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.’ “

Dickens, Charles, Literary Fiction

Review of The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

The_Old_Curiosity_Shop_12If you are looking for a book with a well-developed plot and realistically-portrayed characters, do not read Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. I could hardly relate to any of the characters because they were mere caricatures. Mr Quilp is completely demonic; he can hardly be said to be a man at all. Nell, on the other hand, is too innocent and sweet; she is often compared to an angel. It is hard to sympathize with such characters.

The Summary

In The Old Curiosity Shop, Nell Trent is under the care of her grandfather who runs a curiosity shop. However, the grandfather finds himself in extreme poverty due to his predatory friends, profligate relatives and gambling addiction. Nell and the grandfather turn to begging to escape from Quilp and his friends. Along the way, Nell encounters such people as the sculptor of wax figures and puppet show actors.

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Written in 1840-1841, The Old Curiosity Shop was one of Charles Dickens’ earliest works. Malcolm Andrews, in the introduction to the Penguin Classics version, writes, “The Old Curiosity Shop has long been regarded as something of a black sheep in the family of Dickens’ novels. It has been consistent in its remarkable ability to alienate countless readers by its sentimentality, clumsy construction, and arbitrary melodramatic sensationalism.”

If you have never read Dickens, I suggest you start with his later works such as A Tale of Two Cities. If you are like me and wish to read everything he wrote, by all means, read The Old Curiosity Shop. At times, the novel was actually quite enjoyable. The grandfather’s gambling addiction was described very realistically, and I thought that the Punch and Judy performers were a riot. But you will need a lot of patience and endurance to read this 670 page novel. In my opinion, it is unnecessarily long.There are lots of scenes in this story that do not help move along the plot. I think that Dickens included these scenes to introduce us to the people who live on the outskirts of industrial London. It is ironic though that these people are more realistically -portrayed than the main characters.

I can’t say that I hated the book. After all, I did finish it. There are even times that I think that Dickens’ use of caricature serves a purpose in the telling of the story. Maybe the character of Quilp represents all the institutions in industrial England that preyed on the poor, children, and women.

What do you think? If you have read Dickens’ earlier novels, do you think his use of caricature serves a purpose or is it just a weakness?

Citation: Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop (Penguin Classics). London: Penguin Classics, 1972.