I've never read any Dickens of my own free will. I was forced to read "A Tale of Two Cities" in high school and I thought that was enough for me. However, one day, on a whim, I bought a copy of Great Expectations. I'm not sure what I expected, but I certainly didn't expect to love it as much as I did.
Dickens is not a writer to read at a swift pace. Indeed, this novel was written in weekly episodes from December 1860 to August 1861 and, as it was created to be a serial, each installment is full of varied characters, great descriptions and a lot of action which moves the plot along and leaves the reader yearning for more. Therefore, unlike some books which are easily forgotten if I put them down for a few days, Great Expectations seemed to stick around, absorbing my thoughts in a way that I looked forward to picking it up again. It took me more than a month to read and I savored every morsel.
Basically the story is of the self-development of Pip, an orphan boy being raised by his sister and her blacksmith husband in the marshlands of England in 1820.
Every one of the characters were so deeply developed that I felt I was personally acquainted with each one of them. There was Pip's roommate, Herbert Pocket, the lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, and his clerk, Mr. Wemmick. And then there was the wicked Orlick. The dialogues were wonderful. The characters often didn't actually say what they meant but spoke in a way that even though the words might be obtuse, there was no mistaking their meaning. I found myself smiling at all these verbal contortions.
Dickens' work is richly detailed and he explores the nuances of human behavior. I enjoyed wallowing in the long sentences and letting myself travel backwards in time to a different world. However, even with the footnotes, I found myself sometimes confused by the British slang of 150 years ago, and there were several passages I had to read over several times in order to get the true meaning. Of course I was not in a particular rush. I didn't have to make a report to a class or take a exam about the book. This is certainly a pleasure.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good read.ting from the secret wealth of Magwitch, who made a fortune in Australia after being transported. Moreover, Magwitch's unlawful return to England puts him and Pip in danger. Meanwhile, Estella has married another, a horrible man who Pip despises. Eventually, with Magwitch's recapture and death in prison and with his fortune gone, Pip ends up in debtors prison, but Joe redeems his debts and brings him home. Pip realizes that Magwitch was a more devoted friend to him than he ever was to Joe and with this realization Pip becomes, finally, a whole and decent human being.
Originally, Dickens wrote a conclusion that made it clear that Pip and Estella will never be together, that Estella is finally too devoid of heart to love. But at the urging of others, he changed the ending and left it more open ended, with the possibility that Estella too has learned and grown from her experiences and her wretched marriages.
This is the work of a mature novelist at the height of his powers. It has everything you could ask for in a novel: central characters who actually change and grow over the course of the story, becoming better people in the end; a plot laden with mystery and irony; amusing secondary characters; you name it, it's in here. I would rank it with A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield among the very best novels of the worlds greatest novelist.