Revisiting a Classic: Great Expectations
The LEGO Movie contest is over and the winner has been drawn. Congratulations to Lissa, who has won the movie passes and the exclusive minifigure! And thank you all for entering. I promise more contests and giveaways in the future, so stay tuned!
Over the winter vacation I checked Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations out from the UAlbany library and reread this classic that I haven’t looked at since high school. My son read an abridged version in his freshman year honors English class, and our collective outrage at being deprived of the full version made its way into a chapter of my new YA novel, ANTS GO MARCHING, which is currently looking for a publishing “home.” Even my son, who was a bit of a slacker in high school, wondered what he missed by reading the shortened edition.
I decided that since my protagonist, Nate, asked his ninth grade honors teacher for a copy the original to read over Christmas vacation, I should probably have a fresher sense of the story, its characters, and its themes. Besides, ANTS GO MARCHING has a Dickensian feel, as Nate and his friends live in poverty, or close to it, and they attend a suburban school where they don’t feel welcome. Nate dedicates himself to his studies in the hope of one day having the life of his wealthier classmates, but he also feels the pull of friends from his neighborhood who accept him and in various ways protect him.
In school I didn’t really enjoy reading the assigned literature because of the pop quizzes and tests. I always worried about losing my straight-A average because my grades were the one way in which I stood out in a positive way. I didn’t know what I’d do — or what value I would have — without the “straight-A student” label. But in addition to my anxiety about tests, I had to endure the cruelty of my classmates and the unfathomable rules, which made it hard to pay attention to my work. School was not a fun or safe place for me, and I don’t have fond memories of what I learned there.
Rereading Great Expectations without the pressure of tests, grades, and hostile peers made me see this classic in a new way. I tried to read the novel from Nate’s perspective, how he would have understood Pip’s desire to escape his impoverished circumstances, especially when Miss Havisham and Estella show him another way of life. Would Nate have turned away from his family and friends as quickly as Pip abandoned his brother-in-law, Joe? What would he have thought about Pip and Herbert’s spendthrift life in London? Would he have made more of his opportunities? Nate, in fact, doesn’t get the breaks that Pip does, and readers know it by Chapter Seven of the novel, when he recalls reading Great Expectations the year before. After reading Dickens’s novel, I went back and revised that chapter, because I wanted Nate to have internalized the story as a naive and hopeful freshman two months before the tragic event that changes his life forever.
I had another reason for rereading Great Expectations. Like most of Dickens’s work, it was originally serialized. For the past six months, I have experimented with serialization on Instagram, as I post one photo per day, and my ongoing stories (not all of my posts are ongoing stories) range from four to 27 frames. In the next few weeks, I plan to serialize the 27-frame story (along with a bit of backstory) in four installments. And this summer, I plan to make the initial chapters of ANTS GO MARCHING, possibly under a different title, available as a serial and accompanied by my original photography.
This afternoon I shot some scenes from the first chapter of ANTS GO MARCHING, and now that my hands have warmed up, I’m heading out to shoot a night scene in the snow. It’s currently 14 degrees F and the snow is more than two feet deep. But here’s a teaser from this afternoon’s shoot, a scene in which Nate and his friends Kenny and Ryan look at the space where a mobile home used to be, and a girl that Nate wanted to go out with used to live.