Today’s post by author Dana Gynther
When I was a kid—growing up in a college town with academics for parents—there was never a shortage of books. Between hauls from the city library, books for Christmas, novels passed on from friend to friend, I read loads when I was young (even if my older sister claims that, since I didn’t become horribly myopic like her and my brother, I scarcely touched a book in childhood).
My unquestionable first love was Dr. Seuss—I can close my eyes and still see those pale green pants, the fish that likes flowers, or a hundred other Seussian images—followed by Roald Dahl (how I loved to loathe Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge and the host of other unsavory adults from the safe confines of my “French provincial ” bed!).
My first truly “literary ” first love, however, came in the 9th grade, and was as surprising as a first kiss. In my Advanced English class, we were assigned to read Dickens’ Great Expectations. This was greeted with rolled eyes and groans since I—and everyone else—assumed that Classics = Boredom. What a revelation! On page one, when introduced to Pip, we became aware of Dickens’ sly sense of humor, as he explained that our young orphaned hero always imagined his parents to look like their gravestones ( “square, stout, dark “). Then, on page two, we were already faced with a terrifying convict! Where were the endless pages of tedious description I’d been expecting? Where were the incomprehensible passages, the difficult vocabulary, and the annoying moral lessons?
Great Expectations not only had fast-paced adventure, but fascinating characters—Ah, the “Aged Parent “!—and none can compare to Miss Havisham. Who could forget the first time they met her, the skinny old woman still dressed for her wedding, like “a ghastly waxwork at the Fair ” (which raised a lot of questions, admittedly, like how she took a shower, but that just added to the intrigue)? Jilted in youth, she became frightful, embittered, and determined to manipulate others’ feelings, to break others’ hearts. Miss Havisham, for me at least, broke the mold of what an elderly woman character was like. Neither granny nor hag, she was wealthy, powerful, intimidating, and—why not?—odious too.
Vera, one of the main characters in my novel Crossing on the Paris is endowed with some of these same traits. Elderly, rich, strong, she too obsesses about her past, she too would like the perfect heir for her treasure. Although a sympathetic character, she is a distant cousin of Miss Havisham. A literary woman, Vera would have certainly read Great Expectations in her own youth. I wonder if Miss Havisham made an impact on Vera, as she did on me at the age of fourteen.
We’re giving away a copy of Dana’s novel, CROSSING ON THE PARIS, today. Just leave a comment on this post to be entered to win.
In 1921, the Gilded Age is drawing to a close, but not aboard the great ocean liner the Paris, on its maiden voyage between Le Havre and New York. Amidst the luxurious wood paneling and plush carpets of first class is the aging Vera Sinclair, who has made the difficult decision that after thirty years in Paris she will leave her dearest friend behind and return at last to Manhattan. In the cozy family comfort of second class, Constance Stone revels in unaccustomed freedom as she returns from a brief, failed mission in Paris to her home in Worcester, Massachusetts, where her adored little daughters and dull professor husband await. And on the stifling, noisy lowest deck below the waterline, young Le Havre native Julie Vernet tests her wings in her first job—unenviably serving meals in the steering class dining room. Three very different women from very different worlds, yet aboard the Paris their lives will intersect.