In love with love

I did it. I finally finished reading Great Expectations, a Dickens classic. I think it only took me . . . six months?

Okay, okay, I know that's pretty pathetic. It's not even a particularly long book. But I rarely get free reading time, so I'm chalking this up to a win.

There's just something about Dickensian prose that feeds my soul. Something in the excessive use of language and the frightfully long sentences and the mind-bending sentence structures that force me to read every paragraph twice to see if I can make better sense of it the second time. Between you and me, there's a great deal of it I don't understand, and I think one might need a doctorate in English literature to make heads or tails out of many of the passages. But taken in small bites, like a decadent dessert, I can't help but assume that every single word has been expertly crafted whether I know what it means or not.

Readability aside, academic enrichment aside, what I really love about Great Expectations and all other Dickens novels I've read is the careful adherence to morality. Dickens never fails to reward worthy characters, even if their takeaway is small, and he likewise punishes the misdeeds. When his "bad guy" has really had it coming for 300 pages, Dickens eventually lets him have it, and the retribution is always very sweet and befitting.

Take Great Expectations, where we see an unfortunate young lad, Pip, come into great wealth by the hand of an unknown benefactor. Throughout the story, there are those who treat him well and those who treat him poorly. There are characters to whom Pip is faithful and those whom he slights. Some characters mean well and yet suffer; some characters thrive in their evil ways.

It isn't until the last few pages that Dickens shows his hand—shows the true theme of the story—that we reap what we sow, or, more specifically, that only Pip's truly selfless deeds bring him future blessing.

Sure, the bad guys die or go to prison, sad and penniless and alone, and the good guys find contentment and comfort for the rest of their days. Pip falls somewhere in the middle, because he made his share of mistakes and had to pay for them. He didn't end up with the woman he loved, Estella, because he loved her against reason and against his own better judgment, and he used his love for her as an excuse for his own shortcomings.

You know what I think? I think Pip was in love with love.

Have you ever seen someone in a relationship or harboring an infatuation that made no earthly sense? "What do you see in him?" you might ask them or yourself. "You deserve better. Why are you wasting your time on this person?"

Pip's relationship with Estella is very nearly one-sided for the entirety of the story. From the first moment, she mistreats him, slights him, ignores him, and even tells him that she cannot possibly return his affection, yet he insists on nursing his fixation on her from boyhood and well into adulthood. A reader will find that, although Estella gives Pip absolutely no reason to like her (in fact, he ought to hate her if he had any sense), he declares himself so irrevocably smitten as to believe that she is eventually intended for him.

'Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil.'

The story reaches a "point of no return" moment when Estella marries Pip's nemesis. She does so knowing she will find no happiness or comfort in the situation. She may even do it because it's the worst choice. Her character is contrary to the very last. She proves undeserving of Pip's love, yet he continues to remember his love for her.

Do you see that vague hint? He remembers his love. He remembers that she was always important to him.

She was the object of his affection, but she never accepted or returned it. So was he really in love with her, or was he in love with love?

In the book I've been working on, my protagonist proves quick to bestow affection on the men who cross her path. Some are more deserving than others—like Estella, one of them is especially undeserving—but the mere fact that she is so hasty to attach herself shows that she may be more in love with love than with the characters. Part of her journey is discovering her own tendencies and how she hides in the strengths of others rather than dealing with her inadequacies. It is a recurring theme in the story.

To find out if my protagonist finds love worth hanging onto, stay in touch and sign up for updates from my website.

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