Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Great ExpectationsWhat can I say about Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations? I am not sure if a summary is necessary or not, but it’s the story of an orphan named Pip who is raised by his cruel sister and kind brother-in-law (seriously, Joe Gargery is one of the sweetest men in classic literature, isn’t he?). One day he encounters a convict who threatens him if he doesn’t bring food and a file to remove the convict’s chains. Pip steals food from his sister’s cupboard, but feels guilty and is dreadfully worried he will be caught. Some time later, his uncle brings him to the home of Miss Havisham so he can be a playmate to Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter Estella. Estella is a cold-hearted witch, and she learned well the lessons about hating men taught by her adopted mother, abandoned at the altar and forever after frozen in that moment of time (from the wedding dress to the moldy cake and clocks stopped at the time of the catastrophe). Seriously Miss Havisham is one piece of awesome characterization. Pip wants more than anything to be a gentleman so he has some chance of earning Estella’s love, for predictably (though who knows why, because she doesn’t deserve it), Pip falls in love with her. Pip suddenly has a mysterious benefactor who pays for him to become a gentleman. He goes to London, embarrassed by his humble beginnings and ashamed of his family (thus avoiding them). He racks up debts. He discovers who his benefactor is, and it is NOT who I thought it would be or who Pip thought it would be, either. In case you haven’t read it, I will not spoil it for you. Eventually Pip loses his money, but he gains his old sense of self back with Joe Gargery’s help.

I read this novel via DailyLit, and despite it being originally published as a serial novel, I have to say I think I might have done better to read it on my Kindle. I had a little trouble following everything, or I felt like I did. After reading some summaries online, I discovered I actually followed the novel fairly well, but I had forgotten a major character and therefore did not make a very important connection late in the book. Charles Dickens is a master of writing character, and his characters Miss Havisham, Joe Gargery, and Abel Magwitch jump off the page. I also loved Wemmick’s father, who everyone calls “The Aged.” The characters were a bit difficult for me to keep up with because of how I chose to read the book. Pip I found frustrating. Why does he fall for Estella when she clearly does nothing to earn his affection? (I guess he’s a masochist.) Why does he turn his back on good old Joe? He turns out all right in the end, but he makes a lot of annoying mistakes that make you want to kick him.

I don’t know why I never read much Dickens. This is only my third Dickens book (after A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities). It was an enjoyable read, and I will of course read more Dickens, but more than anything else, it’s satisfying to cross off a book I feel like I should have read a long time ago.

Rating: ★★★★☆

I read this book as part of my own Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn’t Challenge. It’s my first read for that challenge, and I need to read five more to complete it. I’m not going to count it as historical fiction because it seems to me to be set in Dickens’s own present, which doesn’t fit my definition of historical fiction per sé. Miss Havisham brings the gothic, however, so I will count it toward the Gothic Reading Challenge (16 more books to go on this challenge). My next DailyLit book will be The Man in the Iron Mask. Oooh, I love Dumas’s adventures! And French! Bonus!

Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn't

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4 thoughts on “Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

  1. I love "Great Expectations"–I think Pip felt he had to leave Joe behind if he wanted to change his class status, which he would have to do if he truly aspired to Estella. Dickens is great with class, like many British authors, and Pip (to me) is a classic story of trying to assimilate in a world where you don't belong, and seeing what sacrifices you might have to make to do so.

  2. Only 4 out of 5 stars? 😉 This is one of my top ten favorite books. I've read three time, possible 4 and will definitely read it again. I love the characters and I love how Pip always infuriates me but I can't stay mad at him. Such a delightful books.

    1. Stefanie, it could be the piecemeal way I read it via DailyLit. Who knows! But by my scale, that means I definitely liked it. Yeah, Pip is hard to stay mad at.

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