Book Review: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Synopsis: Young Pip lives with his sister and her blacksmith husband Joe and one night helps an escaping convict. Later he meets the mysterious, wealthy Miss Havisham, and her ward, Estella. Pip falls instantly in love with Estella, and desires to become a gentleman instead of a blacksmith. Pip comes into money from an unknown benefactor, and goes to London to become a gentleman.

Review: I loved this book. Great Expectations is a classic for a reason, and Charles Dickens’ writing is so powerful here. His plotting and characters are mesmerizing and aggravating. I was lost in some places, and the plot dragged in the middle section, but there were so many fabulous, memorable scenes that it makes up for all of the boring.

Our main character is Pip, and we meet him at a young age. He is a kind, fearful boy and one day comes across an escaping convict, and feeds him. Pip lives with his angry sister and her kind husband, Joe, and I absolutely loved Joe. He was so sweet and strong, and proud in his own way. Pip is summoned to Miss Havisham’s mansion, and while there realizes that he is poor, and he is ashamed of his life with his sister and Joe, and he wants to become a gentleman. I hated Pip’s treatment of Joe. Pip was so aggravating in the choices he made!

What can I say about Miss Havisham? Dickens has created a character and a setting so memorable; she steals every scene she is in. I loved the way Dickens described her when Pip first meets her. Miss Havisham, who was jilted on her wedding day, has trapped herself in a horrible moment, still in her rotting wedding dress, surrounded by rotten food (wedding cake anyone??), and she is only wearing one shoe. The one shoe bit really hit me – this lady was so distraught by being jilted, that she doesn’t even take off her shoe, or put the other one on. After years. Years!! So, I loved Miss Havisham in all of her haunting, terrible existence and choices and manipulations.

Which brings me to Estella. Estella is Miss Havisham’s ward, and I did not like Estella at all. Until possibly the last page. I haven’t decided yet, but I enjoy characters that make me think, and I haven’t stopped thinking about her for several days now. Estella was actually a terrible human being, but she was also a victim, so I’m just kind of stuck on what to think about her. I do think that she does not deserve Pip’s affection AT ALL. And Pip! So romantic – oh, Pip, anyone would melt with your big declaration of love!

The one thing that Dickens does so well is connecting everyone. I loved all of the links, and I liked how everything was revealed in the book. Perhaps it’s a bit too perfect to have everything link together, but that didn’t bother me in this book. And I’m also not ashamed to say that this book moved me to tears at several places at the end.

Immediately after finishing the book I watched the latest adaptation, with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, on Netflix Instant View. Literally. I don’t even think ten minutes went by! And the movie was fine, it was beautiful, but it felt hollow to me. That may be because there is no movie that can compare with Dickens’ writing, or perhaps it should’ve been a miniseries to fully flesh out the characters. I felt Joe and Pip’s relationship was shorted, and that was one of my favorite plotlines from the book. (Side Note: When are we going to get an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities?? Please! We need this!)

I also had a problem with Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Miss Havisham. She was too comedic, and Miss Havisham is just such a sad character, that the comedy, intentional or unintentional, felt off. But she really looked the part! And you could tell she was enjoying the role. Maybe that’s what it was – Miss Havisham just looked a little too happy.

So, I would definitely recommend reading Great Expectations if you’ve never read it before. It is full of memorable characters, great scenes, and fabulous writing. It doesn’t knock A Tale of Two Cities off its perch as my favorite Dickens, but I did enjoy it immensely.

Bottom Line: A must-read classic. Full of beautiful writing and memorable characters.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • “In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.”

  • “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.”

  • “I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.”

  • “You are a part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since, -on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets.”

Have you read Great Expectations? What is your favorite Dickens novel?


12 thoughts on “Book Review: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

    1. Thanks! It’s really a great book and I think it will stand up to multiple reads. I want to re-read later on in life and see if I still feel the same way about certain characters.

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  1. This is such a brilliant review! Fantastic thoughts on this novel, many of which I certainly share. I love your blog, I just found it but it seems we’ve been reviewing a few books in common recently, so feel free to take a look at my blog if you feel like it!

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  2. I absolutely love Charles Dickens, but Great Expectations is not my favorite of his works and I don’t understand why so many people recommend it. Is it because it’s one of his shorter books? I just didn’t connect to any of the characters and I never understood Pip and Estella as a couple.

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    1. While I liked Pip, many of his actions were questionable, and I really did not like Pip and Estella together. I think what I loved about it was the story – it was so beautiful and haunting with Miss Havisham and her inability to move from her past and her manipulations. I loved Joe Gargery – he was my favorite character by far. I just really loved the writing and story. I’ve actually only read this, A Christmas Carol, and A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens and hope to read more. I’m not sure which one of his to try next – I was thinking Bleak House or Little Dorrit. Do you have a suggestion?

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      1. I loved both Little Dorrit and Bleak House, but Bleak House is my second favorite after A Tale of Two Cities, so I’ll go with that one! I find the protagonist slightly annoying because she keeps apologizing for writing about herself in a story about her own life, but the plot is just so tightly structured. It’s beautiful.

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        1. That sounds a little irritating, but Bleak House really intrigues me, so I’ll likely choose that one when I pick up Dickens again. It may be awhile before I pick it up! Thanks!

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