In the end, Dickens’ tale set me back $16, as opposed to $0, and a lunch hour for a copy that is about the size of an index card with print that is probably going to force me to wear my glasses. I anticipate many nights with Great Expectations as my bedtime story and plan to enjoy every minute.

Part Two – Watching the Movie

What is the saying about the best-laid plans? While I watched Part Two of Great Expectations on PBS and I became very curious about one particular character. Miss Havisham. In the movie version, Miss Havisham raised Estella to be part of a revenge plot to punish someone else for the hurt she felt after being betrayed by her fiancé. Estella became a lovely but cold and distant young woman. Miss Havisham had planned it. What she did not plan, however, was that Estella would be cold and distant toward her, too. Estella told her mother that she had become exactly what she had raised her to be. No exceptions.

Do you remember the 70s/80s television show, Fantasy Island, where guests would get what they wished for but it never seemed to turn out the way they had imagined? Causing us to shake our heads, “That’s not what I meant.” Forgetting that there is a little thing out there known as individuality. The literal application of our desires can derail any well-laid or well-meaning outcome. I guess that is what Mr. Roarke tried to teach everyone who came on de plane! De plane!

The lesson? People are messy. They don’t move like chess pieces at another’s whim or design. Once they start thinking and feeling for themselves, watch out. My hope is that I learn this lesson before I set myself on fire.

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