Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 42

Micah 5 v 1-5; Isaiah 53 v 4- 9; Isaiah 61 v 1- 2.

Great Expectations.

I have to admit that I was never a fan of Charles Dickens novels when I was a youngster.         I think they were a bit too dark and depressing, although I do recall we touched on Oliver Twist in senior school English Literature lesson, but I preferred the musical version.

However, recently I watched a television programme on BBC 4 where a presenter dissected a classic novel and analysed what the author was actually saying.  One of the books featured was Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations.

I was fascinated to learn that within the files of one of our universities, they have the original hand written manuscript of Dickens’s notes of the book. Apparently, the book started its life as a love story but in the words of the programme presenter, ‘Love stories were not Dickens’s forte’, so he changed it into a sort of mystery story. Consequently, large sections of the original text had been crossed out and re-written. One such section was the opening chapter.

The original opening of the book placed the main character, Pip, in an orphanage having lost his parents. The published version placed Pip in a graveyard at night, (what did I say about being dark and depressing?), where he is accosted by a terrifying escaped convict called Abel Magwitch, who demands that Pip goes off and steals him some food.

The story then develops as Pip becomes the recipient of a mysterious legacy and takes the opportunity to learn how to be a gentleman. The love story bit returns when Pip strikes up a relationship with a strange character called, Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella, a cold, very proud but beautiful young lady of Pip’s age. At this stage all the evidence misleadingly points to Miss Havisham being Pip’s mystery benefactor.

Through twists and turns, including the murder of Pip’s sister, we eventually discover the true identity of the benefactor of Pip’s finances and move towards the end of the story, which suffered many crossing out and re-writing in the original manuscript.

In true Dickensian style, his first ending was depressing and involved the death of several characters, including Miss Havisham being killed in a fire. Estella was married twice and was not happy, while Pip remained single, and was not happy.  However, in the final version, although the death count remained the same, Pip and Estella are brought back together and there is a vague suggestion that they may be successfully joined at some time in the future.

Another interesting fact is that when the book was first published, it was in the form of a serial, almost like EastEnders’s or Coronation Street, each instalment published in a newspaper owned by Dickens. Each episode left the reader in a cliff hanging suspense as to what happened next. This was to encourage readers to buy the next episode and the ploy was undoubtedly successful as sales of the newspaper reached an unprecedented high and saved it from bankruptcy.

The analysis of the book asked the question, ‘Who was the subject of the Great Expectation?’ Was it Pip, Estella, the benefactor or Pip and Estella together? I will leave you in cliff hanging suspense.

There is no doubt of the expectation on the shoulders of our Lord Jesus Christ. His path through his ministry and to the cross had been written centuries before his birth. The manuscript suffered no alterations or re-writing and the ending was always predicted and in accordance with God’s will.

The prophet Micah predicted the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and his genealogy to King David. The prediction gave great expectation not only to the people of Israel but to all people on the earth who will see the greatness of God and will experience peace through the Messiah Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 61, places the great expectation of salvation firmly on the shoulders of Jesus. These words from the Old Testament were used by Jesus himself to describe his ministry, to bring good news to the poor, heal the broken hearted, release captives, give the prisoners freedom, and release all believers from the power of sin.

There would be opportunities for Jesus to re-write his destiny, to take away the cup of poison and to avoid that ultimate journey to the cross, but he followed his Father’s will and fulfilled the prophecy to give up his life so that we can have life.

I feel strangely warmed in the knowledge that Charles Dickens crossed out his thoughts and re-wrote his manuscripts. I have re-written this Pause for Thought three times.  

Derek T.