Dickens, Charles, Literary Fiction

Review of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

What was it about?

Philip Pirrip (a.k.a. Pip) is an orphan boy raised by his hot-tempered sister Georgiana Maria (referred to in the story as Mrs. Joe ) and her blacksmith husband Joe Gargery. Pip often spends his afternoons in the cemetery where his parents and other siblings are buried. One day he meets an escaped convict who asks him for a file and some food. Pip steals the items for the convict, but the latter is shortly thereafter arrested and deported to New South Wales. Pip’s family faces another tragedy when Mrs. Joe is attacked from behind by someone with a hammer; she becomes paralyzed and has to be cared for by her husband and a young girl named Biddy.

Nearby, there lives at Satis House a wealthy spinster named Miss Havisham. She always wears a wedding gown and one shoe, and has a ward named Estella. Miss Havisham invites Pip to visit Satis House. He visits frequently, but feels slighted by Estella. Finally, Miss Havisham arranges for him to become apprenticed to Joe Gargery. Pip does not receive this news with joy. He notices that Estella looks down on him for being poor and illiterate. He wants to be more than a blacksmith. One day, Pip is told by a lawyer named Mr. Jaggers that he has great expectations; he has been given a fortune from an anonymous donor. Pip abandons his family and moves in with Matthew Pocket, Miss Havisham’s cousin, to enjoy his wealth among a more sophisticated crowd.

What did I think of it?

The Christmas season is a great time to read Dickens. His stories are always mysterious and creepy. Miss Havisham is one of the creepiest characters Dickens ever wrote. She has a secret that affects the way she interacts with Pip and Estella. Great Expectations is one of my favorite stories by Dickens. Each character, including the narrator (Pip), is complex. Admittedly, there are parts that drag but even though Dickens says a lot, there are no wasted scenes or characters. Every character and small detail plays an important role in the drama. It was definitely a satisfying read, and one of my favorite books of 2015.

Favorite Quotes

“Joe laid his hand upon my shoulder with the touch of a woman. I have often thought him since, like the steam hammer that can crush a man or pat an eggshell, in his combination of strength with gentleness.”

[To Pip about Estella]: “‘Because if it is to spite her,” Biddy pursued, ‘I should think – but you know best – that might be better and more independently done by caring nothing for her words. And if it is to gain her over, I should think – but you know best – she is not worth gaining over.’ “

7 thoughts on “Review of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens”

  1. Christmas is definitely a great time to read Dickens! His books seem to work so well with the cold weather, and I think that’s particularly true of Great Expectations – as you said, it has some very creepy elements!

    1. I hope to read Bleak House next Christmas. I’ve heard it’s his best work. Hard Times is currently my favorite so I will have to see if Bleak House rivals it.

    1. Yes. I was really surprised at how unpleasant the narrator was. He was so selfish. I think this is the first Dickens work I read where the narrator had such a complex personality. He was quite unreliable.

  2. This is one of my favorites among Dickens’ novels. I’ve read and reread it over the past five decades. Pip is certainly a complex character and I especially admire the way he matures over the course of the novel. Dickens also had matured as a writer by the time he wrote this novel and this is demonstrated in the coherence of the story and, as you noted, the absence of “wasted scenes”. Just as his characters are memorable so are many of the scenes from this novel from the famous opening in the graveyard through to the end of the novel.

    1. The graveyard scene and the scene in which Pip meets Miss Havisham for the first time were so thrilling! I definitely noticed the maturity in Dickens writing.

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