Overall Impression: One boy’s journey of self discovery packed to the brim with some of the most memorable characters I have ever come across.
I was scared to open this book, and I mean scared. That never happens to me, but a had this huge trepidation about Dickens. I remember loathing Oliver Twist when I was younger, I encountered the film many times and the book itself during year nine English and have steered away from all Dickens since. God help anyone who starts singing about ‘gruel’. Seriously, there is a special place in hell dedicated to people who sing those songs. 😛
However, in the name of literature (and because the book is on The Rory Gilmore Challenge) I decided to attempt Great Expectations, all the while thinking I should rename it ‘Low Expectations’. Even having seen TV adaptions and enjoying them, I couldn’t put away that pain from year nine English.
Ohh how I have been missing out! I took the book on holiday with me because I thought it would help me fall asleep earlier, but instead it kept me up later!
Pip’s life as an ordinary country boy is destined to be unexceptional until a chain of mysterious events leads him away from his humble origins and up the social ladder. His efforts to become a London gentleman bring him into contact not just with the upper classes but also with dangerous criminals. Pip’s desire to improve himself is matched only by his longing for the icy-hearted Estella, but secrets from the past impede his progress and he has many hard lessons to learn.
Philip Pirrip know simply as Pip by most, is an unassuming young orphan in the care of his older sister and her husband, Joe. They live poorly, scraping by on dinners of bread and butter in a village near the misty marshes where criminals have been known to wander. One evening as Pip mutely accepts his sisters regular berating he is informed by a family friend that the wealthy town recluse Miss Havisham is searching for a playmate for her adopted daughter. Pips family volunteer him and he begins his visits. The overgrown gardens and vast elaborate halls make a lasting impression on Pip, but none more than the beautiful and cruel Estella, who makes it her purpose to belittle and taunt him with the enthusiastic goading of Miss Havisham. After each visit Pip feels more ashamed of his upbringing, his family, but most of all himself and dreams of having great expectations to help him win Estella’s heart.
So when a lawyer from London informs Pip that a mysterious benefactor wishes to make him a gentlemen, he can barely believe his luck. Saying goodbye to everything he has ever know he moves to London; his story is barely beginning.
AAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!! Ajjfnhijiofffffff!!!!!!!!! 😀
Sorry, I just had to get that out. This book, this book, this book! Go and buy this book!!!
It makes me sad that it has taken me this long to discover how awesome Dickens is. Whether my brain has matured enough to love it or if Great Expectations is just better than Oliver Twist I’m not too sure, but I’m glad I picked it up!
Great Expectations has the most vivid first scene I have read in a long time, Pip meets a convict out on the misty marshes and there was something so…mysterious, terrifying and exciting about it. The imagery was brilliant and really set the tone for the rest of the novel. Dickens writing is just beautiful, it’s the only way I can think to describe it. It gave me tingles because he is so on the mark with everything in this book, the happy scenes made me grin uncontrollably and the sad sections had me reaching for the tissues. He sucked me into the setting, the story and its wonderful characters, so much so that I physically felt part of the book. When the characters were angry I was angry, when they were hurt I felt hurt. This book took me on a massive journey, and I feel like I’ve walked a thousand miles just by reading it.
I was worried I would find this book a hard read, I’d heard the horror stories about Dickens but it was not as difficult as I was expecting. There were a few places where I struggled with the language because of the altered speech with misspelt words (If you could call it that, I’m sure there must be a technical term!) or where I would get a little disorientated but this was rare. When I was younger I remember feeling his sentences were so drawn out, agonizingly so, but I didn’t have any issues with this in Great Expectations. Sure he used more words than were necessary at times and his sentences were somewhat like trying to walk down a windy road, but I don’t think I read one passage that I didn’t enjoy. This should give you an idea:
It was not because I was faithful, but because Joe was faithful, that I never ran away and went for a soldier or sailor. It was not because I had a strong sense of virtue of industry, but because Joe had a strong sense of the virtue of industry, that I worked with tolerable zeal against the grain. It is not possible to know how far the influence of any amiable honest-hearted duty-doing man flies out into the world; but it is very possible to know how it has touched one’s self in going by, and I know right well that any good that intermixed itself with my apprenticeship came of plain contended Joe, and not of restless aspiring discontented me. – Pg101
Dickens insight into people’s motivations and behaviours is staggering and his phrasing feels unique, especially for his character descriptions. It’s like he has made it his mantra to find the most strange and unusual ways to describe everything. I remember him using the phrase ‘undecidedly blue eyes’ which somehow struck me as genius at the time.
