Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Just finished reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens which I was reading as part of a Dickens readalong being hosted by Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Delia (Postcards from Asia).

This is a reread of the novel for me as I read it many years ago and I always wonder if I will actually like a book the second time round or whether revisiting will somehow mar the memory.  No problems here I’m pleased to admit.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the second time round the story was even better.

For those of you unfamiliar with Great Expectations the story is about a boy called Pip.  Pip is an orphan, being raised by his sister and her husband Joe.  Due to a chance circumstance Pip is thrown into the path of the local eccentric lady of the manor, Miss Haversham where he meets her ward the beautiful and proud Estella.  Pip is later to be apprenticed to Joe as a blacksmith until his fortune is changed by an unknown benefactor and he is elevated to the status of a gentleman with ‘great expectations’.  I won’t elaborate further on the plot.

The first thing I noticed this time round is the humour in Dicken’s telling of the story.  I can genuinely admit that I recalled none of that at all and yet he really does incorporate a lot of fun into his character Pip.  Perhaps I missed this originally as I was much younger and probably concentrated mainly on the story (not to mention racing to the end to find out how it all concludes).  I think much of the writing style and the subtle nuances were probably wasted on me at that age whereas this time, being already aware of the story, I was able to enjoy Dicken’s style.

I must confess that I had moments where Pip didn’t come across as well as he could – in fact at one point I positively disliked him.  But, I think this was part of Dickens intentions.  Pip starts out in life quite destitute and his only friend in the world is Joe (who frequently rescues him from a good beating from his sister).  And, yet, as soon as he meets Miss Haversham he becomes overwhelmed with shame about his own circumstances.  He cringes at the thought of the  disdainful Estella ever meeting Joe or seeing his home circumstances.  This is in sharp contrast later in the story when Pip becomes friendly with Mr Wemmit who works at the law firm that acts as Guardian to Pip’s income until he becomes of age.  Mr Wemmit doesn’t have a lot to speak of in the world.  He has a small home and looks after his elderly father who remains known throughout the story as The Aged.  And yet Mr Wemmit loves his home and family and experiences none of the feelings that Pip does.  It also reaches a bit of a peak when Joe pays a visit to Pip in his new home in London and Pip is practically on pins for the whole visit, acts quite rudely towards Joe, is ashamed for him with his country ways and lack of breeding and is actually relieved when he leaves!  I was really naffed off with him at this point I must admit!

That being said I think that Pip does redeem himself – and this seems to be a theme with Dickens that characters become aware of the flaws in their own character and attempt to change themselves for the better.

A couple of things that occurred to me during this read were:

I thought that Dickens was making a point about females in society – if you look at Biddy in this story she is quite obviously as clever, if not more so, as Pip and yet due to circumstances her chances in life are quite different.

The other thing that stood out with this, and I don’t know if this is the same for other novels by Dickens, is that he is a master of misdirection.  He leads you into wrong conclusions and dead end alleys without any difficulty whatsoever.

And, finally, I wondered if he was making a point about nature over nurture.  Both Pip and Estella were taken into a situation where they were manipulated and raised almost like a tool of revenge.  Estella to seek revenge against men on behalf of Miss Haversham and her overwhelming disappointment in life and Pip, placed into a different situation in life by somebody who wanted to make a gentleman out of him to prove a point and then display Pip around time as being the superior of everyone else.  Both of them, later in life, realised how they were being used and it was sad to see that neither of them were able to lead perfectly happy or normal lives comparative to some of the other characters in the story.

I really enjoyed this story reading it for the second time.  It is a great story and easy to see why it’s been adapted to film on so many occasions and I would like to thank Caroline and Delia for giving me the inspiration to revisit.




14 Responses to “Great Expectations by Charles Dickens”

  1. Caroline

    I’m very glad you still liked it. I’m always afraid a re-reading will spoil a book for me. I didn’t really like Pip but, yes , he did redeem himself.That and the nature over nurture seem common themes in Dickens’ novels. I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the humour, I was too focussed on the characters and the descriptions. Thanks for joining us, Lynn.

