Sunday, May 27, 2007

Great Expectations

Each time that I read Great Expectations I'm left wondering whether or not Pip would have been happier if he had never been made the gift of "great expectations." More importantly, would he have been a better man if he had remained apprenticed to his blacksmith brother-in-law Joe rather than having been sent to London to be trained in the ways of a gentleman?

Great Expectations is a Dickens cautionary tale in which the author warns his readers of what can so easily happen to a person when given the opportunity to "better himself" by leaving his home, family and friends behind for education and fortune-seeking in the big city. As soon as word reached the local townspeople around whom Pip had spent his early years that a fortune was soon to be his, Pip found himself treated with respect and awe by the very people who had had little time for him in the past other than to chastise his behavior and relationship with the sister who was raising him "by hand." Their "boy" became "sir" overnight it seemed.

But sadly, after arriving in London and seeking to impress his new friends and colleagues, Pip decided that those who loved him most were an embarrassment to his future prospects and he only occasionally felt any guilt about his lack of contact with them. It is only when Pip's future prospects shockingly take a turn for the worse that he seeks the comfort of the family that he left behind.

Along the way, Dickens fills Great Expectations with some of the most memorable characters in British literature history. There are Miss Havisham, the spinster who never recovered from being jilted at the altar; Joe, the blacksmith and Pip's brother-in-law who never stopped loving Pip as a son no matter how much Pip neglected him over the years; Estella, the beautiful young woman whom Pip has loved since they were small children but who has been raised by Miss Havisham to give her heart to no man; Herbert, Pip's best London friend, a truly good man who both benefits from Pip's help and who eventually offers Pip a new future of his own; and, of course, Magwitch, the colorful escaped criminal whom Pip meets in the first pages of the book.

This is one of those books that I read every few years because re-reading it is like visiting an old friend after too long an absence. As the old memories come back, it's like I've never been away.

Rated at: 5.0

27 comments:

  1. This is probably my favorite Dicken's book! I loved it! Poor Pip. It's hard to tell how about his life. Would he have been better off without the "great Expectation? Would he have been better off if he had never met the beautiful Estella?? Lots of questions.

    Still a wonderbook!! Great review.

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  2. Thanks, Stephanie. I always feel like an idiot when trying to "review" a classic.

    I've been meaning to find a movie made from the book for a while now to see whether or not a filmed version of the story equals the written version. There seem to be several of them out there to choose from.

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  3. Hey Sam. I didn't read your review, because I haven't read it yet. :) Actually, I just uploaded onto my iPod about a week or so ago. I'm not sure when I'll get to it, but I'm sure happy to see a 5 rating!

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  4. Joy, don't read it...there are what I suppose could be called a couple of spoiler comments, no details but just the general direction that the plot takes. Let me know how the audio version goes for you.

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  5. This is the best review I've ever read of this novel. I have it on my shelf, but have never read it. Your review makes me want to. Thanks.

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  6. This is one of my favorite books. I get so mad at Pip when he starts to be ashamed of Joe, by far the best, most decent person in the book.

    What do you think of the two different endings? Do you prefer one over the other?

    There aren't really any GOOD movies of this book, but one of the old black and white ones isn't too bad. I just don't know which one it is... I'd have to see the pictures of the actors, I think, to identify it.

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  7. Wow, thanks for the great compliment, bybee. You really should read it sometime because it's one of those books that is just filled with universal truths. I'm looking forward to starting another Dickens book in the next month or so...I'm juggling seven right now and that seems to be just about my limit.

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  8. Dewey, I think that I prefer the original ending and wish that his friendly critics would have left well enough alone and not talked Dickens into rewriting it.

    I suspected that the more recent movie versions would be trash...mostly just by looking at stills from the movies. It will have to be one of the old B&Ws, without a doubt. If you remember which one you liked best, be sure to let me know.

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  9. I liked the old black and white version. It was directed by David Lean on the 1940s, and is reasonably faithful to the book. On the other hand just last week in my local library, I saw a novelisation of the 'modernised ' movie which starred Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. This is a travesty !

