Do you ever get déjà vu? Coming off Great Expectations and into the second volume of your Miscellaneous Papers, I’ve had the sense for the past week that you and I have been here before.
Before we get into details, let me say first that I loved Great Expectations. It was brisk, lively, funny, and had complex and interesting characters. I love the inscrutable Jaggers and the relationship of mutual mystery and strict professionalism between him and Wiggins. I love Wiggins’ split personality and his little domestic castle and his adorable dad, and I love dear Herbert’s trusting good nature. I love Biddy and her refusal to pine for Pip. I love Magwitch’s life-changing adoration of Pip. I can absolutely see why people consider it your best work.
If I were going to recommend a Dickens gateway drug, this would be the one.
But remember how I told you I suspected that there would be unforeseen connections between characters? Turns out I was right, and it also turns out that this isn’t such a great thing.
Without the usual army of supporting characters, those ‘coincidental’ connections are more obvious than Darth Vader on the deck of the Enterprise. Really, Charlie, there’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s the wrestling of disbelief into a straight-jacket and throwing it into solitary confinement in Alcatraz that’s required to swallow Pip’s story. Trying to picture the Venn diagram of these relationships puts me at risk of a seizure… Pip’s and Miss Havisham’s spheres overlap in Estella, but Pip and Magwitch also sorta share Estella, as do Pip and Jaggers’ housekeeper, and as do Jaggers and Miss Havisham. In the meantime, Pip and Magwitch share Compeyson, but Pip and Compeyson share Miss Havisham. And Pip and Magwitch overlap in Jaggers. Oh my brain hurts.
And we haven’t even started with the déjà vu. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in your head for 11 months now, my friend, but reading this book was a bit like conducting a Dickens retrospective. Pip reminds me strongly at times of David Copperfield, with bits of Martin Chuzzlewit, Jr. and Nicholas thrown in. Orlick is a combination of Uriah Heep and Barnaby Rudge’s Hugh, Compeyson smacks of Steerforth, and Estella is definitely channeling both Mrs. Dombey and Louisa Gradgrind.
But it wasn’t until I came across one of your more famous quotations that I realized how much this book distills and refines everything that’s come before. This is the line:
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
And I sat there and thought, “dammit, I’ve sure I’ve read that before!” So I did a little digging (thank you, Project Gutenberg), and sure enough, in the pages of Barnaby Rudge you wrote:
It was on one of those mornings, common in early spring, when the year, fickle and changeable in its youth like all other created things, is undecided whether to step backward into winter or forward into summer, and in its uncertainty inclines now to the one and now to the other, and now to both at once–wooing summer in the sunshine, and lingering still with winter in the shade–it was, in short, on one of those mornings, when it is hot and cold, wet and dry, bright and lowering, sad and cheerful, withering and genial, in the compass of one short hour, that old John Willet, who was dropping asleep over the copper boiler, was roused by the sound of a horse’s feet, and glancing out at window, beheld a traveller of goodly promise, checking his bridle at the Maypole door.
Had you been unconsciously playing around with that sentiment every March in the intervening years until you had it phrased perfectly?
Anyway, Charlie, I feel like I’m being mean to you, and I didn’t intend to be, because I honestly think Great Expectations is awesome, and if you’re going to plagiarize someone, it might as well be a writer as fantastic as yourself.