Charles Dickens – Great Expectations
52. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
Read By: Simon Prebble
Length: 18h 31m (544 pages)
Started: 27 July 2015
Finished: 14 August 2015
Where did it come from? Audible.
Why do I have it? I’ve been meaning to read more of Dickens (other than A Christmas Carol) and Audible had it on sale.
How long has it been on my TBL pile? Since 11 June 2015.
So you think I should
read more of the classics? I
expect that you’re right.
(Sorry, that was terrible.)
Summary: Young Phillip Pirrip (“Pip” to everyone) was orphaned at a young age, and brought up by his older sister and her husband, Joe Gargery, the local blacksmith. When Pip is young, he begins to attend upon the eccentric Miss Havisham – an old woman who lives in a decaying mansion and is constantly attired in a wedding dress. There Pip meets the beautiful but cold Estella, with whom he falls hopelessly in love, but who scorns him and his low position. When Pip finds out that an anonymous benefactor has left him a large sum of money, with the expectation that he become a gentleman, Pip hopes that his improved circumstances may change Estella’s mind… but he eventually learns that his expectations are not all they are cracked up to be, and that there are secrets about his past that may yet come back to haunt him.
Review: Prior to this book, my only experience with Dickens was A Christmas Carol. Great Expectations may or may not have been the best place to start – on the whole, I enjoyed it, even though I didn’t really care for most of the characters. But my primary reaction to a lot of it was that I absolutely could tell that Dickens was publishing this serially, and was getting paid by the word. Because ye gods, this was long, much longer than it needed to be, and wandered off into some really unneccesary tangents. To give some frame of reference: The audiobook is more than 18 hours long, and the Expectations of the title don’t manifest themselves until at least 5 or 6 hours in, leaving the first third of the book feeling like a lot of pointless rambling with no clear plot or direction (it’s not pointless – a lot of it ties back in later – but I didn’t know that at the time.) There were also portions that I thought could have been trimmed from the later portions of the book as well. There were a number of secondary characters whose lives I didn’t really care about, but had to hear about in excruciating detail anyways. Even in the life of our principle, do I really need a half-hour diversion on his record-keeping practices? No I do not.
That said, I did mostly enjoy this book. It was funnier (albeit darkly funny) than I was expecting, although it seemed that a lot of the humor came at the expense of the most likeable characters. (Particularly Joe – the scene when he comes to see Pip in London and is totally out of his depth is written to be quite funny, but I also found it to simultaneously be quite sad, because Joe is nothing if not good-hearted, and it felt bad to be laughing at him). I certainly liked Joe a lot better than I liked Pip. Once he receives his expectations, he goes from being a normal little boy to being an immature, overly self-important jerk. And I get that that’s kind of the point, but it makes it hard for me to feel too bad for him when it all starts to fall apart. And the “love” story with Estella never really grabbed me – I don’t like stories where the guy falls in “love” with a woman just because she’s beautiful, and because she spurns him, when she’s clearly horrible to him. Estella doesn’t have any redeeming qualities other than her beauty, so Pip spending his entire life pining over his “love” for her felt hollow. And again, I get that that’s probably part of the point, but again, it made it difficult for me to sympathize with our protagonist. So, overall, I’m glad I read this book, partly to fill that gap in my cultural background, but also because it was an enjoyable read with a number of strikingly vivid scenes. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I can see why it’s considered a classic, but I don’t think it’s ultimately destined to become a personal favorite. Worth giving it a shot if you haven’t before, though.
First Line: My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.
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