52 Authors: Week 32 - Thomas Mann
Bassic: Televisionary

Mockingbird and Watchman

Has anyone read Harper Lee's "new" novel, Go Set A Watchman? Intrigued by the event, I decided to do something I've had in mind for a while to do, which was to read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time since I was a teenager. I think we were assigned it in school, which, if true, is maybe a little surprising, since it was the Deep South in the mid-1960s. Or maybe I just read it on my own. At any rate, I did read it, and liked it. But I hadn't read it since, and had long begun to suspect that it was really not such a great novel, and that its reputation probably rested as much on its place in racial politics as on its literary quality.

My suspicion was probably fortified by Flannery O'Connor:

I think I see what it really is--a child's book. When I was fifteen I would have loved it. Take out the rape and you've got something like Miss Minerva and William Green Hill. I think for a child's book it does all right. 

(from a letter)

So I read it a few weeks ago, and as I suspected it's not a great novel. But it's certainly not junk, either. It's better than I expected, really. And I can see why people love it so much, for reasons that go beyond its message. Fundamentally it's a coming-of-age story, and a very rich and charming one; it's really that more than a lesson about racism, which was what I half-expected, and which it certainly contains. Flannery O'Connor was right, if you note the "fifteen" rather than the "child"--it is what would nowadays be called a Young Adult novel.

But I don't think I'm going to make the effort for Watchman. My wife read it and concurred entirely with the judgment of the editor who turned it down, and/or helped Lee extract and develop what became Mockingbird. According to her it's primarily Scout as a grown woman, looking back in anger at her roots, denouncing her parents, etc. I must say it's not pleasant to think of the delightful Scout turning into just another angry and self-righteous liberal. I was avoiding the reviews, which I always do with a new book that I think I might read, but now that I've pretty well decided not to I'm going to read some of them. I gather most have been negative. Does anyone here have an opinion? 

Oh, and by the way, I'm with those who suspect that Harper Lee did not truly consent to the publication, and that it was orchestrated by people who stood to make a lot of money from it.


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I had the same misgivings about whether it was truly Ms. Lee's wish to publish Watchman, and wrote about those misgivings back in February when the news first broke. I haven't read it yet, though I have some friends urging me to read it and discuss it.

With all the chatter that first week that Watchman was released, I felt compelled to write my assessment of what might have been going on with Watchman and the subsequent Mockingbird. Part of my assessment was based upon my own experience of leaving the deep South and later returning. Here's the link, though I realize this may be like spamming to push my own blog (so feel free to disregard). If anyone is interested you can read it at http://notdarkyet-commentary.blogspot.com/2015/07/harper-lee-and-heros-journey.html

Oh, if we can't link to our own blogs, I'm in a lot of trouble.

I've never before caught that MFOC said that she would have loved it when she was 15. I forget that when we were younger, people would have still thought of a 15 year old as a child. In that context--15 instead of a young child--it makes a lot of sense. But what it certainly is not is the same as Miss Minerva and William Green Hill, which is more like Shirley Temple movies with Bill Robinson. It's been more than 55 years since I read those books, and while I loved them and I think they are probably very funny, they certainly would not pass muster these days.

Getting back to the 15/child idea. It's really kind of amusing since 60 years ago, fifteen year olds were probably about as mature as a lot of 25 year olds are today.


Definitely nothing wrong with linking to your own blog. I'll be interested in reading it but will have to wait till later.

Very true about 15 then vs 25 now.

Somehow I missed TKAM in my teen years, but I've read it 2x as an adult and like it very much, as I do the film version. I must confess to never having had much interest in GSAW, especially after finding out about the backstory re: the controversy over its publication, etc.

Very true about 15 then vs 25 now.


The way you would test that hypothesis would be to look at labor force participation and attrition rates of marriages contracted at particular ages. One trouble with doing that is that there have been demand-side as well as supply-side changes in the labor market. Another is that early marriage is no longer a mass phenomenon the way it was in 1955, so you would not be comparing the skills of ordinary people or the properties of their social matrix, but of ordinary people in one era against eccentric subcultures in a later era.

