Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

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I’d always thought I “should” read Dickens. Which is maybe why I never had. I thought he’d be difficult to read, and tedious, despite having enjoyed various film and TV adaptations over the years. So I was thinking it was about time I read something of his anyway, and then one of my favourite book blogs, Savidge Reads, was reading Great Expectations as part of Classically Challenged, a collaboration with another book blog I enjoy, AJ Reads.

So having decided to give it a go soon anyway, I was lucky enough to win a lovely Oxford World’s Classics edition of the book on AJ Reads. After that, I had no excuse.

I won’t go over the plot of the book in much detail, because most people probably know the story. Pip is a poor orphan, brought up by his sister and her husband, the wonderful Joe Gargery. At the beginning of the book, he meets the convict, Magwitch, in the graveyard and helps him to escape. He spends a lot of his childhood at Miss Havisham’s house, entertaining her and Estella, and then comes into a fortune via a secret benefactor.

So, it turned out that I loved it. I already knew the plot, and the twist at the end, so I do wonder what it would have been like to read the book not knowing – whether I would have guessed or not. But I loved the atmospheric descriptions of the graveyard and the marshes, loved the famous appearance of Magwitch, loved the psychologically damaged Miss Havisham and her house, frozen in time.

My favourite thing was the character names, I think. Dickens names his characters brilliantly evocative things that seem to evoke their character immediately – the lawyer, Jaggers, the slightly silly but nice Herbert Pocket, the ridiculous Mr Pumblechook. I loved how the characters all had their little idiosyncracies which made them seem human – Jaggers always washing his hands with the perfumed soap, for instance. There aren’t really that many likeable characters – Wemmick was my favourite, with his castle and the Aged P, and obviously Joe is wonderful, but all of the characters are well-written and realistic, which was what I enjoyed.

I’m not sure if we’re supposed to like Pip, I thought he was a bit of an idiot really – why would he still be in love with Estella after the way she treats him? I could understand it when he’s a child, but you’d think once he grows up, he’d realise how nasty and manipulative she is. I can’t even really tell if Dickens likes Pip or not, what do you think?

So, surprisingly, I really enjoyed it, and have thought about it a lot since I finished it a few weeks ago. I’m also really glad I read it during the winter, it seemed the perfect time to do so. Based on this, I might actually read more Dickens, although I’ve heard the other novels aren’t as good as Great Expectations. It’s definitely made me feel more positive about tackling the other “classic” writers I’ve never read before – George Eliot, for a start, so hopefully this year will bring more classic reading.

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