Oh, Mister Dickens!

367px-Greatexpectations_vol1“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” 
― Charles DickensGreat Expectations

Gertruida sits down after discussing that wonderful work of literature by Charles Dickens. Boggel wipes a tear: he just loved the coming of age by the orphaned Pip, identifying strongly with the character.

“We all have great expectations, I suppose. We hope and pray for many things. Love. Health. Even money, at times.” Precilla – who’ll never be a mother – stares wistfully through the window at the empty horizon. “But sometimes we have to make peace with what we’ve got. And then, just like Dickens describes, we often find that people we despise are actually the heroes – and the heroes turn out to be villains.”

Kleinpiet, highly sensitive of what Precilla is saying, squeezes her hand. “Ja, that’s so. What I liked about the book is the way it ended. Pip gets Estella and now faces a future with her at his side. Good triumphed over evil. What an array of characters! Quite astounding!”

They’re silent for a moment, reflecting on the great writer’s ability to create poignant moments in his writing.

“Sooo,…” Vetfaan sits back, not quite sure what to say. “What are our Great Expectations for this year?”

“That’s easy.” Gertruida, who knows everything, smiles happily. “We’re going to get published. We’ll make history.”

Oudoom, who’s confined him to his study lately while working on a complicated sermon (Why do we have a corrupt government when the Bible tells us everything works out well for those who believe?)  frowns. What is Gertruida talking about?

“Oudoom, you should pay more attention. There are two books about Rolbos in the offing. One in English, one in Afrikaans. And no, it’s not a translation either. Two completely different collections of short stories. As far as I know, the simultaneous publication of two volumes of short stories by the same author in two languages has never happened in the Northern Cape. Maybe not even in the country…”

“…or the world, for that matter.” Boggel finishes her sentence. “Now the selection of stories are complete, it’s being rewritten and then the final editing has to be done. Exciting times, I’m sure. With a bit of luck, we can look forward to publication in September or so.”

“Yes, it’s been a long process,” Gertruida agrees. “You know how set that editor is on delivering perfection. She’s quite a tiger when it comes to sorting out the minutest details. I’m glad I won’t have to field her criticism.”

“Well, we know some of the stories at least. I heard the English version is arranged in different moods. So you’ll have sections on Love, Sad Stories, Nostalgia and so on. There’s even a section about Vrede.” Servaas, uncommonly dressed in khaki, fondles the dog’s ears when he sits up on hearing his name. “The Afrikaans book tells the story of Rolbos, and is arranged to follow on each other. In a way it’s a long story made up by many short stories. I hope readers will like that.”

Boggel serves a round on the house. Yes, they’ll be quietly optimistic about the reception of the books. And like things turned out for Pip, they expect happy smiles on the faces of readers once they get tstuck into the weird adventures the townsfolk become involved in.

“Let me quote something from Wikipedia.” Gertruida knows it’s useless to explain what Wikipedia is. They won’t understand.  ” Critics hailed it as one of Dickens’ greatest successes although often for conflicting reasons: GK Chesterton admired the novel’s optimism; Edmung Wilson its pessimism; Humphry House in 1941 emphasized its social context; while in 1974, JH Buckley saw it foremost as a bildungsroman”

“Huh?” Servaas doesn’t understand.

“What I’m saying, Servaas, is that readers experienced Dickens’ book in a variety of ways. Just like us, the characters interacted with the readers on different levels. Some will laugh, others cry, and yet others might frown. 

“Now that’s my Great Expectation: that people will read about us and feel – rather than read – our stories. That, I’m confident, will happen. But…only time will tell. So let’s hold thumbs.”

They fall silent after her little speech, remembering the words of Joe in Dickens’ book:

“Give me,” said Joe, “a good book, or a good newspaper, and sit me down afore a good fire, and I ask no better.”

Great expectations, indeed…


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