One think I'll point out is that marital attrition rates are not at a historical peak. Bracketing out the dissolution of war marriages in 1944-47, the cohorts who demonstrated the highest attrition rates would be those born around 1950.

I read Mockingbird at 15 or 16 and certainly enjoyed it a lot. We had to read it at school.

I never read it. It's not a thing in England

From Charles's blog, The buzz now that it has been released is all about the portrayal of Atticus Finch as a racist. He looked upon blacks as though they were children, not yet ready for the full equality of citizenship.

Just reading comments on Maclin's wife's Facebook page pretty much decided me not to read the book and I've read very little about it, but if that's what the buzz is about, it seems rather naive to me. I can't imagine a white man in a small southern town, or really in a city either, NOT having that attitude in the mid-30s. That attitude is in no way in conflict with the actions of Finch in TKAM. Walker Percy just didn't believe that blacks were ready to have political power and yet he worked very hard help them gain some financial power and he favored removing Confederate symbols from state flags.

I can't really accept the word racist here either. Racist in current parlance has a connotation of hatred which wasn't necessarily the case in the South at that time. There was also an affection there which would be hard for anyone under about 50 or anyone who hasn't lived in the South to understand.

The book is set within living memory of the Civil War, and there were many problems that came because all these people who had never had the responsibility of running their own lives were thrown out into the world to fend for themselves. It's not that they were inherently incapable; it's just that they had no experience. I imagine that fostered the patronizing attitude.


Racist in current parlance has a connotation of hatred which wasn't necessarily the case in the South at that time. There was also an affection there which would be hard for anyone under about 50 or anyone who hasn't lived in the South to understand.

It actually means nothing of note anymore. Its a rhetorical weapon made use of by people who cannot continue a discussion.

I think you are right that some of the granular quality of race relations and people's sense of matters is lost to the young and even to many of my contemporaries.

My grandfather was East Tennessee born and bred. He did not have much actual social contact with blacks until he was well into middle age (blacks in East Tennessee being largely confined to Chattanooga & environs), but he was raised in a certain Southern ethic which was reinforced by his Pennsylvania born wife and this ethic emphasized 'background' and 'breeding', both of which militated against certain aspects of Southern living. My mother made it a point to try to explain this to us in her fragmentary way. My grandmother was not a Southerner, but she exemplified aspects of how people of breeding conducted themselves across the color bar.

As for my father, he had little time for any sort of ethic that was not based on a mix of personal achievement and manners (as good manners were understood in small town Upstate New York). The thing is, that in his social circle, ca. 1963, Martin Luther King was a figure of fun. These men did not have issues with blacks. They were simply to given to biting irony to take idealism or prophetic stances seriously.

Grumpy, Anthony Daniels read it and has some very perceptive things to say about it.

I could, and would like to, go on at length about the things you're saying, Janet and Art, but I really don't have enough free time. I've sometimes contemplated a lengthy essay, maybe even a short book, on the subject.

But about Charles's blog post. Apart from the reservation I share with Janet, and partly with Art, about the word "racism", I like the post, and I think it probably describes Harper Lee's journey pretty well. There is a PBS documentary about her, made a few years ago and updated for the release of Watchman, which is pretty interesting and informative about the circumstances surrounding the writing and publication of Mockingbird, but says nothing about her return from New York to Monroeville. And that to me is by far the most interesting part of the story.

The biggest problem with the word "racism" is that it is way too imprecise. It covers everything from the Klan to "microaggressions" in which one either notices race where one is not supposed to notice it, or fails to notice it where one is supposed to. Moreover, both ends of that spectrum are given equal moral weight, so the well-meaning white person who makes an error in protocol is just as wicked as the Klansman. So although I wouldn't say the word is meaningless, it's become fairly useless.

