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My B.I.L. (brother in law) lives in a different city so, with the purpose of doing something together without actually being together, we decided to start a very tiny book club, just him and I. He’s a huge fan of Dickens while I’ve always been intimidated to tackle his novels, but after exchanging a few ideas, we decided on Great Expectations.
I don’t exaggerate when I say that I devoured it in less than a week. I don’t know what I was expecting or why I had dreaded Dickens until turning 30, but it was definitely among the best novels I’ve ever read. I’d probably place it in my top three, right behind Pride and Prejudice and The Three Musketeers.
As I sit here tonight, the first night in six days when I am not falling asleep with Pip & Co., I started to ponder what I learned from Mr. Dickens.
Aside from the obvious: “If there were writers like THAT in the world, I should immediately take my dream of being one myself, shove it out the window and begin the search for a completely different dream.”
What did hit me is that whether you deal with love in 2013 or love in the late 1800s, nothing has changed. Granted, I realize Great Expectations is a fiction novel, but Charles Dickens didn’t write about love without some sort of realistic basis. Two hundred years ago, human beings were just as masochistic as they are today. I am not sure if that is reassuring or depressing, I’ll let you choose for yourself.
Pip fell in love with a pretty, haughty, snobby, heartless little girl and remained hopelessly in love with her his entire life. She told him time and again that it was against her nature to love or feel anything at all, and still, he did not stop loving her. Even after she’d lead him on, played games with him, married someone else, he still did not stop loving her. On more than one occasion he himself admits to being utterly miserable in her presence, but that he wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
Today things haven’t changed much. I see it happen every day. It is currently happening with a close relation of mine who is finally dating a wonderful, beautiful, loving woman and despite getting what he has always wanted out of a partner, he is still hung up on the woman who stomped on his heart over and over again for the past 20 years.
I am guilty of it myself. When I take stock of my love life, there are two men who have invaded my heart and soul and for whom part of me with always ache. They are also the two people who have hurt me the most, although for very different reasons. To quote Pip they are “part of my existence, of myself” and for better or worse, I am who I am today because I have known them and love them still. And it’s funny because I understand Pip’s misery in the presence of his loved one. I am utterly miserable when in the presence of either of these two indivuals: usually wrecked by insecurities, doubts, awkwardness. It’s complete torture. Then why is it that afterwards I recall these moments as blissful?
Why is it that the worse they make us feel, the more we love them? Why do we hold on to the very people who destroy us? Why can’t we cherish the kind-hearted companions in the same way? Why do we prefer the pain of longing rather than the comfort of the sure-thing?
The ending of Great Expectations is not clear on whether Pip finally gets to marry his girl, but they simply walk away together, promising to stay friends. Not a very promising moral for all us masochists out there, but we can find consolation in the fact that we are not alone, and that even in the 1800s we wanted what we couldn’t have.