We are sitting around the table. It is lunch time and as we eat, someone starts a lively conversation.
“Do you remember that strange old lady in Great Expectations?”
“The one who sat in her wedding dress, day after day after day?”
“Yes, Miss Haversham. She sat there with one shoe on and one shoe off… for years.”
Gemma-Rose has forgotten why Miss Haversham sat by the decaying wedding feast in her fading dress. We remind her that her fiancé jilted her on the day of the wedding.
“Oh! I hope Graham doesn’t do that to Felicity. I hope he marries her and takes her back to Perth.”
“Can you imagine Felicity sitting in her wedding dress refusing to move from our bedroom?”
“That must never happen!” And we all laugh. Of course Graham will marry Felicity.
Now we are discussing all the other fascinating characters in Great Expectations. “What was that man called? You know, the one who kept saying he was a self-made man?”
“No. That was the name of Algernon’s imaginary friend in The Importance of Being Earnest.”
No one can remember the name though we do know it’s a funny one. Charles Dickens is famous for choosing humorous and appropriate names for his characters. And he is a master of description. All his characters live in our imaginations long after we have finished his books.
“Can I read Great Expectations, Mum?” asks Gemma-Rose.
Her eyes light up. I can see she is enjoying our discussion of all the fascinating characters. She wants to read the book for herself.
Last year I read the younger girls Ten Boys from Dickens by Kate Dickinson Sweetser. They really liked the story of Pip, the abbreviated version of Great Expectations. I ask Gemma-Rose if she’d like me to put a copy of the book on her ereader. She smiles.
And as I search for Ten Boys from Dickens
, I remember other adaptations written especially for younger readers:
Would Charlotte Mason approve of these adaptations of the great classics for children? Would she call them twaddle? I’m not sure and it doesn’t really matter to me. All I know is my children have greatly enjoyed reading children’s versions of books which are too difficult for them to read in the original. Gemma-Rose, although she is only seven, has already made friends with such people as Miss Haversham and Pip. And she is delighted because she knows enough about the story to join in with our Charles Dickens lunchtime conversation. I am sure when she is older and ready, she will be eager to read the original.
What would happen if I handed the younger girls an unabridged copy of Great Expectations? Would they soon hand it back saying it is too difficult? Would it put them off Dickens for life?
“Uncle Pumblechook!” someone suddenly shouts. “That man who was so full of his own importance in Great Expectations, the self-made man, he was called Uncle Pumblechook!”
“I knew his name had a bird in it!”
We all laugh. It’s been a great conversation.
We resolve to invite Charles Dickens to lunch another day. Maybe when we have finished Bleak House…