And regarding that journey: I made a similar one, but without ever leaving the South, except for one period of less than a year. I became very conscious of the racial situation, and of racism in its varying degrees, while I was still in high school. I'm sure I was pretty self-righteous. But over the next ten years or so I began to see the nuances and complexities of the whole thing.

A month ago I was seeing stacks of Go Set a Watchman in bookshops. This week I've been seeing stacks of To Kill a Mockingbird. So it has been very effective advertising, apparently bringing To Kill a Mockingbird to the attention of many people who had never bothered with it. As Grumpy says, To Kill a Mockingbird isn't so much of an iconic work outside the US, so while I (for example) had heard of it, I thought of it as a film rather than a novel.

I want to make clear that I was in no way critiquing Charles's blog post. I was just struck by the fact that people were so surprised about Atticus Finch.


I gather he's rather a fairytale character in the one book and more realistic in the other, so I suppose it's like being told Prince Charming lived off the toil of serfs.

I don't think he was unrealistic, but maybe I need to read it again.


I gather he's rather a fairytale character in the one book and more realistic in the other, so I suppose it's like being told Prince Charming lived off the toil of serfs.


No, he's not a fairytale character, though for a Southerner of the 1885 cohort, he's with little doubt an outlier. Phlegmatic temperament and does not spank his children in the course of the narrative (though he threatens to and his brother does). Also, he's somewhat lax about his daughter's manners, and eventually outsources the task to his sister at her insistence. His racial attitudes are left ambiguous but seem to be somewhere in the range of patron's benevolence.

The issue in the narrative is not social equality, but the properties of the caste system as it was and whether it required blood sacrifice and gross artifice for a white man's honor. The book was not quite topical because these were not live questions anywhere in the United States in 1960 bar in corners of Mississippi and Alabama and perhaps Georgia.

The Atticus character sticks his neck out in the course of the narrative, but he retains enough community standing to not be injured by so doing. What seems somewhat implausible to the outsider is that his viewpoint is shared by his entire social circle. His sister has severe misgivings, but it's out of social embarrassment, not out of a belief her brother does the wrong thing. An aspect of story was how racial attitudes were differentiated by class. I think my mother'd have told you she sanded all the rough edges off the bourgeois and gentry element she portrayed.

"Fairytale character" would be overstating it, but he's definitely too good to be true. But we're seeing him through the eyes of his adoring young daughter (ages 6-8, maybe, as the book progresses), so that probably should be forgiven. Well, on second thought, not entirely: even accounting for Scout's naivete, there are some things that are factually independent of Scout's interpretation. One that really jumped out at me was his being discovered to be the best shot in [whatever it was] county.

One really can't leave the film version out of the discussion of the novel's reputation, because it's so good and so well-known. I doubt very many people who have seen the movie are able to read the book without seeing Gregory Peck and Mary Badham as Atticus and Scout.

All in all I'd say the book "sanded all the rough edges off" of most people in the book except the evil Ewells.

I disagree that the book is primarily about the caste system etc., and certainly that was "not quite topical." Caste is important, yes, but race more so, and that was topical indeed.

As I mentioned, I've read no reviews of the new book, but I've seen headlines suggesting that the portrayal of Atticus as having his share of racial prejudice has been a shock to some people. Others seem to be taking that as vindication of their belief that even well-intentioned white people are Racist.

I disagree that the book is primarily about the caste system etc., and certainly that was "not quite topical." Caste is important, yes, but race more so, and that was topical indeed.

Racial distinctions are a caste system (as distinct from a class system). Both caste and class make their appearance.

One that really jumped out at me was his being discovered to be the best shot in [whatever it was] county.

I hadn't thought of that. The county Harper Lee grew up in had about 30,000 residents at the time, so that is dubious. The community portrayed seems much smaller. The fictional Macomb was about the size of Monroeville at that time. Interestingly, the town's now 4x as large even as the county's population has declined by 30%. Doesn't work that way in New York.