Another thing I never realised about Dickens was how funny he was! It’s a more subtle humour which just makes it even better because you don’t expect it, and then you’re laughing and snorting and people start staring at you weirdly because they’re not in on the joke!
It is difficult to sum up what Great Expectations is about, it has so many layers and I’m positive that you would get something different out of it with each reading. It covers class struggles, the definition of love, obsession, poverty, ambition, revenge etc. and each time I felt I was about to pinpoint Dickens key message something else monumental would happen to change my mind completely. The plot had me hooked from start to finish – and I didn’t want to finish! There were so many twists and turns, unexpected revelations and some huge shockers. I wish I could have read this book from the perspective of someone who hadn’t seen various TV adaptations because it would have made the unveilings that much more dramatic. Even so, there were still some gasp moments that had been omitted from the screen that surprised me! I did feel the plot slowed in the middle to go off on some tangents that weren’t necessarily key to the story, but I still enjoyed them.
My favourite parts of the book were always when the two worlds of rich and poor collided and these scenes normally included Pip and Joe the loyal but simple blacksmith. These were at the heart of the novel for me and what truly made the book worth reading. As Pip progresses in class he naturally feels more ashamed of where he has come from. The way he treated those who had been nothing but kind to him his entire life was heartbreaking, nearly moving me to tears at points. I can’t resist putting this heart wrenching speech in by Joe after Pip had acted so meanly towards him, (Pip, Joe, you breakkk my hearrrtttttt! :() it had such a profound impact on me, but it’s long so feel free to skip it!
‘Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there’s been any fault at all to-day, it’s mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends. It ain’t that I am proud, but that I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I’m wrong in these clothes. I’m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’ meshes. You won’t find half so much fault in me if you think me in forge dress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe. You won’t find half so much fault in me if, supposing as you should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work. I’m aweful dull, but I hope I’ve beat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so God bless you, dear old Pip, old chap, God bless you!’ – Pg212
As for the characters, were do I even begin? I admired Biddy’s honesty and how she saw straight through everyone, I loved Mr Jaggers logical temperament and the way he always folded and unfolded his handkerchief in a precise way, I laughed along with Wemmick’s double personality and his hard of hearing Aged P, I appreciated Herbert and his unwavering friendship. I was entertained by Mrs. Gargery’s shrill tones, intrigued with Magwitch’s harshness and enjoyed Mr. Pumblechook’s irritating insistence that Pip should be grateful to those who brought him up by hand.
Special mention have to go out to Miss Havisham, Estella, Joe and Pip though who have all found a new special place in my heart. Miss Havisham is possibly one of the most striking characters ever created with her battered wedding dress and decaying house where the clocks are stopped at twenty minutes to nine. Estella is equally fascinating with her lack of empathy and the way she has been shaped over the years to break men’s hearts. Joe’s acceptance and appreciation of everything in life was lovely to read about and Pip’s character development from child to adult was a readers dream! We get to watch him progress massively. Can you say epic character arc? 😀
I would recommend this book to males or females, 16+ mostly because the older you are the more likely you are to appreciate the language. Those who enjoy eloquent writing, vibrant characters, descriptions of Victorian England, plot twists and moral messages will have a tonne of fun with this book, but most importantly, don’t be put off because of Dickens reputation as being a hard read! I feel a lot better about attempting more of his novels now, although now I’m worried that they couldn’t possibly live up to this one! Anyway, enough of my waffling, just go and read it! 😀
Writing Style: 5/5
Character Development: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? Hell yeah! When have I ever given a book all 5’s?!
Two more fave quotes:
I resolved to tell my gaurdian that I doubted Orlick being the right sort of man to fill a post of trust at Miss Havisham’s. ‘Why of course he is not the right sort of man, Pip,’ said my guardian, comfortably satisfied beforehand on the general head, ‘because the man who fills the post of trust never is the right sort of man.’ – Pg231
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‘I’ll tell you,’ said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper, ‘what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter – as I did!’ – Pg227
Stranger in the Churchyard: My own photograph.
Mrs. Joe, Joe and Pip: My own photograph
Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1781043.Great_Expectations