Friday, July 29, 2016

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

Is Charles Dickens one of the greatest novelists in the English language?  That is probably not even debatable.  Is Great Expectations one of his great novels?  I wouldn't think so.  This is the story of Pip, an orphan "raised by hand" by his older sister.  He is learning the blacksmith trade from his brother-in-law, but receives the means to be a gentleman from a mysterious, anonymous benefactor.  He thinks his patron is a reclusive elderly lady in town, and that she is grooming him to marry her adopted daughter, the beautiful but distant Estella.

Of course things are not as they seem.  Pip enjoys his new riches a bit too much, ends up deep in debt, and then learns the true identity of his benefactor.  It's not who he thought, and he's plunged into moral dilemmas he had never imagined.  Dickens has some moral lessons here, some of them admirable.  But one lesson seems to be that you're better off sticking with your lot in life. . . . In the stratified culture of 19th century England, movement between classes was limited.  Great Expectations colorfully illustrates the class system of the era and the dangers of living outside your class.

Dickens writes great characters, but in this case I wasn't that enamored with the story.  It seemed wordy and overlong.  It seems like I've heard that Dickens published his stories serially in magazines, paid by the word, which would explain a lot.  In spite of my ambivalence about his style, I did enjoy Pip and his life and times.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book by or about Charles Dickens

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