Monday, February 2, 2015

Great Expectations

Great ExpectationsGreat Expectations by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second or third time I've read this book, and at first I didn't enjoy it as much. But by the second half of the book I was once again caught up in the story and how it would unfold. (I had forgotten some of the details, so I was nicely surprised at times.) This is not my favorite Dickens work - I think that honor goes to A Tale of Two Cities - but it's still a wonderful example of his work, and certainly worthy to be called a classic.

The book tells the life story of Pip, a young boy living on the edge of the marshes near Kent. He lives with his domineering older sister and her simple, kind-hearted husband, Joe. It opens rather dramatically, as Pip encounters an escaped convict in the churchyard on Christmas Eve. The convict threatens Pip and orders him to fetch food and a file for his leg irons. Pip obeys, setting into motion events that would drastically change his life.

A few months after this encounter, Pip is summoned to the ruinous mansion of Miss Havisham - a jilted bride, still wearing her bridal gown, and driven slightly mad with hurt and the desire for revenge. At the mansion, Pip meets Estella, Miss Havisham's young ward, and he is immediately smitten, despite Estella's cruelty to him. From this point on, Miss Havisham and Estella are focal points for Pip, and his relationship with these two women drive all that he does, as he grows.

A few years go by, and Pip is contacted by an attorney with wonderful news: a mysterious benefactor has bestowed 'great expectations' upon Pip, with a lavish trust fund, and the desire of this benefactor to see Pip become a gentleman. Pip can't believe his good fortune, as he didn't feel worthy of Estella as a blacksmith's apprentice. He goes off to fortune to become a gentleman. The identity of this benefactor is the central mystery of the story, and I won't reveal it here.

Throughout the book, Dickens populates Pip's life with the usual assortment of colorful characters, as is his wont. These, along with his clever turn of phrase make the book a joy to read - though the archaic tone and slow pace can take some getting used to, at first. But Dickens wondrously ties up all the loose ends (even those you weren't aware of) by the book's end, giving the reader much satisfaction at the end. Indeed, I read that Dickens changed the original ending to make it happier.

This is a true classic, and justifiably so. Do read it, if you haven't!

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