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Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

26 Mar

Dickens, yo!In what may be Dickens’s best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of “great expectations.” In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride.

Glancing about for my next read, I came across Great Expectations and I had to read it owing to the fact that there was a French teacher called Miss Havisham at school and that is as good a reason as any when the choice before me is so great.

The start is a brilliant set piece, a graveyard scene, an escaped convict and a boy alone on the foggy marshes.  It’s one of those openings that doesn’t just grab you in and keep you hooked from the off but is one of those memorable set pieces that will stay fixed in your memory for years.

It’s not far into the book when the word farinaceous (consisting of or containing starch) pops up thus reinforcing how good this book is.  Add in some trademark Dickens character names like Mr Wopsle and Pumblechook and a story that progresses smoothly to make this one of the higher echelon of  British classics in my opinion.

Pip’s voice is wonderfully written, it feels accurate and full of regret.  Most importantly it feels human and his thoughts, humbleness and understanding of key life events show a maturity of writing that comes through his natural growth of character throughout the book.  As far as narrators go Pip is one of my favourites.

Dickens has a great eye for human affectations, traits and emotional states, he really is a master and brings his characters to life, their often tragic ways and flaws, their hopes and beliefs.  What intrigued me is whilst plenty of characters have depths hidden which the reader is not aware of to begin with, others keep their singular attitudes and ways as anchors around the story, to perhaps ground the characters on their journeys towards redemption or otherwise.

Although there is plenty of emotional upheaval along the way and the occasional bleakness which Dickens does so well, there is also plenty of gentle humour as well,  whether at a funeral or about a fight (possibly the best fight scene other than the one in John Carpenter’s They Live).  This lightness keeps the plot from descending into a maudlin trudge through heartache and misery, it is that balance that makes the book one of Dickens’ best and allows the author to explore the whole gamut of emotions effectively.

For now the very breath of the beans and the clover whispered to my heart that the day must come when it would be well for my memory that others walking in the sunshine should be softened as they thought of me.

Peppering the book are another one of Dickens’ fortés, his memorable characters of which the chief is the aforementioned Miss Havisham – although this one doesn’t mention speaking French – her entry into the book and subsequent descriptions are wonderfully dark and full of mystery tinged with desolation.  She is a wonderful creation, bitter, locked away in time, self and mind, to say any more would deprive the new reader of her intriguing atmosphere.

Although the middle third is a little slow at times true to the Dickens way, it’s not half as rambling as some of his other works, having said that it is by no means dull and it makes the final third all the more satisfying as all the loose ends come together and are tied up. There are enough twists running through the various storylines that it didn’t always go in the direction I expected which made it all the more compelling when things were resolved in a convincing fashion.

It ultimately leads the reader to question what the Great Expectations of the title allude to and what it is that makes a person happy, it throws in some life lessons along the way and is full of feeling.  Having read seven Dickens books, other than A Christmas Carol this is the one that demands my attention again sooner rather than later and would make a great starting point for those looking to get in to Dickens; longer works.

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42 Comments

Posted by on 26/03/2016 in Classics, Fiction

 

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42 responses to “Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

  1. Andrea Stephenson

    26/03/2016 at 15:58

    I think this is my favourite Dickens story and you do a great job of enticing in readers who don’t know the story Ste.

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    • Ste J

      26/03/2016 at 16:00

      There is so much to it that I would hate for new readers to have anything spoilt for them. It is a really good book, after fifty pages I was already looking at the rest of his works wondering which I would read later this year. I was just happy it wasn’t the bleak fest that Hard Times was.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Sarah

    26/03/2016 at 16:50

    It’s my favourite Dickens novel (of those I’ve read thus far) and does indeed raise questions about aspiration and contentment. Miss Haversham is one of my favourite scary characters ever, and I do hope that your French teacher taught in a moth-eaten wedding frock. With a name like that, it’d be rude not to!

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    • Ste J

      26/03/2016 at 17:23

      Sadly she didn’t and I was too young at the time to really appreciate her name other than knowing it was ‘from some book’, how times have changed. With fourteen more Dickens books to tackle, I am hopeful of finding a challenger to this one.

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  3. macjam47

    26/03/2016 at 19:16

    I read this in high school and loved it, though aside from A Christmas Carol, it is the only Dicken’s story that I favor. I was more interested in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and the like. Thankfully for me, we were able to choose from a list of classics most of the time. In my 11th year I had a teacher who voraciously read and reread Dickens, so I did read a few of his books.
    Your review is fantastic. I love the way you dissect each book your review. Were you ever a teacher or prof by chance?

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    • Ste J

      27/03/2016 at 10:33

      I have never had an interesting job in my life, although I have always been in employment, it just isn’t what I would term challenging which is why I need something to distract me from the inanities of the day.

      I wish we had a list of classics to choose from, we got set texts and their was invariably at least one or two dull books a year that everybody hated. Back in the day I would have avoided Pride and Prejudice but these days I am more attuned to good literature. I like that we are of one mind on his best works although I have so many more to get through, it is criminal that I have left it this long to do so.

