Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Beyond expectations

What better time than now, at year’s end, to celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, king of the Christmas season. Dickens has emerged as one of the major figures of English literature.  A master creator of character, plot and scene, he has been universally acknowledged by critics as a writer of considerable depth and complexity, a sensitive and philosophical observer of the human condition.  Dickens is now associated with such writers as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka and Herman Melville.

Despite his resounding success following each publication, Dickens’ reputation had started to decline, early in the 20th century.  He was dismissed by some as a mere entertainer, a creator of a panorama of characters of a kaleidoscope of colours, from comic to villain and all else in between. They accused him of lacking subtlety and artistic taste.  By 1940, a flood of books and essays described Dickens as a writer of considerable depth and complexity. Avid fans sighed in relief as they witnessed the irrepressible praise being showered on him.  He is often credited with purposes and ideas he never considered.  One thing is certain, Dickens is an artist of a superb caliber, always aware of the evil in life, but equally aware of the humour that forever accompanies it.

Christmas time is Dickens’ time, revealing the worst and the best in the human spirit.  Dickens wrote 20 novels, including 5 short Christmas books.  Most broke all sales of the time, like Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Most have been adapted for film, TV and stage. Among the Christmas books, the most popular by far is the first: A Christmas Carol, (1843). One hundred and sixty nine Christmases ago, the world was introduced to the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the 3 ghosts who show the old man his past, present and future. Scrooge finally realizes the futility of greed and is transformed from a bitter old grouch to a benevolent, warm and unselfish old uncle. It is a Christmas favourite and continues to delight youngsters, parents and grandparents every Christmas without fail.

This season we have an added and unexpected Dickens’ attraction, to bring some more joy to this sad and gloomy world. A new film adaptation of another Dickens’ classic, “Great Expectations” is a tale of youth’s discovery of life’s bitter realities, and is sure to thrill a whole new viewing generation.  The most revered version of this classic was the brilliant adaptation by master craftsman, director David Lean, (1946).  Pip, a poor orphan is unexpectedly provided by a generous sum of money that allows him to live as a gentleman. His pride is shattered when he discovers that his “great expectations” comes from an escaped convict. Lean’s superb depiction of the dreary Victorian atmosphere and the excellent performances by John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Alec Guinness and Bernard Miles have made this lavish spectacle a ‘must see’ classic. Many versions have been made during those 66 years, and director Mike Newell decided to make one more, of youth’s illusions and love’s pursuit. It is an appropriate tip of the hat to the author, on the occasion of his 200th birthday.

In this tale of revenge, of youth’s adolescent delusions and illusions, critics acclaim director Newell’s stronger treatment of Pip’s desperate romance with the cruel Estella.  The cast is impressive with the young promising Jeremy Irvine as Pip, and Ralph Fiennes as his benefactor, the grizzled ex-convict Abel Magwitch.  Helena Bonham Carter is appealing as the dotty Miss Havisham.  Like Lean, Newell has the gift of telling a tale, and setting an obscure mood, true to every Dickens’ detail. Dickens’ scorn of class discrimination is eloquently portrayed when Pip realizes that only by painfully revising his values can he re-establish his life.  Success is based on a foundation of human sympathy, rather than on vanity, possessions or social position.

Dickens’ own life is even more intriguing than his characters. Perhaps in no large body of fiction does the reader receive so strong and agreeable an impression of the man behind the story.  Born to a poor family in Portsmouth, in 1812, Charles John Huffam Dickens wrote about events and people in his life.  At age 24 he found himself famous after the publication of his first book “The Pickwick Papers”, (1836).  His mental and physical energy was astonishing. He often walked for hours in the streets and alleys of his beloved London, which he knew perhaps better than any other person of his time. He sometimes walked as far as 48 kilometres, into his favourite county of Kent. “Oliver Twist” and “David Copperfield” contain many popular Dickens’ characters which he came across on his many walks.

He enjoyed the theatre and made a hobby of producing and acting in small theatrical productions. He also enchanted audiences with his dramatic readings from his novels. Critics credit his gift of creating dramatic scenes to his great love of the theatre.

For a fresh view of the warmth and humour of this 19thcentury English genius, visit your local library or favourite bookstore; better still, go to the nearest movie theatre were “Great Expectations” surely await you.


“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known”

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

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