The incident you describe is peculiar inasmuch as a man with poor vision in one eye makes an excellent shot (without his spectacles) in spite of not having picked up a gun in 30 years, and is encouraged to do so by the sheriff who must practice regularly. That does not have much to do with his social attitudes, though.

As I mentioned, I've read no reviews of the new book, but I've seen headlines suggesting that the portrayal of Atticus as having his share of racial prejudice has been a shock to some people.

I've seen some old opinion research from surveys taken in 1938. At the time, about 15% of the national sample told the pollster they favored integrated neighborhoods and 38% undifferentiated citizenship. Surveys taken at the time would not have been drawing on as much theory and practice regarding the wording of questions nor would they necessarily have been using the best sampling frame, so, caveat lector. It still indicates, I think, that the past is another country in some respects.

This whole discussion makes me want to read Mockingbird again.

Although it was set in the South and had a strong component of racism in it, I think it was a more universal book than one about the South or about racism. Atticus Finch is a hero because he transcends the limits of his flawed culture. This is a message for us all, because all cultures are flawed. There could be a story about a hero transcending a Northern cultural flaw that dehumanizes. It could be set in Milwaukee. And it wouldn't have to be about racism. Although in Milwaukee it could.

Northerners are pretty holier-than-thou about the South.

I think O'Connor was too hard on the book. But, then again, I get irritated by O'Connor on a lot of counts. I guess I'm the outlier on that score around here.

I don't think heroes have to be flawless. St. John Paul the Great was not flawless, as his dealing with Marcial Marciel shows.

Atticus Finch is a hero because he transcends the limits of his flawed culture

Except he did not. Most of the people in the local area who disapproved of what he was doing, but they did not ostracize him and his immediate social circle gave him no trouble at all. The one person who did was a man he'd described to his daughter as the town disgrace and who was understood as that far and wide.

I think O'Connor was too hard on the book.

It sold better than her books. Meow meow.

I think we probably owe the editor who worked with Lee on Mockingbird great thanks for not letting the world at that time see an Atticus who was anti-integration and who associated with some who were even less kindly disposed toward blacks. Seeing him instead as a man who honored the dignity in black people must have done quite a lot to let non-Southerners know that not all Southerners failed to do that.

"It sold better than her books."

Perhaps sour grapes was part of it, but I think she does have a point, albeit one she makes in a way that sounds petty. I'm a huge fan of TKAM, but I believe that there is that childlike-ness to it that gets in the way of its being seen as great "adult" literature. This may or may not be fair, but I think it's there nevertheless.

What makes "adult" literature adult?

Same thing that makes "serious" literature serious, and "literary" fiction literary. ;-)


I do think FOC was too hard on the book. But she's not simply wrong, either. It's a good book, with a lot to recommend it. But borders on sentimentality. That's what I mean about the portrayal of Atticus.

It would be interesting to read the reviews of the time, book and movie. I suspect that non-Southerners didn't so much appreciate Atticus as an exception as deplore the others who were the rule.

It would be interesting to read the reviews of the time, book and movie. I suspect that non-Southerners didn't so much appreciate Atticus as an exception as deplore the others who were the rule.

Or someone of the right vintage who does not review books as a matter of course. My uncle, perhaps.

I have that Atticus-Peck thing going, of course. I should read the book again.

So, the thing that makes adult literature is lack of sentimentality, which I take to mean strong emotion for the sake of strong emotion (undervaluing the ratio of the story)? Almost all movies are not adult, then.

I'm definitely not going to try to sort out that question in a blog comment. Though I will say that I don't think you can say that you can pick out any one thing as "the thing" that marks adult literature.

Could this have anything to do with the difference between a romance and a novel that we discussed a few months ago? I'm quite sure that I prefer the romance to the novel. That is because my life is enough like a novel that I prefer the more explicit hope that a romance provides.

