Book Club Part 4: Great Expectations

Great Expectations. Charles Dickens. 1861.

We can control our actions.  We can control our choices. But we cannot control our emotions. In Great Expectations, Pip knew to his detriment that he loved Estella against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. 

Over the years, Estella had toyed with him. She had used him. She had led him on. She had cast him aside. She had chose someone else. She had made him feel terrible, worthless and sad. Even after 11 years without a word, he still thought of her, still missed her and never could replace her. If logic had played any role, he would have hated her, but he simply continued to love her. Does this mean they were soul-mates? Was he nobly keeping his heart pure for her? Or was his heart so wounded by her overpowering love that it simply could not recover? Did she damage him to the point where he would forever think of love as the all consuming passion he felt for her? And what of Estella. How could she cast aside the only man she had ever cared for? Was she truly an evil, narcissistic person who chose to destroy him? Or was she so damaged by her own life, her own childhood, that she knew no other way to love?

As much as I hated Estella for her ruthless treatment of Pip, as I read the ambiguous ending, I wanted them to be together. Upon reflection, I found this to be a disturbing projection. I saw so much of myself in Pip with his broken heart and inability to recover. Why then did I wish for him to be with the woman who maimed him? Shouldn’t I have wished for him to live a full and happy life with someone else? Does this mean that in my heart, I still want to be with someone whose love destroys me?

Pip knew as I do that you can stop all communication, you can move away, you can build a new life, but you cannot force your heart to heal. You cannot will your memories away. You cannot simply forget a powerful love.

Out of my thoughts! 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. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since – on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, on the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever been acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, in the last hour of my life you cannot choose but to remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil. 

Against reason I still see him in every song I hear, every city I visit, every book I read. Against happiness I still think of him every day. Against hope I still love him. I do not choose to live with this burden but I simply do not know any other way.



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