Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
First published in serialised form in the UK in All The Year Round from 1860-1861.

How I got this book:
Bought at a charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Great Expectations is the thirteenth novel by Charles Dickens and his penultimate completed novel; a bildungsroman which depicts the personal growth and personal development of an orphan nicknamed Pip. It is Dickens's second novel, after David Copperfield, to be fully narrated in the first person. The novel was first published as a serial in Dickens's weekly periodical All the Year Round, from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. In October 1861, Chapman and Hall published the novel in three volumes.

The novel is set in Kent and London in the early to mid-19th century, and contains some of Dickens' most memorable scenes, including the opening, in a graveyard, where the young Pip is accosted by the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch. Great Expectations is full of extreme imagery – poverty; prison ships and chains, and fights to the death – and has a colourful cast of characters who have entered popular culture. These include the eccentric Miss Havisham, the beautiful but cold Estella, and Joe, the unsophisticated and kind blacksmith. Dickens's themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. Great Expectations is popular both with readers and literary critics, and has been translated into many languages, and adapted numerous times into various media.

Upon its release, the novel received near universal acclaim, although Thomas Carlyle spoke disparagingly of "all that Pip's nonsense". Later, George Bernard Shaw praised the novel, as "All of one piece and consistently truthfull." During the serial publication, Dickens was pleased with public response to Great Expectations and its sales; when the plot first formed in his mind, he called it "a very fine, new and grotesque idea".

I'm enjoying my new tradition of reading a Charles Dickens novel in the runup to Christmas. I've watched several film and TV adaptations of his works over the years, but had been put off attempting the novels themselves by their length and the density if Dickens prose. As it turns out though, his vivid characterisations and melodramatic plots do suit my reading style pretty well. I'm not sure I would want to attempt more than one a year, but at that level of engagement the books are enjoyable and should last me a good decade yet. My choice for this year, Great Expectations, features the unexpected and exciting events of a Christmas Day for young Pip near the beginning of the novel so put me into a seasonal spirit!

I had only a vague recollection of watching a black and white Great Expectations film as a child (probably the 1946 one rerun on Sunday afternoon TV) so remembered images of scary Magwitch on the misty marshes, and bizarre Miss Havisham in her wedding dress. However very little of the actual plotline remained in my mind so the story I thought I would encounter was strikingly different to the one I have just read. This was a little confusing at times, but made for a better reading experience because I really didn't know what would happen next. I was struck by the number of convenient coincidences that drove the narrative, several of which raised my eyebrows, however I cannot fault Dickens' portrayal of memorable characters and distinctive settings.

Pip himself is an irritating little so-and-so, even more so once he begins to realise his Expectations, and Dickens' patronising attitude towards women did grate on me from time to time. Those aspects aside though, I loved Wemmick's Castle and our glimpses of his life there with Aged Parent. Pumblechook is fun too and I felt sorry for both Estella and Miss Havisham. I could picture lots of the London settings as well as the bleak marshes and I frequently chuckled at Dickens' mentions of etiquette and behaviours. He had a great talent for slipping sharply observed detail into scenes. If only he could have held back on his sentimental speechifying! Overall though, Great Expectations is a good coming of age novel that I felt has stood the test of time exceptionally well.


Etsy Find!
by Its Laura Crow in
Macclesfield, England

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Books by Charles Dickens / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

12 comments:

  1. I don't know if I could get through a Dickens novel or not. I do have the audiobook for this one that I picked up as a freebie years ago. I am not a fan of most classic novels but I might give this a try at some point. Glad you enjoyed it, Stephanie Jane!

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    1. A Christmas Carol is his shortest so that was my starting point three years ago! I find it difficult to actually pick up and start Dickens' novels, but once I get reading I enjoy them

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    1. I'd watched tv & film versions before, but there's so much more to the novel :-)

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  3. I've never read a full Dickens novel, but I may need to try someday! I'm glad that you were able to enjoy this one overall though.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. His stories are surprisingly readable! Although with much denser prose than is popular nowadays

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  4. I haven't read this one. The coincidences sound annoying, but I'm glad the characters and setting were good!

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    1. It is very Victorian in its story structure, understandably so, but a fun read nonetheless

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  5. I remember loving this book when I was in high school. I'm curious if I'd like it as much now. I'll have to read it again sometime.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. I hope you would still enjoy it. I can't imagine young me having appreciated Dickens so I think I've reached the right age for me to appreciate his style!

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  6. I really like the sound of Christmas Dickens' reads :) I actually have Great Expectations on my shelf and even started it once, but then got completely distracted. Hopefully I will be able to get back to it. It sounds like there were a few hiccups with his female portrayal and Pip's attitude but otherwise it sounds like a promising read :)

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    1. It is of its time in a lot of ways, understandably, and I love the brilliant over-the-top characters Dickens creates for cameo roles and the supporting cast. Well worth giving it another try when (if?!) you can set aside time to dedicate to the story

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