I finished this book over the weekend for the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge and haven't had time to post a proper review. I'm not sure I would really call this a proper review. I'm simply going to give you my thoughts on the book. I think I've confessed here before that I had not read any Dickens to this point. So, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I liked it. I also mentioned before that I was reading the BN classics edition, for which I was truly grateful. This edition contained end notes in addition to explanations of obscure words and phrases, a very nice introduction and an alternate ending. I didn't know this, but Dickens changed the ending at the request of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a friend of his who was also a novelist and literary critic. Though neither the original ending nor the final version can be accused of being a 'happy ending', the final version does allow for some ray of hope, albeit extremely small. It's in this final version that Dickens allows the reader to decide for themselves what the future holds for Estella and Pip.
Dickens fleshes out his characters in such a way as you really begin to feel as if they are real people. I felt sorry for Pip from the first page to the last page. First, he is an orphan being raised by his hateful older sister. The only saving grace here is her husband, Joe, truly cares for Pip and tries (usually unsuccessfully) to shield him from some of the maltreatment he must endure. He tries hard to do the right thing and to please everyone around him. Fear, guilt, and insecurity are his companions throughout his life. When he gets a taste of a different life by going to the eccentric wealthy Miss Havisham's, he becomes obsessed with making a better life for himself. At the time, he believes that a better life is one in which he is a wealthy gentleman as opposed to the blacksmith he will become if he remains with his Uncle Joe.
And then there's Estella. Of course, she plays a huge role in all of this. Pip is immediately smitten with Miss Havisham's adopted daughter the first time he lays eyes on her at a very young age. From that moment on, she is the main reason that he wants to become a gentleman -- to become worthy of Estella. She has been raised by Miss Havisham to be hard and cruel and to neither feel nor show any emotion. Pip admits that he is never happy in her company, but he loves her and longs to be with her forever. I also felt some sympathy for Estella. She was a product of her upbringing and didn't know the meaning of love. Dickens' characters are well-rounded. It's difficult to totally love or hate them. In this way, they are all too real.
Pip believes his dreams will be realized when he is informed of an anonymous benefactor. He is to immediately leave Joe, the only person that has ever cared for him, and the blacksmith apprenticeship behind and go to London. He is given some money and told he must wait until the time is right to find out the identity of his benefactor. He mistakenly presumes that it is Miss Havisham and that she must also intend Estella for him, as well. In London, he mismanages the money he is given, and he turns his back on Joe because he is ashamed of his manners and dress. The reader knows from the moment he leaves his childhood home that things will not turn out well for Pip. It was extremely frustrating at times because I just wanted to shake Pip and tell him to wake up. The reader sees so clearly the mistakes that he's making, but you also understand that he is naive.
There are many twists and turns throughout the story, which add to the drama of the book. However, sometimes the reader is expected to believe extreme coincidences. All in all, that is a small price to pay for such a lovely story.