Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review of the Day: Great Expectations

Great Expectations is one of the Dickens books I never read because I was sure I had read it. I knew all about spooky Miss Havisham in her wedding dress with her moldy, spider-filled wedding cake, so I must have read it, right? No, I must have watched the dreary 1970s movie version somewhere along the line and missed out on the real thing.

Too bad it took so long to get around to this one because Great Expectations is a whale of a good read. It is chock-o-block full of Dickens’s extraordinary characters, it is clever and funny, and there are exciting adventures, like prison breaks, murders, and a kidnapping. Orphan Pip goes from helping escaped convicts on the moors to keeping Miss Havisham company before being taken up by an unknown benefactor and taught to be a London gentleman. All goes awry before adult Pip can win the heart of his beloved Estella, but he learns important lessons and all comes right in the end.

As it turns out, all came more right in the end of the version I read than originally planned by Dickens. He changed the original melancholy ending in subsequent editions and mine used the later, happier ending. Having gone back and compared the two, the original seems more integral to the story. Either way, what a wonderful book. I wish I had read it 25 years ago, like I thought I had.

Dolce Bellezza (warning: contains spoilers)
Book Psmith


  1. When I read this as a freshman in high school, I didn't really care for it. But I reread it a few years ago and loved it. I had missed out on all of the humor when I was young and just didn't appreciate it.

  2. Lovely review. This is one I still have to read. Interestingly, Bellezza just read this one, too. You should check out her review:

  3. It really is FUNNY. I am trying to read or re-read Dickens and I find I enjoy them much more as an adult.

    Rebecca -- thanks for the link. I added it to my post.

  4. Rose City Reader, what a wonderful review you have written! I never knew there were two endings until I read your post. My edition had the second ending, where Pip and Estella will continue on together. It's good to have hope like that, although I could just have easily envisioned the first ending where they must be separate. Thank you for kindly linking to me, but I must say, your review is quite wonderful.

  5. I've seen the Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow movie a few times now, but based on your review, I guess I should read the book! Though I'm looking at my shelf now and I see a copy of Bleak House with a bookmark only a few pages in. Maybe I should finish what I start before moving on to something new.

  6. This one is not high on my TBR list because I think I already know it, by osmosis from movie previews, etc. Sounds like I'm missing out by letting it languish.

    Dickens is always better than expected, in my experience! I should remember that.

  7. The version I read in high school, stuffed into an English class reader, was a grotesque abridgement. Reading the entire novel later, I discovered that the editors had decided to omit everything that was funny.

    'Cause high school kids don't like funny stuff, I guess.

    So my experience was like Shelley's, and no wonder - Shelley, if you read the version I did, it wasn't you fault that you missed the humor!

  8. Great review and the comments are fascinating. I was listening to a talk on Dickens and a professor mentioned that Great Expectations is a much better fit for older readers (as opposed to reading in the teen years). I kind of wished that I had read it when I was younger just to be able to compare what I thought of it at different stages in my life. My edition did include the original ending in the appendix but I preferred the revised one. Like you said...either way, it is a wonderful book:)


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