Book Review: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I love Charles Dickens, but I have always had a negative view of this book through watching a couple adaptations of it growing up. For one, I hate the idea of a romance centering around a foolish man in love with a cruel woman. It’s one of the main reasons I did not like reading Gone With the Wind, even if it’s a beautifully written book. But I did buy this book at the Goodwill a couples years ago and since then I’ve wanted to read it, despite not liking the main romance. So, I finally did it.

For reference, it took me about three weeks to read the first three hundred pages and about two days to read the last three hundred. That’s a bit of foreshadowing of how I disliked the beginning and liked the ending.

Release: 1861

Synopsis: This famous classic tells the life of Pip, an orphaned boy who falls in love with a heartless girl and is brought out of poverty by a mysterious benefactor. Pip has big dreams, but does he not realize that his great expectations may lead him down a dangerous path.

Review

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book (I feel as if I start off many of my reviews with a similar thought). I took so long to get through the first half of the book and I hated most of it. Pip is such an annoying, egotistic protagonist, and even though I like many of the background characters (Joe, Biddy, etc.), his behavior towards them just made me dislike him more. Honestly, I get by the ending of the book that Dickens was trying to make a point that one shouldn’t have great expectations without being grateful to those who sacrificed for them. That is why, after the halfway mark of the book, I really began enjoying it because Pip began having consequences for his decisions.

One of the things I love about Dickens are the eccentric characters filling his books. In Oliver Twist, my favorite character was the Artful Dodger. In A Christmas Carol, I liked Scrooge more because he’s eccentric and less because of his moral change. In Little Dorrit, I loved Pet (her full name is Minnie Meagles) just because she is so full of herself that she’s hilarious. And that’s only a few examples. Despite the seriousness of Dickens’s novels, there is also that sense of funny humor.

This book is no exception. I loved most of the quirky background characters. Mr. Jaggers, Pip’s guardian, is this perfect combination of terrifying and coolly hilarious. And his secretary, Mr. Wemmick, is so…bizarre. He rarely says what he really means and speaks in riddles, and yet he is also truly kind to Pip. I loved Herbert Pocket, a young man who becomes Pip’s best friend in London, and while he is imperfect, he demonstrates such loyalty which is rare to find in a friend.

There were some characters I didn’t like. Mr. Drummle was, by far, my least favorite character. He later marries Estella, and is constantly both absurd and rude to everyone. He is condescending, and every scene with him in it felt like fingernails against a chalkboard to me.

When it comes to Miss Havisham and her adoptive daughter Estella, I actually liked both of them. Havisham is filled with vengeful ideals, blinding her to what a monster Estella is becoming until it is too late. And yet her character was understandable and moving to read. She was spurned in love and took out her anger and resentment on all men. But, in the end, she realizes how her life could have been so different, if she had not let anger and hate consume her. Hers is a story of warning to all of us.

Likewise, Estella isn’t inherently bad. In fact, she is quite honest with Pip from the beginning that she has no heart with which to love him. She may seem cruel because she is cold, but she is also honest, which I love. It is Pip’s own fault he lets his feelings for her grow unabetted, and that he builds up in his mind the idea of marrying her. However, I love the last scene where they meet again after eleven years, and Estella tells Pip that she indeed learned to have a heart after marrying and going through such suffering. In a sense, I hope after the story ends that Estella can find peace in her life as Pip does.

Speaking of Pip, finally we come to him. He is the most annoying character I have read in a long time. At first I made allowances because he starts out as a small boy, but as the story progresses and he gets older, I could no longer make excuses for him. He only thinks of himself and his own “expectations.” He doesn’t see when his actions hurt others and builds up in his mind this false view of the world, whether it be about his benefactor or Estella. Saying that, in the end, after he realizes who his benefactor is, he begins to mature a bit through suffering. He realizes how ungrateful he has been about everything that was given him, and in the end fully decides to change his life for the better. I was certainly not expecting a redemption story in the end, as I can’t recall any of the adaptations ending on such a happy note.

As for the plot, I enjoyed the mysterious elements of the story. The question of who Pip’s benefactor was. Who were Estella’s real parents? These questions were answered by the end, and I really loved how the ending concluded on a happy note while still being realistic.

What are your thoughts of this book? Have you read it? Or watched an adaptation? I was surprised how most adaptations emphasized the romance, whereas the book emphasized Pip’s growth more. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

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

  1. Great review. I totally agree about each of the characters. After finishing Great Expectations a few days ago, I searched for book reviews to dig deeper into the critical reading of it. Your book review was exactly what I was looking for. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review!😄 Characters in Dickens’s novels are vivid! And I agree with you, many adaptations that focus on the romance and miss the essence of it are shallow… I totally agree with you that it’s a story of growth! To me, it’s also both a story of disillusion and an experiment on humanity. How money and luxury life change a person? Is so-called great expectation reliable or just a dream? How can we define a “great expectation”? What is truely important in life?….. These are the reasons I like the novel.😘

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You can say that again! As I get older, I begin to doubt what I’ve learnt from others ( like it’s high grades and money that matters) .Meanwhile, the ideas/opinions/values in the great books are more impressive and thought-provoking to me! 😄 Life is colorful, and what is worth pursuiting vary from person to person!

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  3. I had to read Great Expectations in high school, and I recall all my classmates hating it. I think they may have had the same problems as you in the book, although some of my friends simply found the book too slow-paced for them.

    Personally, I liked the story. Many people don’t like Pip but I think his development made sense in terms of the message Dickens was going for: in life there are no free rides. Nothing is handed to you on a silver platter. It’s a message Pip has to learn the hard way, and it’s frankly a message that I think a lot of us would do well to remember.

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    1. That’s why I love the ending, because we see Pip’s growth and understanding of his mistakes. He realizes he must make his own way in life. I also agree that I know a lot of readers who don’t like this book, which is probably why I avoided reading it. But I’m glad I did, because I loved the second half of the book, even if it started out a bit rocky. And I can understand how some readers would dislike the slow pace, but I love slower-paced books, so I didn’t mind it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  4. Great review. I have always been a bit indifferent towards Great Expectations, and as you say it may have something to do with the plot. When I was very young I read both David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, and these became more or less my favourites. Now my favourite is Bleak House, not least because I am really into laws and legal systems.

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  5. I am a big fan of Charles Dickens. David Copperfield is my number one favorite book, and not just by Dickens but my favorite book period. I read Great Expectations a few years ago and loved it. I too had watched adaptions before reading this book and had a feeling of “do I really want to read the book?” I’m glad I read it and enjoyed reading it.

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