Reading the Classics: “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I chose Great Expectations next because I have been wanting to re-read it for many years. I read it in High School and was struck very deeply by both the major plot twist in the novel and its conclusion. I remember it being one of those books I clutched to my chest once I’d finished, thrilled by its depth and beauty. But by now, that was about all I remembered of it. I chose to listen to it this time because I wanted to really absorb it slowly.

Slowly, I did absorb it. Dickens is an author I’ve heard lambasted before for drawing out his novels well beyond what they need to be. Writing in an era where novels were published serially at times, he made sure he got paid to write for as long as possible. There are other authors who did the same, of course. Alexandre Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo (link to my review) serially, and that book is more than 1000 pages in print! But Dumas’s classic doesn’t feel as though every single word was pondered over to add to its length. Great Expectations is much shorter, but still slows at times to an absolute crawl as the verbosity of its prose drags it on. Now, Dickens is a truly skilled artist, so even when you can tell he’s dragging something out, it is still enjoyable to read.

The plot itself is much simpler than I remember. Boy falls in love with girl when they’re young. The girl has been purposely raised to be unkind. He rises above his station unexpectedly. Girl, now a woman, turns him down pretty hard.  Sorrow. Later, they meet and her station seems to have changed. She seems to have feelings now, but it appears to be too late. The end. Of course, there’s much more to it than that, but those are the basics. It’s a tough story that, on reflection, seems to have few if any redeeming characters in it. Pip is mostly carried along by the events surrounding him. The convict, Magwitch, who brings him into wealth and “expectations” has only paper thin motivations. Other characters are just about as narrowly made.

With all of that, I still enjoyed the book immensely. Dickens’s prose is fantastic, and he somehow manages to draw you into the story even without very sympathetic characters on the whole. It’s a great book, but perhaps not as great as I thought it was in high school.


Reading the Classics– Read more posts in this series as I work my way through classic literature.  Let me know what you think of them! (Scroll down for more.)

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