Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens  (1861, 185,258 words)

Feb 7, 2012 is the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens birth.    He is surely one of the most loved authors of all times.   I am pretty sure I first read Great Expectations as a high school student and I also read it about 17 years ago when I did a read through in publication order of all of the novels of Dickens.   Great Expectations,  the second from last completed novel, is the only one of his novels told in the first person.   I recently also read in observation of  Dickens 200 Day A Tale of Two Cities.  The opening and closing chapters of A Tale of Two Cities are really flawless.

The plot of Great Expectations is probably well known to a lot of people who have not read it through one of the several movies that have been based on it.   I will not spend much time retelling the plot.   It is all about the life and development of Pip, an orphan and his ups and downs in life.   I will just say what I like about this novel and what picky points I might make.   Great Expectations is for sure part of the literary canon.

I like the great subtly and sheer brilliance of some of the characterizations.  As in most of his other works, the "good" people in Dickens tend not to be as well developed as those with a bit of an edge to them.    I thought the characters of the attorney Mr.  Jaggers and his clerk and man of all work John Wemmick were just perfect.   As to Pip himself, an overall well realized central character but not perfect.   I found the character of Estella really not that well done and in  small note if her mother was a Gypsy as the story line suggests, then Estella's appearance does not fit in with this.   One of the noted characteristics of a Dickens novel is the fixation on an adolescent female and I think the character of Estella could have been better done.   As to Pip's brother in law who was a father figure to him, Joe, he is your typical Dickens saintly figure along with the teacher Biddy.

While I am being difficult, how do people like the scene where Miss Havisham catches on fire?

Dickens does his usual great job describing the events in the novel.   His descriptive or scene setting sections may not have the depth as those in some of this other works but this is because the story is being told by the young Pip.

Given the large role an  escaped convict who has done well for himself and for others plays in this book, I could not help but think of another book I read last year, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.   OK hard for a Dickens lover like me to admit, Les Miserables is the more powerful work, in my opinion.     Please share your opinion on this with us.

The only advise can give in good consciousness to literary autodidacts such as myself is to read all of the novels of Dickens in publication order.  

I had hoped to also read Bleak House, his consensus best novel, by Feb 7, 2012 but I will not be able to fit this in but I will hopefully read it very soon.   I am keeping the whole year open to posting in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens.

Mel u


Marg said...

A few years ago I read Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, Jack Maggs by Peter Carey and this all in rapid succession. I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I do intend to read something else by Dickens at some point this year.

joanne fox said...

I love Great Expectations. You're right, it's not perfect, but there's so much in it that it would be my Desert Island Discs novel of choice. There are some Dickens novels I've been unable to get through, but when I find one that I like I become totally absorbed. I also loved Bleak House which, despite its length, was a wonderful read. Currently reading Oliver Twist and loving that too.

Mel u said...

Marg-I have not read either of the works you suggest and both sound very interesting-thanks so much for your comment

Joanne Fox-I read Oliver Twist a few months ago and really enjoyed it-I will be rereading Bleak House very soon-thanks very much for your comments

Unknown said...

For all their "faults" I think Dicken's characters are perfect. You've only got to mention their names and we all know exactly who you're talking about and basically what the character is like. Not just the main characters either, but the minor ones--often the very minor one. There's really no other author you can say that about. Maybe Shakespeare.

I think I have some Dickens on my TBR shelf. Maybe a can get someone posted by Feb. 7.

Mel u said...

C B James. You make a great point. Thanks very much for your comments and visits

Anonymous said...

Dickens is a legend. His books will forever be counted among the classics. Good stuff!

@parridhlantern said...

I live about 6 miles from Bleak House, one of my Schools was named after him, I live in an area that has festivals named after him, every Xmas we are inundated by TV programming based on his works & the rest of the year the BBC use his works for their drama.Was made to read his works growing up.Leaving me in the position of being one of the few people on this planet, that doesn't like Charles Dickens.

Mel u said...

logolili-you are so right-thanks for your comment-

Parrish Lantern-I wonder how many others are turned off to Dickens and other great authors do to having them forced on them in school?

EstherHawdon said...

What an interesting review! When I was an undergraduate, I was fascinated by books by Dickens and wrote a graduation thesis on Great Expectations. Magwitch, an escaped convict is one of my favorite characters. As you point out, Dickens gives him a great role as making a gentleman of Pip, a blacksmith's son. In this way, Magwitch's role is ambivalent in that he questions and negates the class society in Victorian England as well as affirms the system by his admiration of a gentleman. I'm also interested in the relationship between Magwitch and Pip which is compared to Frankenstein and his monster... It's hard to stop writing once I started commenting on the book. I'll write a blog post on Great Expectations in the near future. You always inspire me to think about literature deeply and help me remember how amusing reading books is!

HKatz said...

I think the Dickens book I'm most fond of at this point is A Child's History of England. It's probably not the most accurate history out there on the kings and queens of England, but it's an entertaining read and does teach you things.

Great Expectations I'll need to revisit at some point, as I last read it in high school. It's interesting that you mention his fixation on adolescent females, because I don't think he writes women very well. On the other hand, there are some memorable ones in his works - Miss Havisham here, and David Copperfield's aunt, and the terrifying Madame Defarge. They're memorable but don't always feel real.

Shelley said...

My favorite thing about Great Expectations is the humor. I was so bored by it in high school, and when I read it as an adult I think I was so surprised that it was funny that it was such a wonderful experience. I love Dickens and all of his imperfections.
I would say Les Miserables is a more powerful work, but Great Expectations is more entertaining. I had very different reactions to each of them.

Mohan said...

I enjoyed this book ... Now i'm planning to read it again ... :P ... The plot is just so 'neat' !