Monday, July 6, 2015

Classic Reads: Great Expectations May Be Unlikeable to Some, But It's My Favorite Dickens Novel

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was one of the first great classic novels I remember reading.

While the book does have its problems ...
Facebook friend Rebecca Brown notes: "I disliked all the characters, so I didn't really care what happened to them. I can't remember why I even finished it, honestly."
I think the combination of mystery and moral values within the story contributed to turning me onto a life of being interested in literature. Also helping in this regard, I think the characters are great (even if mostly unlikeable). Pip, in particular, is memorable in building our compassion for him before he destroys that trust with his obsession of climbing the social ladder, which Dickens clearly finds to be a distasteful way to live one's life.

Seven-year-old Pip is brought up in his sister's home after his parents and five brothers have died. He gets hired by Miss Havisham to be a play partner for her adopted daughter Estella. Pip loves Estella from the beginning but finds Miss Havisham very eccentric. She had all of her clocks stopped, for one example.
Facebook friend Lynn Davis adds" "Miss Havisham is a hoot. I think of her when I see a lot of cobwebs (not in my house, of course :o). She fascinates me too."
Estella goes off to school and Pip's sister gets badly assaulted by a convict Pip has coincidentally once helped. Her new caretaker Biddy falls in love with Pip. These events cause him to increasingly become disenchanted with his status in life.

Four years later, a lawyer named Mr. Jaggers comes and buys Pip from his sister's house, noting that a secret benefactor claims he is a boy of "great expectations." He is taken to London to try to learn gentlemanly ways. His sister, his poor sister, is murdered and then, at age 21, Pip inherits a large amount of money. He is soon visited by a weather-beaten stranger and is horrified to learn that his longtime benefactor was not Miss Havisham but instead has all along been a convict named Abel Magwitch, whom he had encountered in the story as a child. Coincidentally again, his co-criminal had jolted Miss Havisham years earlier.

A series of characters and soap operas ensue, resulting in the death of many characters and the eventual maturity of Pip.

I would say that if there is one Dickens book to read, even more than A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations is the one to pick.

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