    • lynnsbooks

      I know what you mean. I think if someone said to me that Dickens had a great sense of humour I would probably look at that person as though they had two heads but rereading this there was loads of humour – particularly at the start of the story when Pip is still young and making his observations on behaviour. I actually bookmarked a couple of pieces that made me laugh but then I forgot to go back to them (doh!).
      I’m always worried about a reread. Sometimes you remember a book with real joy and build it up into this wonderful reading experience and then it becomes a little bit scary to go back because it may seem silly now. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with this. I think you could probably reread Dickens at any age and pick up something different from the stories he wrote.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Delia (Postcards from Asia)

    What a beautiful and detailed review! I’ve read the book a few years ago but I only remember the story in a general way – what I do remember is the “bringing up by hand” part, and couldn’t help but sympathize with Pip.

    Re-reading books is a positive experience for me as well, I have a favorite which I have read several times and each time I was able to find something new in it.
    Thanks for participating in this event, hope to have you along in the future as well.
    If you’d like to read more Dickens, Fanda is hosting a “Celebrating Dickens” event here:
    Happy holidays, Lynn!

    • lynnsbooks

      Thanks Delia and also, thanks for hosting this readalong. I enjoyed rereading these books.

      BTW – what is the favourite book you mention that you enjoy rereading?? Can’t help being curious. I think the book I’ve probably read more than any other is Rebecca. I love that book and the film. Although, again, I haven’t read that for a few years so perhaps my opinion will have changed.
      I will definitely read more Dickens – I would like to read David Copperfield but will probably give it a few months now.
      Happy holidays to you too.
      Lynn 😀

      • Delia (Postcards from Asia)

        Hi Lynn,
        My favorite book is “Don Juan, The Life and Death of Don Miguel de Mañara”, by Josef Toman (a Czech author). I have a Romanian translation and have read the book many times, since I was a teenager, and every time ended up loving it more. There’s a lesson in it I never tire of coming back to.

      • lynnsbooks

        That sounds interesting and I’ve definitely not read it – will have to check it out.
        Lynn 😀

  3. Delia (Postcards from Asia)

    I forgot to add the review for the book if you’d like to read it, but I feel I didn’t do it justice:

  4. TBM

    Even though this is one of his darker books, I did love the humor he included. That Christmas celebration when Pip thinks the entire time he’s going to get in trouble for stealing food for the convict is priceless. My favorite character in this book is Joe–no matter what, he stays true to his character, always kind and giving. We need more Joes in this world.

    • lynnsbooks

      I know. Joe is lovely and i felt really cross with Pip when he was being so mean to him and acting ashamed when he visited London. That first scene is definitely one of the most enjoyable – I think there was probably more humour at the start of the story and then it became darker as the story continues.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Dickens in December – Wrap up « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

    […] Great Expectations (Lynn’s Book Blog) […]

  6. Rachel

    That’s a good review of Great Expectations. There were times that I disliked Pip as well. And I do enjoy Dickens’ humor.

    • lynnsbooks

      I’d definitely forgotten the humour. In fact if someone said to me that Dickens had a sense of fun in his writing I would probably look at them askew! Pip did have a tendency to be a bit of a horrible shameless snob at the start but I guess he came good in the end.
      Lynn 😀

  7. nhooper123

    I’m currently reading Great Expectations, and I decided to read up this review to get a few ‘spoilers’ and ideas of what to think about when reading. I’ll make sure that I take a good look at Pip’s character; at the moment I’m finding his innocence and confusion quite endearing (I’ve only just started, just had the first trip to Miss Havisham’s lair!).
    I also absolutely loved the image of Miss Havisham, initially appearing to look well, but when Pip looks closer she’s almost rotten – the idea of only one shoe being put on is heartbreaking, as if she was just about to leave for the wedding when she found that her husband would not come.
    When I eventually finish, I’ll post my review on – but I’m currently only reading it on my iPhone when I don’t have a book around, so it’s slow going!

    • lynnsbooks

      Great Expectations is one of my favourite Dickens stories and one that I can easily return to. The whole idea created here with Miss Havisham is great and particularly seeing it through Pip’s young eyes. Not to mention things are shortly to become much more involved and quite sinister!
      I hope you enjoy it.
      Lynn 😀

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