Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

In the ninth grade I had a horrible English teacher. His idea of teaching involved sitting at a table in the front of the room and reading to his students. No discussions. No analysis. Day after day I took my seat and listened to the man read for forty-five minutes. I can’t remember his name. But to this day, I can picture him hunched over a book reading in his nasally monotone voice. I can only see the top of his head. He never looked up from his book. Never spoke to us. He only repeated what others had written. I hated that class and when I moved before the year was over I was thankful to never sit in that room again and to never hear that voice. Ugh!

This was my first introduction to Great Expectations. Surprisingly I love the novel. Other works that I listened to that year have ruined the books for me. But I was fascinated by this novel. It was Miss Havisham and her home that hooked me. At the time I remember thinking, what a crazy loon. Today, I feel more pity for her. For years all I could remember was Miss Havisham. If someone mentioned Great Expectations I could discuss Miss Havisham, but no one else from the novel.

For those who haven’t read the work, here’s a quick rundown. Philip Pirrip (Pip) is an orphan. His sister is bringing him up by the hand. She’s not the most pleasant woman and she hits both Pip and her husband, Joe. During his childhood, Pip meets three memorable characters. The first is an escaped convict that Pip encounters in a cemetery. The convict scares the bejeezus out of Pip and forces Pip to bring him food and a file so he can remove his leg irons. The second character is Miss Havisham, a woman who is wallowing in her own misery and filth. On the day of her wedding years ago, her beloved stood her up. Her life stopped on that day. And then there’s Estella, Miss Havisham’s ward. Pip and Estella are close in age but come from two different worlds. Pip is destined to be a blacksmith. Estella is rich and heartless. Pip hates his station in life and wants to become a gentleman. One day he learns that he has an anonymous benefactor who wants to make him just that, a gentleman. Pip leaves the marshes behind and heads to London. His ultimate goal is to win Estella’s heart. But with so much uncertainty surrounding his fortune what will become of Pip?

Many claim that this is Dickens’ best novel. I can’t argue that point. I still think I prefer David Copperfield over this one. That isn’t to say that Great Expectations isn’t good. Folks it’s fantastic. This work is pretty darn close to perfection. Not a word is wasted. All of the characters play an essential role. Each chapter builds upon the previous and it clips along perfectly. For those of you who want to learn how to write a novel, read this book. Dickens’ plots are usually spot on. But this one, in my opinion, is his best. Even though this book is quite dark, there are moments of humor and levity. I missed those aspects when I read A Tale of Two Cities.

This is my ninth book by Dickens this year. I set out to read ten, but I only managed nine. I’ve started the next book, Our Mutual Friend, but I won’t finish it or review it until 2013. A part of me is sad that I’m finishing this project. Before I started I wondered if it would be Dickens overload. Now I’m realizing how much I love his writing. He has many more books that aren’t on my 1001 list and I hope to read them. But I’m not sure if I want to read them all right away. I still want to have some of his works unread sitting on my shelf waiting for me.

I read this book for the Dickens in December event hosted by Caroline and Delia.

dickens in december

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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29 Responses to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

  1. thanks for the wonderful review–and how apropos to do Dickens in December–did I tell you I had a bookstore called Dickens’ Booksellers and Gift Emporium a little over two decades ago?

  2. Caroline says:

    What an awful school memory! That sounds like another century, and I don’t mean the 20th. Victorian really. And I thought having to get up when the latin teacher entered and shout “Salve magister” was bad…
    I like Miss Havisham and the house best as well. I’m really curious to find out whether this will be my favourite novel. It’s very special. I liked the descriptions and the characters. I thought there were too many coincidences though. People on my blog were more in favour of Bleak House, I think. Tony’s just reviewed The Pickwick Papers. That’s a book I know nothing about.

    • TBM says:

      I really disliked that teacher. I know teaching is hard, but some people should not be allowed to teach. It would have been better to have a free period and to read on my own. Because of him I avoided science fiction since that was his fave and he read us a lot–can’t remember the titles. Bleak House is good–it would be tied with this one. I don’t know why, but I loved David Copperfield. I read The Pickwick Papers when I was 16–that was some time ago. I still have my copy and I want to reread it since I don’t remember much at all. I find that most of his books have coincidences and at first I didn’t like that. Now I find it quaint. I’m mellowing with age 🙂

  3. lynnsbooks says:

    I really enjoyed my reread of Great Expectations – in fact it exceeded my expectations. I got so much more out of it this time. I discovered the humour, I enjoyed the writing, the story itself is, of course, fascinating but as usual there are the messages of redemption that he wants to get across. Strangely I had forgotten the end of the book – I think one of the adaptations I saw the end had been changed and I couldn’t remember what was in fact the real conclusion. The ending was a little subdued compared to the rest of the book but still a really good read. I had intended reading David Copperfield but didn’t have time.
    Lynn 😀

    • TBM says:

      I had forgotten the ending as well. Reading this and A Christmas Carol really made me wonder about Dickens. Did he want redemption for those around him or for himself?