Another way to put it is I need heroes, not just protagonists that make decisive choices in complex situations.

I like both, but there's a time when a hero is definitely called for.


When you're talking about the novel you're mostly talking about naturalism, apart from occasional weird outliers like Tolkien. For a lot of people "naturalistic" is sort of an implicit adjective applied to "novel" or even "fiction." But it's not the only kind of literature there is. Different conventions apply. Aragorn is considerably less "believable" than Atticus, but it's an apples-oranges comparison.

I suspect that non-Southerners didn't so much appreciate Atticus as an exception as deplore the others who were the rule.

I've never read the book, but I did see the movie in 1963 as a 21-year-old Californian shortly after it came out. I’ve been trying to remember the effect it had on me, and I think it was mostly that I was so impressed with Atticus that I didn’t linger on the bad folks; he was a knight in shining armor who stole the show, and left me feeling hopeful.

Interesting. Perhaps I'm too cynical.:-)

Here's an interesting review of Watchman from The New Yorker. I think it's fairly good, overall, judged as a commentary in its own right by one who hasn't read the book. There are things I disagree with but they lead into the whole racial question and ...why bother?

Most good adult books could be read by a child of 11. Including the stories of Flannery O'Connor. There are exceptions - e.g. Dostoyevsky.

But what the child would get from it is more black and white than an adult.

So what O'Connor means is that Mockingbird is excessively black and white.

In all senses

I can't see a child of 11 getting much at all out of most Flannery O'Connor. At least not without an adult to explain things.

I don't agree. We read a Shakespeare play a year at school, from 10 to 17. Of course Julius Caesar and midsummer night's dream meant something different to us than they do to adults - we saw them through a different lense. We read little girls books down to upper three (national velvet) but from lower four we started in English on the Bromtes (Jane Eyre in lower four) and George Eliot (also S I l a s M a r n e r in lower four - age 12). The British pedagogy of that time was different from the American. When I mention I read the Bromtes and Eliot at that age to American friend they always say ' you must have been advanced.' no we were not. We simply read the books from a child's angle

Last week in Cambridge I attended an outdoor performance of Much Ado about Nothing. There were lots of little kids there apparently enjoying it - 9 or 10 years old.

A child could read Wise Blood

A child could read Wise Blood

Yeah, but not make much sense of it.

Well as I said children have historically read books as difficult and more difficult than that

I'm not making a general statement, just one about Flannery O'Connor specifically. I really can't imagine what a child of 11 would make of Wise Blood--what I would have made of it as a child of 11. There are a lot of classics I wouldn't say that about--Dickens for instance.

I think a kid from a family that talked about ideas could get the Church of Christ without Christ

But as I keep saying of course they would not get it like a 20 year old does. They get it in their own way

Yeah, I understand what you're saying, and I can't make an abstract argument against it. All I can say is that I'm fairly certain that I myself wouldn't have gotten anything much at all out of it at any age younger than maybe 15. Maybe I would have been amused by the guy running around in the ape suit.

I remember when I was about 12 my mom and a friend of hers took me to see 2001:A Space Odyssey. On the way home we stopped for pie. My mom asked me if I liked it. I said yes, but that I didn't get the symbolism. They both just burst out laughing because I had used the word "symbolism." I was humiliated.

I'm still not sure I get the symbolism of 2001. I'd have to see it again.

When I was about 8 and my brother was 10 we were taken to see 2001 by a family friend. I thought it was boring. My brother discussed it like a grown up with the friend. So it seemed to me. He enjoyed it

Btw Robert I loved Inside Out

Did your brother understand the final sequence--from the time Dave sees the monolith off Jupiter till the end? That would have been unusual for a 10-year-old. I don't think most people who weren't previously familiar with some of Clarke's ideas understood it.

It's not really even symbolism, btw. I mean, in the context of the movie it's fact.

