That’s right, I have finished reading Great Expectations, the very night before I have to leave for college. Hooray!!! (Come on, cheer with me! Or you can imagine a spirited cheer if you’re too embarrassed to be heard cheering out loud for no apparent reason.) If you’ve been following my blog (good for you!), you’ll see that many of the points I’m about to make have been mentioned in my Great Expectations Reflections posts, but I promise this will include new points as well. And it will be better! (Maybe.)
Alright, alright, I’ll stop all the parentheticals and start the review already. Great Expectations was more fun to read than I had originally anticipated. A large part of that was because of the writing. This is one of Dickens’ later books, which I know from reading the inside flap, and I would guess that Dickens’ acquired experience in writing was a great contribution to the style of this book. It was overall very clever, and that cleverness was by turns amusing, beautiful, and incredibly apt.
I first noticed this cleverness in the beginning of the book, where I often found myself laughing out loud. As the plot got underway, this same sort of cleverness worked itself into characters and descriptions and all sorts of other aspects of the story, so that everything seemed exceedingly well-painted and true to life. The beautiful comes in with some of the descriptions, like this one of the Thames River as the characters are rowing through it:
“The night was dark by this time… what light we had, seemed to come more from the river than the sky, as the oars in their dipping struck at a few reflected stars.”
Needless to say, I have great respect for Dickens’ writing abilities.
The plot was slow at times, especially in the middle, but it definitely had its moments. And when it had those moments, they were very exciting. Maybe they were even more so because I got used to the slower parts and was surprised when they abruptly changed. I also noticed, one night when I was looking for a place to stop in order to get some sleep, whenever I got to the end of a chapter or some other suitable place, there was some incident or plot point that made me say “just a little more” again and again. Although this feeling didn’t last throughout the book, it’s something that I love to see whenever I read. I think that most readers love that feeling of not wanting to put the book down and actively search out books like that.
I can not deny that I found myself actively engaged with this book. You know it, too, if you’ve read my rants about Estella or my chastisement of Pip or my musings on Miss Havisham in my reflections posts. I didn’t intend for any of those posts to be as long as they ended up being, I just set out to write a bit about what I was thinking and it all flowed out. I wasn’t always happy with the characters, I didn’t always like them, but I experienced a lot of feelings as I read, and often very strong opinions to go with them. That’s also something to look for in a good book. And if someone ever wants to talk to me about this book, I could quite easily, and probably at great length.
Now, about the ending. I was somewhat taken aback when Miss Havisham was said to show “a ghastly stare of pity and remorse” as she watches Pip openly declare the depth of his love for Estella. I had thought that it was her plan all along to make Pip suffer, as she had suffered when her hopes of marriage had been torn apart. But here, she seems genuinely sorry, as if, in seeing her revenge played out, has realized that she never really wanted revenge. Perhaps she only thought that she wanted it because she found the idea so attractive, but, having grown fond of Pip, is saddened to see him hurt.
I was hoping, at this point, that Miss Havisham would reform and change her life, and she does somewhat in giving Pip money to help his friend and adding Matthew Pocket to her will. Still, I was hoping that she would try to make a new start on life: put on new clothes, bring light and air into the house, take out the spider infested cake (which I still find so, so creepy), and generally try to move on. Well, she did end up changing her clothes, but only because her wedding dress caught fire, and getting rid of the cake, but only because Pip tore off the table cloth to put out the fire. I’m going to be honest, I’m not really sure what to make of that.
Pip doesn’t end up with Estella (Yay!), but she does end up with Drummle, who treats her badly. Now, I certainly didn’t like her, but I don’t think that she deserved that. It wasn’t really her fault that she was the way she was (as it turns out). I just wanted the other characters to either keep away from her or exert some influence on her that could help change her. You know: she’s awful, so let her realize that she’s awful. It’s true that her marriage was due to her own poor judgement, but still.
Pip makes up with Joe, but I still think he should have done it sooner. Also, he shows some compassion for the convict, which I saw as welcome character development. I don’t really know how I feel about Pip’s personal ending. I guess it’s alright, but it just doesn’t seem satisfying somehow. I was kind of holding out hope that he’d give being a blacksmith another try to really make it up to Joe and to realize that being poor but happy is perfectly wonderful. Oh, well, Herbert’s a nice guy, too.
Oh, and I laughed at Wemmick’s so called walk with Pip: “Halloa! Here’s a church! … Let’s go in!” Later… “Halloa! … Here’s Miss Skiffins! Let’s have a wedding.”
Now, I always reserve a five star rating for those books that I absolutely love. My usual measure for this is whether I find myself wanting to read a book multiple times and enjoying it again each time that I do. That being said, I did really enjoy reading Great Expectations, but I don’t think it quite fits in with my favorite books of all time. It’s nothing against the book itself, as I’ve mentioned before, my ratings are all to do with my personal preferences. So I give it a rating of four stars.