Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860)

I could not exaggerate my enthusiasm for the story, characters and language of Great Expectations. The first fashioning of words I can muster – having been devastated time and again (poor Pip!) is that it should have been called: Great Disappointments.

Pip is endearing to me because he wanted more from life, but was also not sure what he wanted more of. He loved fully in spite of incessant rejection and found ways to forgive those who had done him wrong. He is not your Oliver Twist, perpetually young and unfalteringly good; he grows up, lays waste to his pastoral past and lives exorbitantly in London. This made him more relatable. He succumbed to self-doubt once in awhile, as well as fear, excess and good old debauchery. I don’t fault him for his missteps because of what he had been through growing up; trials in youth are bountiful.

He broke his own heart repeatedly and so thoroughly despite himself. There is something very real in this obdurate behavior. My attachment to Pip probably says as much about me as about the quality of the book. Jo March (from Little Women) is the only other literary figure that I have cared as much about; I identify with Jo but sympathize with Pip. Having suffered with them both, Pip was left alone to find his way, whereas Jo had a cheerleading squad of a family.

The rest of the characters are more maturely and delicately put together than in other Dickens novels. They are still unmistakably Dickens in their eccentricity but are not, like in Oliver Twist for instance, as staunchly good or bad throughout; they are nuanced and they evolve.

I can’t help but notice the numerous parallels of themes and relationships to those in The Great Gatsby. Having been written much later (1925), the similarities seem to impart a Dickens influence on Fitzgerald or at least some commonality. Gatsby is part Pip, part Miss Havisham and Daisy is Estella, it seems. Both stories have their own vitality and depth but, for me, Pip and Estella had more redeeming qualities than Gatsby and Daisy in the end.

Great Expectations is one of those notorious page-turners and will awaken sincere and deep levels of empathy.


What I underlined:

I shall always need you, because I will always love you; but my need is no greater now than at another time (449)

Moths, and all sorts of ugly creatures…hover about a lighted candle. Can the candle help it? (310)

There was a long hard time when I kept far from me, the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth (484)

I saw the shadow of no parting from her (484)


Edition: Penguin Classics 2008

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