I don't know. All I remember is that we went out for sodas afterward and he had a long, confident conversation about the film with the family friend. My brother loved movies.He was in his element

Yes I know the time. I'm flying to NYC in a few hours.

To me a movie was a story. But my brother even at that age seized on what the story says. He was like Rob. I can remember them talking about the computer that turns into a child - that's all.

I was dragged to grown up movies by these people all the time. I didn't like movies for myself until my 30s

Church of Christ without Christ

Hazel Moates proposed sect was the 'Church Without Christ'. Onny Jay Holly proposed to found the "Holy Church of Christ without Christ". And, no, an 11 year old youngster is not going to make sense of Wise Blood. I could not make sense of it at age 37. I would recommend her lectures and short fiction because her novels are baffling.

Over the years my students have found Wise Blood most accessible

Aged 11 I could manage Dickens, the Brontes, and plenty of Shakespeare (although not with adult understanding, as Grumpy says, I could make enough of them to enjoy them). My parents had a number of Shakespearean performances on vinyl, and I listened to Macbeth over and over again.

At the same time, I had to struggle to make much of Huckleberry Finn, mostly because it seemed to be written in some sort of code, and I never managed more than a few pages of Catcher in the Rye even at 16, for much the same reason. I think Wise Blood could well have fallen into the same category, had I heard of it.

What does your brother do now, Grumpy? Sounds like he was an interesting kid.

Btw here's something I wrote about 2001 ten years or so ago. Since then I've seen it again, and parts of it are looking even more dated, but I'd still rate it as one of the very best sci-fi films ever made, which is down a peg from the best.

Interesting, Paul. I can't recall encountering anything that could be considered a classic until I was 14 or so, so I don't know what I would have made of them. It was standard for a long time, maybe still is, in a lot of American schools to read Great Expectations at 14 or 15, and I loved it, still love it till this day. Don't recall having any Shakespeare before 15 or so but loved it when I did.

Funny about Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn. I'm slightly embarrassed to say that when I read Catcher at 16 or so I thought it was great, and took immediately to Holden and his general frame of mind.

The first "serious" book that I remember reading and really enjoying was The Old Man and the Sea. I was in 8th grade, so I would have been 13 or 14. I still didn't read all that much, however, until later in high school.

As far as what kids "get" though, one of my interesting childhood experiences was being home sick from school one day and watching an afternoon movie, The Track of the Cat, with Robert Mitchum and Teresa Wright. I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade. It's considered a western, but it's kind of a talky one, with limited action. One later critic called it an art house film masquerading as a western. Anyways, it's a thoroughly "adult" film in its themes, pacing, etc., but for some reason I really liked it, and I still do to this day. But thinking back on it, there was really no reason for a nine or ten year old kid who liked monster and war movies to have even sat through it!

I did Huck Finn for O level and strggked with the dialect. obviously out hypthetical 11 year old will have to hail from Georgia!

My brothers was a journalist for 20 years then he lost his marbles and now he lives in India.

I always loved Catcher and Fanny and Zooey. But I was older when I first read them - maybe 18

Mac I read your piece about 2001. I must watch it. I like the question with which you conclude because we tend rather glibly to assume that darkness and violence are more nearly expressive of a Christian vision than humanistic optimism.

Great Expectations is the one Dickens book I really don't like.

I don't think I read anything classical, apart from Shakespeare (for school), until I was 16. I really wasn't much of a reader until I was about 22.

My kids start reading adult classics around the age of 12, depending on the child. By the age of 14 they tend to be reading adult stuff on their own.

Sorry, I've had a work emergency today. Be back later.

Track of the Cat sounds interesting.

Grumpy, I answered my own question about Blade Runner and 2001 not too long after that, when I finally decided to see the former. And I did decide in favor of it from the Christian point of view. Not because of the violence etc. per se, and not pessimism vs. optimism, but because it has room for things that 2001 does not. I will be very interested in hearing your opinion of 2001.