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      • macjam47

        27/03/2016 at 18:59

        Not at all, Steve. With so many wonderful books on the shelves and on Amazon, there is no way any of us will get through all of the books we want to read.

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  4. Resa

    26/03/2016 at 19:23

    Wonderful review of a great book. I adore Charles Dickens’ work. My first read is still my fave; A Tale of Two Cities. I believe I read it around the same time as I read Romeo & Juliet & Sonnets from the Portuguese. Thus began my love affair with romantic love.
    They say Dickens’ writing was responsible for much social change during & after his life. I can see that, clearly. Little Dorrit, broke my heart, still does. Oliver didn’t have it any better, just different, but I guess being a girl, Dorrit hit closer to home.
    Thanks for this wonderful review!

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    • Ste J

      27/03/2016 at 10:14

      I enjoyed that one too, so many dualities between characters and cities, it was in good company with R&J and Sonnets from the Portuguese. Dickens was always best on equality and Hard Times was a really grim book but powerful as well, his enthusiasm for changing the system was impressive, I am looking forward to reading and sharing more of his works.

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      • Resa

        27/03/2016 at 22:37

        I’ve not read Hard Times! It will be interesting to see which book of his you read next. Okay, I’m off to check my Easter Pizza in the oven!

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        • Ste J

          28/03/2016 at 10:14

          It’ll probably take me ages to pick as they all sound intriguing, perhaps I will go more obscure with my next choice…

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  5. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    26/03/2016 at 20:14

    Great Expectations was required reading when I was in high school…I’d already started reading Dickens way before high school because my father had fallen heir to a set of Dickens prior to my teen years (from our Gornall relatives…of Baltimore MD previously of Newcastle-upon-Tyne England). My favorite Dickens book…Bleak House 🙂 My favorite Dickens character…Uriah Heep (David Copperfield). I look forward to your reviews of Dickens’ other books 🙂

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    • Ste J

      27/03/2016 at 09:21

      Well travelled books are the best, I was surprised how many familiar covers I saw in the US when I was there, not that it is the same thing of course, your story is much better. I am yet to read either of DC or BH, I need to review the oher two I have read at some point to be up to date, so much still to review, I can’t make up my mind whether that is a good or bad thing.

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  6. Liz

    26/03/2016 at 20:53

    What a masterpiece this is – both GE and your review 😀 I wonder how your teacher felt about her name? Perhaps she enjoyed the vicarious interest?? Or perhaps it was a bit boring always to suffer jokes from others about it. Who knows. But boring is not a word that can be leveled at GE itself, is it, as you make clear. If I did not have so much else to read, I might be tempted to trot off and open it up again after all this….

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    • Ste J

      27/03/2016 at 10:23

      I wonder how much apathy towards the classics there was at school, if it feels like learning most kids probably wouldn’t have bothered finding out pre internet days, although there was the film of course. I did love it, such a good opening and then it just piles on mysteries and effective little twists. If it wasn’t bad enough that I keep giving your book pile a boost now I’m even piling on the rereads!

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      • Liz

        27/03/2016 at 11:44

        Yes, I didn’t like to mention it… Haha But keep ’em coming – it’s great to be reminded of these fantastic reads – kickass, one might even say these days…

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  7. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    26/03/2016 at 22:00

    This is one of my all time favourites. I loved the picture of the cover here. I don’t have this one. Mine is colourful, but the duo tone here speaks a lot…

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    • Ste J

      27/03/2016 at 09:04

      That isn’t the cover I own either, I have his complete works in an old looking dust jacketless hard back set, it looks like a ser you would see in an old library…only cheaper. The cover was eye catching so I plumped for that one to represent the review.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  8. Jill Weatherholt

    26/03/2016 at 22:53

    Excellent review, Ste J! Definitely one of my favorites by Dickens. Good job!

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    • Ste J

      27/03/2016 at 09:15

      It’s no wonder many see it as his best novel, I will reserve judgement on that until I have read them all though, hopefully at least one more this year if not two. It helps that he is fun to review as well.

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  9. clarepooley33

    27/03/2016 at 03:14

    I love this book too. I especially like the way Dickens shows the way Pip matures – we hear Pip’s voice but we see the reactions to his behaviour in the other characters. I never quite know which of Dicken’s books I like best – it’s usually the one I’m reading at the time. I believe I’ve read all his books – some more than once – and I like his minor characters the most I think. We have a hotel/restaurant near here called Satis House and Dickens apparently stayed there while he was writing Great Expectations.

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    • Ste J

      27/03/2016 at 10:10

      You’ve read all of his works, that is impressive, his minor characters are usually the quirkiest, apparently Sam from The Pickwick Papers was only supposed to be in it for a little while but such was the public’s like for him that Dickens kept him in his serialisation.

