Not everyone appreciates the magic of Great Expectations, but that's the thing about magic: it doesn't work on everyone. In order for magic to work, first you have to believe. This passage in Great Expectations about Joe's Christ-like love is one I always read aloud when I teach this novel, usually during the last class we will spend on the book. One semester, the class I taught was unusually large. The course had become popular in the department, and I was always willing to sign high-achieving students into the class no matter how overfilled it had become. Because the class was not only large but also populated with an abundance of well-read, confident, and loquacious students (several of whom were on the university's champion debate team), our classes were always lively -- sometimes downright boisterous. One student practically turned Pip-hostility into a sport. Later, after had graduated and become a mission worker in Guatemala, he emailed me to tell me that he had just read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities -- and loved it. That was a partial victory: at least Dickens, if not Great Expectations, was redeemed.
But on the day we were covering this part of the book, when I got to this passage and began to read, the class immediately turned hushed and rapt. I hadn't prepped them for the significance of this part of the story to the work as a whole, but they must have sensed it. I looked up briefly from my reading. As I stood reading, my students were all gazing steadily and seriously at me. Even the chronic note passers. Then as I looked down to continue reading, something unexpected happened, something that had never happened while I was teaching: I felt my eyes begin to water, and I heard the slightest waver in my voice. I had worked hard thus far in my still-young academic career to establish and maintain a reputation for toughness, the sort that will attract the best students, repel the others, and make those that do take the plunge excel beyond their (and hopefully my) expectations. Crying in class is not the sort of thing that aids this endeavor. Nor is it my style. So I focused hard, concentrated on my vocal delivery rather than on the meaning of the words, and willed my eyes to draw the moisture back in as I continued to read. When I finished and looked up from the page at the preternaturally quiet students, I was stunned to see several students sitting in their seats look up at me with tears streaming down their faces.Karen Swallow Prior, Chapter 4: "The Magic of Story: Great Expectations," Booked: LIterature in the Soul of Me