Louise, what did you dislike so about Great Expectations? The cruelty of the women?

Robert, I can imagine that being laughed at for using the word "symbolism" was upsetting. They probably thought you were cute.

"Track of the Cat sounds interesting."

Yeah, it's an odd little film, but good. I read the novel awhile back and it's quite good as well. It was written by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, who's better known for The Ox-Bow Incident. There's one marvelous section in Track... that goes on for 40 or 50 pages, describing the plight of one character who gets lost in a mountain snowstorm. The isolation, cold, and fear start to get the better of him and he begins to imagine things and lose control of his mental faculties as the panic sets in. It's totally harrowing and very well-done.

"They probably thought you were cute."

Maybe. I tend to think it was more an "emperor's new clothes" moment. I had stated out loud what they were thinking in their heads, but couldn't say because they were educated adults.

I think there were a lot of people baffled by the final 10 or 15 minutes of that movie, and probably a good many who didn't want to admit it. I had a rough idea, but only because I had read a Clarke novel that featured roughly the same idea.

It continually fascinates me that so many people who are philosophical materialists keep coming back to the dream of super-beings out there somewhere who will save us or at least help us. And then on the other hand there's the vision of Independence Day and the Alien series where the aliens are just pure rapacity.

Then there is Walker Percy's speculation at the end of Lost in the Cosmos where there are three kinds of sentient beings in the universe, those that haven't fallen, those that have fallen, but haven't been redeemed, and those that have fallen and have been redeemed. That is not the terminology Percy uses, but I forget how he actually put it.

Percy has beings who have not fallen, beings who have fallen and called for help, and beings who have fallen and have not called for help.

Sometimes I think it's Percy's best book.

its my favourite of his books.

If I had to pick only one, it would be one of the first three novels. If I had to pick only two, it would be one of the first three novels and Lost in the Cosmos. Glad I don't have to pick.

I will declare and attest to be true that I do not have the slightest idea what the end of 2001 was about.


"Louise, what did you dislike so about Great Expectations? The cruelty of the women?"

Yes, I found that very upsetting.

I kind of went along with Pip in being in love with Estella, and didn't really get at the time what monsters she and Miss Havisham were.

Janet, you can get the basic idea of what 2001 was about from that post I linked to. Not the specifics, but the idea. Though I guess I shouldn't worry about giving away the plot of a 45-year-old movie.

The images in Great Expectiations are just so overwhelming. The cake--and Mrs. Havisham holding one shoe--that one shoe really got me.

I'll have to check that link out when I'm awake.


I just read GE for the first time this spring. I loved it. There is a lot of profound change of heart in it. Plus adventure.

Yes. Now I want to read it again. It's been many years now since I read it as an adult.

I don't remember the shoe, Janet. The cake, though, definitely.

What a wonderful conversation this post has become. I'm most intrigued about children and what they read in school these days. My step-son is 12 and they only read YA literature; and he attends a good school which is supposedly more difficult than most. My step-daughter is a sophomore in HS and is now beginning to read decent stuff, but really nothing at all from the 19th century, which is what I grew up having to read in school. Though yes, occasional Shakesepeare plays do make it into the curriculum.

I have not read TKAM since I grew up "below" the South in South Florida. Now that I have lived in Alabama for 13 years I suppose maybe I should give it a try.

I read a lot of classic lit nowadays and I do really wonder what I got out of it as an adolescent, and what children now would (if they were made to read it).

Re: racism - kids these days (at least the ones I am familiar with) are non-racial to the point that they feel any kind of comment, even one that is not demeaning, critical, or mean, is "racist". I have said more than once, "no, that is not a racist comment, but perhaps it is racial". It is really something though, compared to growing up in the 1970s and the things people said casually and often.

Great Expectations is my favorite Dickens. Reading it through the lens of myself (male) I would never have thought too much about how would a female take Miss Havisham, Estela, and Mrs Joe? Not well, of course. These "shrews" are not what make GE great, but that it comes at a point in Dickens' ouevre where he is able to combine the naivete and fun of his early novels with the dark seriousness of the later ones, pare the pages down a bit, and tell a really great story.