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  10. cricketmuse

    27/03/2016 at 14:10

    I must confess I have an extraordinary time reading Dickens. All that padding (earning his extra word count pennies from serials) really drives me bats. I’ve always wondered what his stories would have been like if he hadn’t fluffed up his word count so much. I do enjoy Dickens as BBC. Have you ever checked Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series? Miss Haversham doubles as herself and as a wonderful literary spy.

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    • Ste J

      28/03/2016 at 10:22

      I had the first book once but never read it and it long since disappeared, now I know about the characters it mentions though it will be more rewarding when I do check it out. Great Expectations has surprisingly little padding when compared to some of the others, although if I was being paid by the word, I’d be rambling on as well lol.

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  11. Elizabeth Melton Parsons

    27/03/2016 at 15:47

    The first time I read this I was 12 and loved it. Read it again in my early 20’s and still loved it. May be time for a revisit. Thanks my friend. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      28/03/2016 at 09:52

      I have heard it gets better with age, I wonder how much I missed this time around, in a decade or so when we are all still blogging I will come back to it and rediscover it and perhaps inspire your fourth reread at the same time. I like the cyclical nature of stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  12. shadowoperator

    27/03/2016 at 16:56

    So, unless I’ve missed it, you’ve written your review without mentioning the dual endings of “Great Expectations.” (I’m very sleepy, as we have company for Easter, and I didn’t sleep well last night. Maybe I missed it?). Which ending did you prefer of the two? And, you’re not the only one who has a teacher story related to “Great Expectations.” I once had a prof who cleared his throat every few minutes or so as he was teaching. We got to calling his class (very disrespectfully, I suppose) “Great Expectorations.” Such is the young mind encountering the classics.

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    • Ste J

      28/03/2016 at 10:49

      I didn’t know there was another ending until after I wrote the review, the original ending didn’t do it for me and I was glad that they use the other ending these days, it has much more going for it including the deliberate ambiguity of a certain line.

      I think you were using the Classics in an imaginative way and that Dickens would have been proud and probably would have thought it a good idea for a character as well.

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      • shadowoperator

        28/03/2016 at 13:15

        Don’t run away with the idea that all the fun and games of two endings are over–there’s still a lot of scholarly ink spilled about the choice between them. I guess academics need to have something to write papers about….How’re the jobs going, by the way? You’ve been doing us proud with all the posts lately, how ever do you find the time?

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        • Ste J

          29/03/2016 at 09:32

          Academics are never happy, call it a draw and move on, there must be other things to write and argue about. I was on course for my most prolific month in a long time then just stopped writing for nine days, which is a shame but there is always next month and I do feel in the zone again. Time is something that I can never quite master, which is why I prefer to arrive early with a good book!

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  13. Aquileana

    28/03/2016 at 03:38

    Such a well penned review as per usual…💫
    I truly liked this excerpt as I think it highlight the essence of Dickens as a writer:
    `Dickens has a great eye for human affectations, traits and emotional states, he really is a master and brings his characters to life, their often tragic ways and flaws, their hopes and beliefs. What intrigued me is whilst plenty of characters have depths hidden which the reader is not aware of to begin with, others keep their singular attitudes and ways as anchors around the story, to perhaps ground the characters on their journeys towards redemption or otherwise´…
    Also I feel that you have made a good point concerning the title of this book… I think it is truly eloquent and catching…
    Thanks for sharing, dear Ste… Wishing you a very nice week. Aquileana 😀

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    • Ste J

      28/03/2016 at 10:36

      A good book is better shared my friend and it pleases me that I can with you. My great Expectations usually consist of finding time to read a good book for the week that I can write about after. Have a great week yourself my dear, with plenty of smiles.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  14. The Book Haven

    28/03/2016 at 05:44

    Do you have the Wordsworth Classics edition shown in the picture? I have the Wordsworth edition but with a different cover.

    Great expectations is definitely one of Dickens’ best, but my personal favorite is Pickwick Papers though it is quite episodic for a novel.

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    • Ste J

      28/03/2016 at 10:02

      Usually I add the photo of the book I own but this time I had to pick an appealing cover as my complete Dickens set is a series of brown hardback covers which makes it look like it belongs in a study or old house library.

      I loved the Pickwick Papers although perhaps it went a little bit too long it did have a wonderfully comedic feel, it is interesting to see Dickens move over to the more serious in Oliver Twist.

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  15. Jilanne Hoffmann

    29/03/2016 at 00:07

    Yes, the graveyard scene. It’s been years and I still remember it. I would love to re-read this someday.

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    • Ste J

      29/03/2016 at 09:14

      The only problem with a reread is all the other amazing unread books out there that are giving way to it, it is an insolvable conundrum, a bit like looking into the abyss of space.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  16. Disha

    29/03/2016 at 20:17

    Definitely my favourite Dickens book. I read it now nearly 10 years ago, for school, but there’s no small detail I don’t remember. He’s a master at making an impression

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    • Ste J

      30/03/2016 at 08:44

      That he is! I knew this book got a lot of love beforehand but now I know why, he really was an exceptional writer.

      Liked by 1 person

       

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