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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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The first part of Great Expectations is set in the marsh country
of Kent, where Dickens spent his happy early childhood. Some
readers believe that Dickens saw this countryside as a land of
childhood innocence for Pip; others point to his descriptions of
it-dark, foggy, with low leaden horizons-to show that it is a
land of bleak prospects and murky moral views. Whatever it
means symbolically, it does create a dramatic atmosphere,
almost like an old black-and-white movie, with stark lighting,
tilted camera angles, and minimal scenery.

When the scene shifts to London, the somber black-and-white
film seems to give way to a grainy color movie, shot with a
jostled, hand-held camera. We see faces everywhere, we hear
street sounds, we read specific place names. Dickens knew
every corner of London; showing it to us through Pip's eyes, he
emphasizes that it is dirty, cramped, and chaotic, but we can
sense his fascination with it.

The novel moves back and forth between these two locales and
two moods, shifting more quickly as it heads toward the
climax. Notice that, rowing with Magwitch, Pip follows his life
in reverse, from London back to the grim coastal marshes.

Dickens the theater lover also creates in this book two
masterful stage sets: Satis House and Wemmick's Castle. Both
are described in minute, eccentric detail. Miss Havisham's
house tries to shut out life and resist change-yet whites still
turn yellow, mice and beetles scuttle about, weeds push
through the pavement. Wemmick's home, in contrast, is almost
too full of life, of overflowing creative energy. Both houses are
examples of mad excess, and Dickens makes them as bizarre as

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes

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