Okay, that's enough. No one but Mac will read this entire post! :)

No one but Mac will read this entire post! :)

Well, I guess I'm Mac then, but I would have sworn I was Janet.

kids these days (at least the ones I am familiar with) are non-racial to the point that they feel any kind of comment, even one that is not demeaning, critical, or mean, is "racist".

Yes! It makes me crazy.

I would never have thought too much about how would a female take Miss Havisham, Estela, and Mrs Joe? Not well, of course.

No "of course" about it. Any woman with sense knows that there are women like that. Any person might dislike those characters because what they do is evil, but I don't think that women would be more likely to experience that than men unless they are over-sensitive--Oh, that's right. Everybody is over-sensitive nowadays. See above.


You are ever-dependable, Janet!

I was under the impression that Estella's transformation was important as Pip's.

I said that wrong. I mean that her transformation is important, if not as important as Pip's. And Miss Havisham.

I didn't understand this, Janet: "I don't think that women would be more likely to experience that than men". You mean women aren't more likely than men to be mistreated by other women? Or aren't more likely to be distressed by it? Or what?

I did indeed read your whole comment, EG. Interesting observation about GE's place in the sequence of Dickens's work. I couldn't have told you where it falls, and wouldn't have noticed the significance.

I meant that men or women could dislike those women.


"The images in Great Expectiations are just so overwhelming. The cake--and Mrs. Havisham holding one shoe--that one shoe really got me."

Yes, it had that effect on me too. I read it when I was perhaps a young adult (I don't remember exactly) and I just wished Miss H had "got out more"! I guess I just don't cope well with people who seem more or less insane. An insane side character (or 20) in Dickens I can cope with, but not one I have to spend so much time with.

And just as a practical detail - how stinky would she have been in that wretched dress all those years!!

"I kind of went along with Pip in being in love with Estella, and didn't really get at the time what monsters she and Miss Havisham were."

I loved Pip so much, I just couldn't bear Estella at all.

"Any woman with sense knows that there are women like that."

Definitely. But I have no wish to spend much time in their company! OTOH I can't recall how much time we spend with them in the book, or how much time Pip spent with them. Anyone remember?

I feel the need to add that I love Dickens.

I love Dickens too, and another change for GE from earlier books is that the women at least have some personality. Prior to this his women fell into two categories: innocent damsel waiting to marry the main character in the last chapter, or comic relief (usually a mother of one of the other main characters who makes silly comments in every scene).

Don't you think that Esther Summerson or Betsy Trotwood had personality--or Nancy?


Summerson, sort of, though that is Bleak House so not early. Betsy Trotwood definitely, and that's Copperfield so is prior to GE. Nancy .... memory is trying to find her. Of course I am just speaking in general, and I suppose in general male writers have a tough time with female characters. I guess that's why Dickens had a feeling George Eliot was a woman!

Maybe not early, but earlier than GE.

I think we've discussed here before how it's hard for authors to successfully capture the voice of the opposite sex. Dickens was one of the people we mentioned. And then a lot of women writers create men who are just too good to be true. They are the men that women want to meet rather than real men. And those noir women--same thing only the opposite.


And then there's Cosette in Les Miserables--everyone suffering so she can have a good life and she's such a cipher. ;-)


Lucie in A Tale of Two Cities is also too good to be true.

What does one think of Orual in Till We Have Faces?

But Lucy does make mistakes, and she has a definite personality.

To me Orual is more of an allegory than a person.


I read Till We Have Faces twice, and never was able to get up much enthusiasm for it.

If I recall, the literary swing towards "realism" in English fiction didn't really take off in force until the 1870's. With a few exceptions I'm not sure you'd expect to see a great many really "true-to-life" characters before then.

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