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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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Dickens engineers emotional effects in this book by shifting
writing styles. He alternates broad effects with subtle touches.
Comic exaggeration, satiric understatement, the brooding tones
of melodrama, and the stern notes of tragedy all slip in and out.
Although he must work through his narrator, Pip, Dickens fine-
tunes the tone of Pip's voice to steer our sympathies in certain

Pip's usual voice is quiet and thoughtful; he's even a little stiff
and tends toward formal turns of phrase. But he also uses
deadpan humor (read the opening two paragraphs); he lashes
out at himself (read the end of chapter 8); every once in a while
he steps aside and comments wisely on life (read the end of
chapter 9). At other times (as in chapter 14) he bursts forth to
describe his feelings, with long, rhythmic sentences, urgent
questions, and echoing phrases.

Sometimes Pip fades into the background and simply observes,
so that Dickens can write scenes ready-made for the stage.
Look at some of Estella and Miss Havisham's confrontations,
for example; Pip records what is said, adding the actors'
gestures and tones of voice, but he doesn't analyze. He doesn't
need to, because the dialogue itself, like the dialogue in a TV
soap opera, effectively conveys so much passion. Pip interjects
comments during some scenes, such as those with the convict,
where the drama lies in the twists and turns of Pip's own
reactions. He treats other scenes in a vivid overview;
describing Wopsle's Hamlet (chapter 31), for instance, he
paraphrases what is said and tosses out jumbled details, to
make it look as absurd as possible.

In some descriptive passages, Pip works slowly and carefully,
anxious to get every detail exact and then to interpret them, as
when he first sees Miss Havisham's house (chapter 8). He
dashes off other scenes with exaggerated, surreal comic vision,
as when he's at the cheap hotel (chapter 45); or he paints a vast
landscape in confident, rhythmic prose, as when he sketches
the river traffic (chapter 54). These various descriptions are
almost like movie shots: the slow close up, the quick take, or
the majestic panoramic sweep. Dickens, of course, never saw a
movie, but he instinctively used the same techniques to
maximum effect.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes

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