Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

I bring coals to Newcastle

In recent years, I've been intrigued with the interaction between the reader and the writer. To be a bit less grandiose, I've noticed how much of my own ideas I bring to anything I read. I began my recent focus on this phenomenon when I had a nostalgic longing to re-read the ending passages of Great Expectations. In Great Expectations, one may recall, the hero, Pip, spends significant portions of the novel longing for Estella, a woman who has been brought up by the deranged Miss Havisham as an instrument to wreak havoc upon the male gender, through the device of being both completely irresistible and completely unattainable.

At the end of the novel, there is a passage in which Pip and Estella, much older and wiser than the children and young adults they had been, meet in a story-closing finale. Here is where the problem arises. In my memory, this encounter was an extremely vivid meeting, accompanied by a long dialogue in which the older, wiser, but irretrievably flawed Estella
tells Pip in detail that she was in error and he was in the right.

I wanted to re-read this passage, for reasons that are now obscure to me. So one lunch hour, I headed to the Los Angeles downtown public library, to look it up. Sure enough, at the end of the book, Pip and Estella have a final meeting. But the text was far from the "you were right" soliloquy I was expecting. It is barely a glancing blow of a meeting--a good passage, but far short of my mind's eye version.

Something was wrong. Where was the passage I recalled?
Surely there was another edition. The LA library has an extensive literature section, and I was able to determine that Great Expectations' ending did evolve in different editions from the one I had initially located. That did not solve the problem, though. *No edition* had anything like the detailed discussion I recalled. I had lived some 25 years in which one of my favorite passages of literature was wholly a passage of my own invention. The Pip and Estella in my head had an extensive discussion, to which no reader but myself will ever be a party. Perhaps this is the central dilemma which causes people to write fanfiction, but I do not believe that my version of "Great Expectations--Pip and Estella Redux" will be hitting the stands anytime soon.

Since I learned this mildly troubling fact, I find similar things happen everyday. In the yahoo discussion group on marstokyo's artworks,
I frequently find that I "see" aspects of the artwork that I cannot, on reflection, find to be there, and then read explications by others that make clear to me that I failed to see literal portions of the artwork clearly identifiable to casual observer.

Even here on LiveJournal, I'll notice *just after* I posted a comment that I missed a key wrinkle in the post which made my literal comment apply to a metaphoric idea (or, in one notable case, vice versa). I also find that I add a great deal of plotting to people's journals based on intuition and surmise. In my work, this can be a very good thing, as the ability to "intuit" facts and ideas the client has not supplied can help me get to the truth of the legal problem. In reading, though, it can have real downsides as well as upsides. It's as though the poor Estellas of my heart and mind *should be saying* things to older but wiser Pip, and then my imagination makes it so. But why can't my internal Estellas just speak to me directly, and leave Great Expectations out of the equation?

Now, we all must bring interpretations and ideas to works of literature and art. The pleasing ambiguity that we bring in our differing interpretations
is one of the wonderful things about art and literature. But I worry that I clothe the emperor sometimes when in fact he has no new clothes, and that sometimes the garment from which the bride is stripped bare is the crucial set of threads, which I've altogether missed.
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