One of the most revered works in English literature, Great Expectations traces the coming of age of a young orphan, Pip, from a boy of shallow aspirations into a man of maturity. From the chilling opening confrontation with an escaped convict to the grand but eerily disheveled estate of bitter old Miss Havisham, all is not what it seems in Dickens’ dark tale of false illusions and thwarted desire.
Raised by a humble blacksmith, Pip is recruited by the wealthy Miss Havisham to be a companion to her ward, the cold but beautiful Estella. There, Pip learns to despise his rough origins as Estella torments him about his low prospects. When Pip is informed that an unknown benefactor expects to make him his heir, he sets off to London to realize his “great expectations.” But true gentleman stature, he will find, is a matter of character, not fortune.
Public Domain (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Observe how finely the narrative is kept in one key. It begins with a mournful impression—the foggy marshes spreading drearily by the seaward Thames—and throughout recurs this effect of cold and damp and dreariness; in that kind Dickens never did anything so good…No story in the first person was ever better told.” (George Gissing, English novelist)
I was educated into oblivion but have overcome it and am having a wonderful life
Pip is so much like me, like any of us. He gets caught in his obsessions, ignores what is beautiful in his life, and then misses every great opportunity for love and fulfillment.
Joe, his adopted fater. It's hard to fathom that such a humble and humbled character should be able to embody such profound self dignity, such forgiveness, and such sweetness over every other character in the book
Magwich. His voice would be difficult to speak in the same way that the character would have done. It probably would have been unintelligible so I'm glad the narrator made it easy to understand -- yet at the same time it conveyed the gruff character etc
Joe told Pip he wouldn't be coming back to dinner and immediately afterward Pip experiences repentance and then "self-swindling". At that point Pip gives an elaborate description of his obsession with Estella and decides that his "devotion" or obsession with Estella is his greatness. Fortunately, the mature writer notes that this "devotion" was actually the young Pip's smallness and meanness.
Dickens's ability to describe the nature of obsession is frighteningly real and I think that reading Dickens could substitute for a therapeutic relationship. Obsession is so real in so many peoples' lives and Pip's character shows how it can suck the life out of a person.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
For some reason that I can’t really explain, I always have felt I did not like Charles Dickens. But the only two books that I can remember reading of Dickens (Great Expectations and The Tale of Two Cities) I liked. Maybe it is like feeling like you do not like a food, but never actually trying it.
Like many classics, I was first exposed to Great Expectations as an abridged children’s book. I am pretty sure I read at least one additional abridgement in high school or college (not for school but pleasure) but I think this is the first time I have read the whole book.
With so many versions of the story in my head (I have seen at least one if not two of the movies in addition to probably two abridged versions), the basic story is not a surprise. Simon Vance (as always) did an admirable job narrating the audiobook. And like many classics, I think it could have easily been cut by at least a third without a problem. But according to Wikipedia, Dickens originally intended it to be twice as long, but his publisher restrained him. (Thank goodness).
The basic story is familiar. Pip helps a convict escape as a young child. And he is asked to come play with a girl and her deranged (but rich) adopted mother, Miss Havisham. Later, Pip is approached by a lawyer and told a benefactor is going to make him into a gentleman, but he can not know the benefactor until the benefactor reveals themselves to him. Pip assumes it is the crazy rich woman and goes to London leaving his kindly brother in law that is raising him (and his now incapacitated but cruel sister) behind with nary a thought.
With lots of money but not a not a lot of sense, Pip lives the high life with a good friend. He is still in love with the girl, Estella, who was always beautiful but heartless. As he ages he is influenced by a cast of characters, some good and some not as good. Eventually his benefactor reveals himself as the escaped convict, and not Miss Havisham as he had always assumed. His hopes are dashed. Both because he is ashamed of his benefactor and because he had always assumed that Miss Havisham had desired that he and Estella were to be married as part of him being remade into a gentleman.
The problem with the convict coming back is that he is still wanted and through many threads coming together, there are people around Pip that know the convict and want to see him face execution.
In many ways this is a morality play similar to Les Miserable. The convict has made good, has changed his ways, has helped to raise a child to make up for his past wrongs. It is also a coming of age story that seems to draw on the prodigal son and early romance stories, warning the reader to be content with their station and not seek after what they cannot have.
This is a classic of the best sort however. It is a true story of being thankful for the simple things in life (or else everything else will fall down around your ears.) I don’t remember reading many classic books with so many threads that seemed to all come together in the end. Maybe that was more common than I am aware but it is definitely one of the things I either didn’t remember from previous versions or were edited out of the abridgements.
I have seen the 1998 movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke and it deserves its low ratings. I looked around for a free way to watch the 2013 version, but couldn’t find it. I did watch part of a 2013 stage version. But it was dark in ways that I am not sure is true to the story (although it is technically true to the story.) I gave up after about 30 minutes.
The 1946 version is available on youtube and it is both true to the story and seemed to keep the spirit of the work and was quite well done (and can be seen free) but it did play with the ending a bit. More problematic was that it squeezed the timeline of the story so that it felt like things happened one after another instead of the years between some of the scenes. And that made the movie feel a bit less weighty than the book.
And it always seems that movies try to play with the content of books and somehow seem to make the stories less important. Maybe it is the nature of cinema, but it is a rare movie that is better than its book.
originally published on my blog Bookwi.se
So I'm in the minority. I was forced to read this in high school (very abridged), didn't remember much of it, then I "discovered" Dickens recently and have been on a tear reading (listening to, more accurately) everything I can get my hands on. Maybe I don't like this one because it's the first first-person-narrative book of his I've read, but I feel like Dickens is less observant, or I guess the character is. In books like Dombey & Son, Pickwick Papers, Bleak House, Martin Chuzzlewit, and others, Dickens fills every pocket of a room with color--every character with minute behaviors. I didn't get as much of that in this one. (I thought the beginning chapters were strongest and most enjoyable, and I love Joe Gargery!)
The story move along at a slow pace, which is typical for stories of this era. But following along is difficult because of the language. It is written in the "Old English" style and I have always had trouble following a story using this type of English. I spend a lot of time trying to understand the language, making it hard to follow the actual plot line.
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