Saturday, July 9, 2011

Unrequited Love, Mystery, Criminals, Hangings, 19th century London

My great expectations, that is to read a great classic, have been dashed in the reading of Great Expectations, written by Charles Dickens.  This has been a CHORE to read, though not without humorous moments, surprising twists and amusing characters. Turns out, this soap opera like book was written in a series of short chapters to be published in serial form.  This restricted the writing of the tale to installments of "roughly thirty-two pages of fifty lines per page.  ... To achieve so many cliffhangers, plots had to be large and complex with a lot of action" (CliffNotes, Great Expectations by Debra Bailey, 2000 Wiley Publishing, Inc.).  

Additionally, the writing style is difficult to adjust to, and many sentences remain undecyphered to me, usually referring to some context of the era.  However, after the first few chapters, it becomes quite readable with the understanding that some sentences one just stumbles over, yada yada yada,... even with footnotes.

I do not recommend this book for a book club read.  It isn't without value, heavens knows it has been parsed and analyzed ad nauseam.  It is quite worthy a read in a study of Dickens, London in 1860, and the social problems of this time.  Many students are strong armed into reading this.  I'm sure they learned something; I did.  The setting is magnificent, and Charles Dickens spins a good tale. The bottom line for me was that it was interesting, but it just wasn't fun.  Perhaps if I was living in 1860 England, I would be first in line to buy the magazine containing the next chapter.  After all, I do like a good serial story (Dallas, Weeds, Breaking Bad, Dark Shadows, to name a few old and new). Alas, it is 2011, this isn't my language, and when put into a chapter/novel format, the connections between the characters are unbelievable.

I would recommend watching the movie.  If you do want to read the book, it is available on-line for free at the Gutenberg Project.  I own the Penguin Classics edition, and would rather curl up with a book, carry it, eat lunch over it, and scribble notes than read it on-line.

What did you think of this book?  I'm now off onto the book club discussion book, Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel.  Happy reading!  K.


  1. Read the book. Liked it better than the movie. Author had originally written two different endings.

  2. I actually read that book recently. I would recommend renting the PBS series. It is quite good and has a different ending than the book, where Pip and Miss Havisham finally end up together and freed from the ghosts of thier past. I like that ending the best, although the author wanted to have Miss Havisham end up married to a doctor who rescues her from her bully of a husband. The book had a lot going on in it. I started using some of Dickenson's vocabulary after reading it, but soon realized people were not understanding some of the words I was using and I probably sounded pretentious, but the speech is grand. The book had a subplot, I don't remember the details that could have been eliminated without harming the story. I just remember it was a long read and I thought that one part of it was frivolous and could have been done away with. The main story concerning the main characters was very well done and all the side characters were well developed. I felt bad for the convict who ends up dying before he can be reunited with his daughter and wife, but you know me I like everyone to live happily ever after. M.W.

  3. There were tons of subplots. I particularly liked the one with the Pockets and all of their neglected kids. That made me laugh. And, postoffice faced Wemmick, the Aged, and is 'estate' made me laugh. Actually, these were the most enjoyable parts of the book to me. Dickens seemed to drop Orlick (the guy who wanted to murder Pip). What ever happened to him? Question is, are you up for another Dickens book? It had merit, but was a job to read.

    I think it ended happy enough for the main characters. Though Pip didn't find true love (or did he?), Herbert, Clara, Joe and Bitty lived happily ever after.