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Personal Choice 49

Great Expectations

'Please, sir,' replied Oliver, 'I want some more.'

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.

This quote comes from Great Expectations, a novel that features the protagonist, Pip, who learns hard truths about the world as he grows up. This quote is spoken by Estella; the young woman Pip falls in love with. She was raised by Miss. Havisham to torment and never give into men. She was born to Magwitch, a criminal, and her introduction into a world of wealth does not improve her happiness.

Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces – and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper – love her, love her, love her!

This well-known quote is spoken by Miss. Havisham in Great Expectations. Here, she is encouraging Pip to love Estella and to pain himself over her, even if she never loves him. She’s going to hurt him, but she never wants him to turn away from the pain. This is a result of the pain she experienced herself.

It is said that every life has its roses and thorns; there seemed, however, to have been a misadventure or mistake in Stephen’s case, whereby somebody else had become possessed of his roses, and he had become possessed of somebody else’s thorns in addition to his own.

These lines are from Hard Times. In the quote, the speaker emphasizes that life has its pleasures and its suffering. In Stephen’s case, he seems to be missing out on the pleasures more often than usual. Dickens uses ‘thorns’ as a metaphor for the negative aspects of life and the roses as a positive.

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before – more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.

This quote also comes from Great Expectations. It is spoken by the protagonist, Pip. He says these words when he’s about to go to London with the hopes of improving his economic situation. He cries, experiencing the nostalgia of the moment and the life he is leaving behind.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

This very famous quote comes from A Tale of Two Cities, not one of Dickens’ best-loved novels. It is suggestive of the state of affairs in England during the time, as well as in France. It was a time of opposites. For some, the best, and for some, the word. It was filled with incredulity and belief in equal measure.

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.

These hopeful lines come from A Christmas Carol. It speaks to the way that human happiness can rub off and spread like a ‘disease.’ It’s possible, even in the darkest of times, something that many of Dickens’ characters learn.

The sun – the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man – burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.

These lines are featured in Oliver Twist. Here, the novel speaks on the warmth and joy of the sun. It brings with it ‘new life and hope.’ No matter where it shines, it’s possible to experience the same joy. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor one is.

My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.

These lines can be found in David Copperfield, one of Dickens’ coming-of-age novels. They speak to good intentions, hard work, and devotion. They may inspire the reader to be ‘earnest’ or caring and careful in everything they do.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His novels and short stories are widely read today.

My grandmother was a remarkable woman. The debt I owe her as an early crucial and formative influence on my career as a writer is inestimable. She simply believed in me and took seriously my first stories. She was entranced by Charles Dickens and read and reread his novels throughout her long life. She would often read his lines to me, laugh uproariously at some of his characters and weep copiously over others. All of her ‘Dickens’ finally found their way to my bookshelves. I wrote this following poem in gratitude and love.

On Collecting Dickens

Grandmother got them all by slow degrees

after the war on a pension

from book clearance tables at Myers

for sixpence and a shilling at the Argonaut now gone

under. And they were for her a constant source of coruscation

beneath their muted cloth covers of red and blue and green.

Moving in and out of them with a companion

ease and she could have been

any one of a dozen characters yet not the least herself:

seeking out their peculiar company down those long

days of sickness, up half

the night through all the years of separation.

Now they line one shelf of mine and wait as comforter

for some time-tired soul to come to them like hers.


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