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  10. Wow, you mean they turned a movie that trashed a great book into a book of its own. Trash X Trash = ?

    I wonder what hack "wrote" that one.

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  11. If you get a chance to see the BBC television version I think you will be pleasantly rewarded.

    See here:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167187/

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  12. ''anonymous said...

    I liked the old black and white version. It was directed by David Lean on the 1940s, and is reasonably faithful to the book.''

    Yes Anonymous the Lean version is a fave of mine. It has the classic opening scene of Pip at his parents' grave. Suddenly Magwitch Leaps from nowhere and grabs Pip. I was about Pip's age when I saw it for the first time and nearly jumped out of my skin.


    Sam, you were talking about the great characters in the book; Wemmick and his 'aged parent' intrigued me; it was good to see Wemmick in such a different light once he was away from work.

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  13. Great Expectations is one of my favorite books. Pip is so infuriating and at times I want to slap him especially the way he treats good-hearted Joe. You are right about the memorable characters. I love Wemmick and his household.

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  14. Thanks for the tip, Sally. I have two of the BBC Dickens series on DVD, Martin Chuzzlewit and Hard Times, and I enjoy both of those. I'll have to look for their production of Great Expectations.

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  15. I forgot to mention Wemmick, Nick. That home of his and his respect for his deaf-as-a-post father was fun to read about...especially the way that he fired off the canon every evening just so that his father could actually "hear" something.

    I imagine that the opening scene in the movie you describe must have been startling for a kid to watch. It sounds as if you'll never forget it. I'm going to look for a copy of that particular movie as well as the BBC version mentioned by Sally.

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  16. Stefanie, I see another vote for Wemmick and his little "castle." I don't know why I forgot to mention him and his father because they were nicely drawn characters and I always think about them when I pick up a copy of Great Expectations. The respect that Wemmick had for his father is really inspirational.

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  17. Now I want to read this book. I've been putting it off!

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  18. It's worth the effort, egg. Once you get into Dickens' rhythm and into the story itself this is one of the best you'll ever read, IMO.

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  19. I just reserved both the BBC version and the David Lean-directed movie version of Great Expectations from my library...hope to have them next week. :-)

    Thanks for the advice.

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  20. I just picked this book up at Barnes & Noble this weekend. The only Dickens I've read is A Christmas Carol so I'm looking forward to getting into this one. While not surprised at your praise for it I'm glad to see it as I'm hoping to really enjoy it.

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  21. I do hope that you enjoy it, Matt, and that your "great expectations" don't cause you to be disappointed. :-)

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  22. .....it is worth finding the BBC series just to see Charlotte Rampling as Mrs Havisham!

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  23. It's on the way, Sally. My library system has notified me via email that it's "in transit." I'm hoping to have it by the weekend or early next week.

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  24. I'm with you - every few years. I swear I can see myself outside sneaking Magwitch some food - Pip's fear and what everything looks like in his hideout are indelibly imprinted in my imagination. Dickens is truly remarkable - Dombey and Son and The Old Curiosity Shop are favorites and I'm right in the middle of Bleak House now!

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  25. That was quite a scene, Ted, one that seems to have stuck with a lot of us. I'm trying to decide which Dickens book is next for me. I hit a spell of picking up three books in a row that I just couldn't get into, something that hasn't happened to me in a long time. I need something good to get me jump-started again and Dickens may be just the thing.

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  26. I love this book.The old movie worth catching is the UK one made by David Lean with Jean SImmons as the grown up Estella. Wemmick and his mother The Aged P are wonderful Dickens characters and in fact my 95 year old mother is affectionally known by this name! I love all Dickens without excpetion but I think his greatest work is Bleak House. Stunning. Elaine

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  27. I've been trying to find that movie on DVD, Elaine, but so far have come up with it only on VHS tape (and I no longer have a VCR). But I'm not going to give up because that does seem to be the most respected film version of the book.

    I agree with you that all of Dickens is wonderful. I'm presently about 20% of the way through Little Dorrit and I'm loving it, as expected.

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