Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Great Expectations

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.

10 comments:

Table Talk said...

This is one of my favourite Dickens. I always get frustrated with Pip, who comes out all right in the end, but spends a lot of time behaving like a real brat. But, there are some wonderful characters keeping him company, especially Herbert and Joe. In fact, I think I ought to go away and read it again sooner rather than later.

Lisa said...

I agree. The characters are so drawn in this book. I think this is one that I'll reread sometime in the future, as well.

Iliana said...

Great review Lisa. I think we read the same edition and I was also surprised to learn about the alternate ending. I still need to put some thoughts together on this one but overall I really liked it.

Lisa said...

Aren't you glad you read that edition? I think it really added to the experience. Look forward to hearing what you have to say about it.

Nymeth said...

I have read very little Dickens (only the Christmas Books and a few short stories). Although I did enjoy what I've read, I've always felt somewhat intimidated by him, especially his longer novels. This one really sounds like something I'd enjoy, though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

Lisa said...

Nymeth, I know what you mean about being intimidated by Dickens. But, I have to say that if the rest of his work is like this one, I've got a lot of good reading ahead of me.

Literary Feline said...

This is a great review, Lisa. I admit to being a little worried about this one, but yours, Andi's and Iliana's reviews sure make it sound like a must read.

gautami tripathy said...

I read it for my 12 grade course. I think I should re-read this. I need to be re-aquainted with Pip, Miss Havisham, Estella etc.

Wonderful review.

Framed said...

I really didn't care for Grat Expectations. I liked A Tale of Two Cities much better. But after reading two glowing reviews this week, maybe I should give it another try.

Lisa said...

literary feline, I felt the same way before reading this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. You have to remember when it was written, but beyond some obscure words and phrasing (at least obscure to me), it is really a great book.

gautami tripathy, I'm not sure how I would have felt about this book if I had read it in high school. My guess is I would not have been as impressed as I am now. I think where we are in life and our moods play huge roles in how we feel about literature.

framed, I'm glad to hear you liked A Tale of Two Cities. I'm excited that I have so much more Dickens to read. This was my first introduction (rather late, I know)to Dickens, and I want more!