In the marshy mists of a village churchyard, a tiny orphan boy named Pip is suddenly terrified by a shivering, limping convict on the run. Years later, a supremely arrogant young Pip boards the coach to London where, by the grace of a mysterious benefactor, he will join the ranks of the idle rich and "become a gentleman." Finally, in the luminous mists of the village at evening, Pip the man meets Estella, his dazzingly beautiful tormentor, in a ruined garden--and lays to rest all the heartaches and illusions that his "great expectations" have brought upon him. Dickens's biographer, Edgar H. Johnson, has said that--except for the author's last-minute tampering with his original ending--Great Expectations is "the most perfectly constructed and perfectly written of all Dickens's works." In John Irving's Introduction to this edition, the novelist takes the view that Dickens's revised ending is "far more that mirror of the quality of trust in the novel as a whole." Both versions of the ending are printed here.
alyssaarch, January 8, 2012 (view all comments by alyssaarch)
Of all the works I have read by Dickens so far, Great Expectations is the best, hands down. The plot is interesting -- Pip falls in love with Estella when they are very young and develops "expectations" to be a gentleman so he can be worthy of her. Later on, he gets a sponsor who pays for him to become a gentleman. It's a typical coming of age story, focusing on Pip's growth and development and his realizations about the mistakes he's made in life. What makes this novel extraordinary is the characters. Each of them is complex and multi-dimensional, with full backgrounds and oddities that make them unique. Pip's brother-in-law Joe is by far one of my favorite characters of all time. Because the characterization is incredible, I was completely involved with this story, my emotions changing along with the novel's progression.
I'm not a fan of the tacked-on ending. All the characters got what they deserved, which I appreciated, but the last chapter felt especially rushed. However, the pacing for the rest of the novel was perfect, so I would say that this is a minor complaint.
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"Great Expectations" is at once a superbly constructed novel of spellbinding mastery and a profound examination of moral values. Here, some of Dickens's most memorable characters come to play their part in a story whose title itself reflects the deep irony that shaped Dickens's searching reappraisal of the Victorian middle class.
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