Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Despite my love of Victorian literature, Charles Dickens has never appealed to me as much as other 19th century writers and until recently the only Dickens novel I had actually read was A Christmas Carol. A couple of years ago I decided to give him another chance and although I still don’t think Dickens will ever be one of my favourite Victorians, I’m pleased to say that my opinion of his work is rapidly improving with every book of his I read!

Great Expectations is narrated by Pip, a young orphan who is brought up by his sister and her husband, Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. Near the beginning of the book two important incidents occur: first Pip meets an escaped convict in the graveyard near his home, and then soon after this he is invited to visit the eccentric Miss Havisham who lives at Satis House. When Pip unexpectedly receives a large sum of money he moves to London to become a gentleman and leaves his old friends behind. But who is the mysterious benefactor and will Pip’s ‘great expectations’ really change his life for the better?

I won’t go into the plot in any more detail for two reasons: firstly, because I suspect many of you will already be familiar with the story even if you haven’t read the book, and also because I wouldn’t want to spoil any of the surprises and plot twists the novel contains. But as well as the wonderful plot, Great Expectations is also full of strong and memorable characters. Miss Havisham, hidden away in her ruined mansion wearing her wedding dress, is probably the one most people will think of when they think of this book, but from the convict Abel Magwitch and Pip’s best friend Herbert Pocket to the lawyer Mr Jaggers and Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter Estella, the book is full of unforgettable characters. I posted a few weeks ago about one of my favourites, Joe Gargery, and how sad it is to see the way Pip’s relationship with Joe changes after he is given his great expectations.

If you’ve never read any Dickens before, I think this might be a good place to start. I’ve read four of his other novels (A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend and The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and in comparison to some of those, I thought this one was much easier to read and understand. And I loved all the observations on life and human nature that Dickens scatters throughout his writing, like this:

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”

Or this:

“So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.”

Now I just need to decide which of Dickens’ books I should try next. I have three of his novels on my list for the Classics Club: David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist. Have you read any of those or is there another one you would recommend?

24 thoughts on “Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

  1. Elena says:

    When I read it three years ago, I didn’t enjoy the process of reading it, but the story sticked with me… and I find myself surprised at how much I like Miss Havisham now and how the story keeps coming back to me with movies, other books etc.

    I am giving Bleak House a try. I hope I also can found my love for Dickens this year 🙂

  2. Lisa says:

    Of the three you list, I’d choose David Copperfield – definitely not A Tale of Two Cities! I’m not a huge fan of Dickens myself, but I can see why people enjoy his books so much.

    • Helen says:

      I’m still not a big fan either but I’m glad I’ve found a few of his books that I’ve enjoyed. I think it will probably be David Copperfield that I try next, though I’m not sure yet.

  3. Charlotte Reads Classics says:

    Great Expectations got me into Dickens too. I agree with what you say about it being more readable. I started A Tale of Two Cities but the language is so flowery, completely different, that I (temporarily!) gave up. I’d go for David Copperfield, Dickens’ favourite after all!

  4. Jo says:

    Having only read Oliver Twist, whilst at school I have yet to get into more Dickens. I know I should as I set it as a challenge for myself this year. I have yet to decide what but I may try Great Expectations.

  5. Sam (Tiny Library) says:

    I must confess to have only read A Christmas Carol, even though I call myself a fan of Victorian literature! Great Expectations is one I have been thinking about reading, so I’m pleased that you think it would be good for a newbie 🙂

  6. FleurFisher says:

    This is my favourite Dickens of the few I’ve read. I do like his writing in the first person, and that leaves me inclined to say go for Daviid Copperfield next, though i haven’t actually read it.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I think the fact that this one was written in the first person helped make it easier to read. My favourite Dickens is still Our Mutual Friend though.

  7. Anbolyn says:

    I’m so glad I chose to read this also – it is a riveting story and a great start for anyone wanting to read Dickens for the first time. I wish it had been my first experience reading him – it would definitely have changed my opinion of his writing.

  8. Laura's Reviews says:

    I was forced to read this in school and it is the only Dickens I think of fondly. I’ve been thinking of rereading Great Expectations as I bet I would love it reading it on my own terms.

    David Copperfield is my favorite Dickens so far (after A Christmas Carol), with A Tale of Two Cities a close second. I still have never read Oliver Twist, but I hope to get to it this year!

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad to hear you would recommend both David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities – I’m looking forward to reading both of them! And yes, I think reading a book voluntarily as an adult is a completely different experience to being made to read it at school.

  9. wutheringwillow says:

    As you may know, Charles Dickens is one of my favourite authors. Barring David Copperfield, I have loved everything by him.

    I love Great Expectations! Many readers I know don’t regard it very highly but it is a book that I have grown to understand better with time.

    A Tale of Two Cities is one of my all time favourites. I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

    • Helen says:

      It seems opinions are very divided on which book I should read next! Sorry to hear you didn’t love David Copperfield but it’s good to know that you’d recommend A Tale of Two Cities so highly.

  10. jessicabookworm says:

    This is actually one of six Dickens books I have on my Classics Club list. The only Dickens’ novel I’ve ever read is Nicholas Nickleby which I remember loving but I did find it quite hard going, maybe why I haven’t tried anything since. I was excited about reading Great Expectations after watching the recent BBC adaptation, but after reading your review I think I will definitely be trying this one first.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve included three on my Classics Club list but I would like to read all of his books eventually, so I might decide to add a few more to the list. I hope you enjoy whichever one you try next – I would definitely recommend Great Expectations.

  11. Donna says:

    Just found your blog via the Classics Club list. Your reviews are wonderful. I’ve read all three Dickens novels you mention. Oliver Twist has a much bigger plot than the movie musical. David Copperfield is Dickens’ own favorite and semi-autobiographical. A Tale of Two Cities is historical fiction set around the time of the French Revolution (60 years before Dickens was writing). ToTC is definitely shorter than DC. I like both very much; you can’t go wrong in your choice.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks Donna. I’m glad to hear that you liked both David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities. I still haven’t decided which one I’ll be reading next so it’s good to know you’d recommend them both!

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