We all love a bit of classic Charles Dickens at Christmas. We love his characters, we love the nostalgia.
So it’s no surprise that Mike Newell’s Great Expectations is the most recent adaptation to hit our screens this festive season. It tells the story of young Pip’s coming of age. Pip is born an orphan but suddenly his fortunes change as Jaggers informs Pip that he has come into a large amount of money from an anonymous benefactor and must leave for London immediately.
Do we really need another adaptation? We already know the plotline and the expected period costumes. But maybe Great Expectations is so popular because we resonate so well with the characters. We see ourselves and our society in them.
With Pip’s youth come the usual yearnings and dreams. He longs to be independent, to come into better fortunes and marry well. He has great expectations and this sees him reject a simple life of contentment at the blacksmith mill.
Maybe deep down, we all want to be like Pip. He is honest, courageous and ambitious. He is in love with the idea of being in love; a hero who doesn’t want the fame. He is abused but he doesn’t seek revenge. He is coming of age and fresh. Fleeing his childhood ways, he heads out into the wider world without any real sense of direction. His expectations of life are great and the expectations he puts on himself are even greater. Like me, Pip has decisions to make, loyalties to choose and above all his own heart to contend with.
Pip has no understanding about courting and dating. But that doesn’t stop him attempting to melt Estella’s cold heart and rekindle in her the ability to love that has been ruined by Miss Havisham (played by Helena Bonham-Carter in this adaptation).
Pip is caught up in his adoration with Estella and clueless about London’s social order. He seeks wisdom and guidance from those around him. Pip then has to choose between faithful but penniless Joe from his old life against the pompous and enigmatic Jaggers and vibrant friend, Hebert. All three of these characters show loyalty towards Pip and teach him about work, money, social etiquette and relationships.
Jaggers and Herbert advise him to change his character to reflect his new London surroundings, whereas Joe reminds him to be faithful to his childhood roots. Pip has to choose where to place his identity. He wants to be known as a somebody; a gentleman rather than a nobody, an orphan, and this is reflected in his decision-making.
In the real world, like Pip we gain a sense of the pressure to be a somebody. Maybe in a new job, at university or on a gap year. We are always being put into new situations that test our character and our faith. Like Pip, who doesn’t want it to be known that he is an orphan in London, we are sometimes ashamed of our Christianity.
In new social settings, it can become easy to forget about God.
You may have some ‘great expectations’ and plans for the future, but the Bible teaches us to: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). That applies in all circumstances, for all things, so that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28)
This is why Dickens is genius. He teaches us about character, emotions and above all, trust.