Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

I don’t really know what I expected. But it wasn’t quite this! This is one I’ve been wanting to read for a while, but I had no prior knowledge of who Charles Dickens was or what his writing was like.

In a nutshell:

Pip grows up in 19th century England, on a marshy landscape raised by his abusive sister and her gentle blacksmith husband Joe. His parents are dead, buried together in a nearby graveyard. It’s in this graveyard that Pip experiences an unfortunate (yet ultimately VERY fortunate) encounter. A desperate escaped convict threatens him and demands food, which a frightened Pip provides. Years later this convict enters Pip’s life again, but only after he has grown up, come into money, and fallen head-over-heels for the cold-hearted daughter of a creepy rich lady – Miss Havisham.

The book is wrought with colourful and over-the-top characters: Miss Havisham who lives a miserable life forever dressed in an aged wedding gown, her room remaining unchanged since her unlucky wedding day; Mr Jaggers, Pip’s benefactor’s point of contact – cool, collected, maybe a bit OCD (?!); Estella – beautiful, nonchalant, melancholy and almost heartless; dear Joe with his simple thoughts, simple words, kind heart and his timidity around the higher classes.

It perplexes me to no end that Pip stays in love with Estella throughout the book. She is his reason for wanting to better himself, and rise in class to become more wealthy. But she is horrible to him! As a child she makes him cry. She teases him. She speaks to him as if he is worth nothing. And this never changes. She knows he loves her, and yet (encouraged by her adopted mother Miss Havisham) she leads him on for nothing.

Pip’s weird relationship with the man who he (almost endearingly – despite his fear) calls ‘my convict’ is also perplexing. He is clearly terrified of this man, yet when the convict comes back to witness the boy he has helped make into a gentleman against the law, Pip decides to help him, and then comes to care for him when he’s on his death bed. (So yes, perhaps I haven’t mentioned yet – but this convict is the one who gives Pip his money, his “great expectations”. Gosh I love a book that explicitly contains the title within.)

All in all, this book took me about 4 weeks to read. It’s long, and the language is a bit difficult (particularly when you’re a haggard full-time worker only having snippets of time to read in which your brain is tired). Dickens wrote for a different audience in a different time. What seems odd and irrelevant now was actually deeply humorous and emotive for his intended audience.

So, good on you Dickens.

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