Friday, September 26, 2014

Great Expectations Time After Time

One of my GoodReads friends said that watching me try to force myself to finish Great Expectations was better than the book itself. I feel rather proud actually as my usual practice is to just toss a book when it's not working for me. Even the classics (especially Russian classics).

But this is Charles Dickens who I learned to love with A Tale of Two Cities, and who left me awestruck after reading Bleak House and Little Dorrit. And I am now quite glad I did. If you're interested, a tale of my trek through Great Expectations follows.

Great ExpectationsGreat Expectations by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A kind friend gave me the Blackstone Audio read by Simon Prebble, a narrator whose shoes other readers are not fit to touch.

I've never really been interested in reading Great Expectations. However, it's been too long since I've had any Dickens in my life. At least a month or two. And that's too long.

Oh Dickens, Dickens. I'm still in the very early pages but already his little observations are making me laugh.

I really hate Pip. Really, really. However, I had a great breakthrough when I went and read G.K.Chesterton's introduction to this novel. It made me realize Dickens' boldness in writing a novel with an antihero. I realize he is far from the first to do so, but I really hadn't expected it since his other books that I've read have all had at least one likable heroic protagonist. This accounts for my difficulty in connecting with the book, which I'm a third of the way through. And it helps me to reorient mentally on the story.

Secondly, something Chesterton said made me go look at GE's chronology. I hadn't realized it was the next to the last finished novel Dickens wrote, thus making it more a more mature work. I realized that I needed to trust this author to show me something new, to sit back and let the story sink in, rather than to rush to judgment because I would like to give Pip a good smack.

Chastened ... I continue ...

Just can't make myself go back to this book after I stopped to read something else. Even fantastic narration can't make up for the fact that I'm just not into the story. If I pick this up, and anything is possible (!), it will be in print because that will go much faster than audio.


Having finished all the Jane Austen books and casting around for a classic for "background" reading ... I thought I'd give this book yet another try. My method was to skim the second half of the book from my Kindle as fast as I could (a couple of hours ... I'm a topnotch skimmer). Naturally as the plot twisted and turned I found myself slowing down in many spots to enjoy the story's development. Oh Dickens ... you did it again. This is not Bleak House or Little Dorrit (or even A Tale of Two Cities) but the second half definitely redeemed the first half.

I am now listening to the second half in audio so I pick up the details I missed in my breakneck race through the print version. I picked up the library's audiobook which is by Michael Page and I like this narration much better, though I couldn't tell you why as Simon Prebble is a longtime favorite of mine. But, once again, it is making all the difference. Audio got me through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It got me through The Lord of the Rings. It got me through C. S. Lewis's space trilogy. And now, it is redeeming Great Expectations for me.

I am really enjoying all the funny bits that Dickens includes in the midst of the drama, such as Pip and Bentley Drummle standing shoulder to shoulder refusing to give up the fire, or the Aged's reading of the newspaper aloud.

I still feel all the mooning after Estella to be quite boring but am willing to put up with it based on the rest of what is happing.

I was interested to see that this book has two endings. The original and the one that Dicken's good friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton asked for. I love that Dickens was so obliging as to write a second ending for him. My copy had both. I'm not sure which I preferred as both work well.


  1. Did Chesterton call Pip an anti hero? I wouldn't call him an anti hero. He's a young man that grows up and learns what true love is. The novel is a bildungsroman. Yes, he deserves a good

    1. I don't know if he called him an anti-hero exactly but he did point out that Dickens deliberately made him unlikable. I probably used anti-hero wrongly. Should've said noir-style detective in that he is unlikable but can be redeemable. Except most noir detectives are likable in many ways. Pip is not. Until the end when he begins to feel pity for Provis (can't recall his proper name right now). And that is when he begins to grow up.

    2. Thanks Julie. I have to say I've always loved Great Expectations. The story of a poor boy who is transformed into a gentleman by the sacrificing and secret work of a convict really hits me in the gut. That Pip is not worthy shows that we all are not worthy of such grace.

  2. LOL ... I didn't have this issue with Great Expectations but it sure describes my love/hate affair trying to get through Dombey & Son!

    1. Heavens to Betsy, glad I didn't choose that as my next Dickens novel! :-D

      I was dithering between Dombey and Son and The Pickwick Papers. Decided to go back to the very beginning with Pickwick.

  3. I would almost - almost - rather gnaw off an arm than suffer through GRATING EXPECTATIONS ever again.

    Everything Dostoyevsky wrote anticipates his last and best work, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.

    Everything Dickens wrote after his first and best work, PICKWICK PAPERS, declines.

    That's my rotting wedding cake, and I'm not sticking to it.

    1. Well, they do say that Dickens isn't for everyone. That's the sort of thing I have to remind myself every time I bring up my beloved Uncle Tom's Cabin and people say how they disliked it. Stowe and Dickens both have the same effect on me, like sinking into a wonderful comfy chair of storytelling. :-)