      • lynnsbooks says:

        Ohhhh, that’s an interesting thought. Maybe he was hopeful that if he did good deeds it would prevent him from becoming a tortured soul in the afterlife – or maybe he knew some bad people and was trying to send them a message so they could redeem themselves before it was too late.
        Lynn 😀

      • TBM says:

        I wonder if he sent copies of his books to certain people with a note that read, “You really should pay attention to this.”

  4. Your ninth Dickens this year? Oh my, that’s something!
    I loved the book as well, and like you, the scenes with Miss Havisham hold a special place in my memory.
    If you haven’t had enough of Dickens, there’s another event in February:

    • TBM says:

      The event is tempting–maybe I’ll watch an adaptation of one of the books I read this year. I’ll keep it in mind and thanks for letting me know. And thanks for co-hosting Dickens in December. It was fun!

  5. IsobelandCat says:

    This is far and away my favourite book by Dickens. I have read it several times, and I am not the biggest Dickens fan. I do like Our Mutual Friend too, it is full of fascinating insights about how the poor lived. Shortly after I read it in the mid to late 90s there was a very good adaptation on BBC. Parts of it filmed in Southwark Street and one hot and sunny August day I met actors all dressed in layer upon layer of Victorian garb.
    I do not think I could ever read nine Dickens novel in one year. I salute you!

    • TBM says:

      I think I might try to watch the adaptations of the novels I read this year. So far (I’m 300 pages in) I’m enjoying Our Mutual Friend. I can’t imagine wearing Victorian clothing on any day, but a hot day would be brutal.

      Happy New Year Isobel!

  6. pattisj says:

    I read this in 9th grade, too, but don’t remember much. Maybe it’s time to read it again.

  7. It seems you were unlucky enough to have the kind of teacher who personifies the (rather cynical) saying: “Those who can, do. Those who don’t, teach”. But that’s rather a sweeping generalisation. In my high school English classes, we had to take turns to read. I always tried to act out the parts. “Great Expectations” was one of the first Dickens books I read – in the Upper Fourth. I’ve still got my old school copy, believe it or not. Not all Dickens novels are suitable for children – some of them are just too grim. But I enjoyed “Great Expectations”, especially as we were fortunate to have an English mistress who really enjoyed teaching and really loved her subject.

    • TBM says:

      Many of Dickens’s novels are grim and depressing, especially later in his writing life. Great Expectations was my first Dickens novel and then a few years later I read The Pickwick Papers on my own and really enjoyed it. I think that solidified my thoughts that he’s an entertaining author.

  8. Well I don’t know how they can expect anyone to learn that way! Glad you didn’t loose your appreciation for the art 🙂

  9. My favorite of his was “Bleak House”. An old teacher comes to mine, similar to yours, who loved to hear himself talk. He was a huge Dickens fan and when I announced I was going to become a writer her told me, “You couldn’t hold a candle to him”. Of course that was true, but it sure hurt my feelings and stuck with me! To this day, as I look at my novel, I wonder what that old teacher would say? Probably, “Bah, humbug!” Ha!
    Loved your post and sorry you had a crappy teacher.
    There’s an American writer I love who is Dickensian–have you tried John Irving, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” or “Cider House Rules”? Scrumptious!

    • TBM says:

      It’s amazing that a teacher would discourage a student from chasing her dreams. I’m sorry you had a mean teacher–there’s no excuse for squashing people’s dreams.

      I haven’t read John Irving but I’ve heard he’s good and I’ve seen some of the movie adaptations. I’ll add him to my list. Thanks for the suggestion and Happy New Year!

  10. The Hook says:

    Perfect timing, buddy!

  11. petit4chocolatier says:

    Sorry about your teacher! In high school I had 2 incredible English teachers who allowed us to think outside the box. I love Dickens and I need to reread Great Expectations again 🙂

    • TBM says:

      Having inspirational teachers is fantastic. I’ve had a few that I still remember to this day. They have such a huge role in society. I hope you get a chance to reread this one–I love it.

  12. Novroz says:

    auch…that memory from your school. Lucky you don’t end up hating books. I would have if I was in that position. I hate economic lesson because of the teacher, I always read novel instead of listening to him.

    anyway…great review. If I am ready to try Dickens again, it’ll be either this one or Christmas carol.

    9 out of 10 is amazing. I want to read 6 King’s books but always end up with 3 😦

    • TBM says:

      King’s novels are just as long or maybe even longer than Dickens. 3 is pretty darn good. And yes it would be a shame if I let my teacher ruin reading for me, but I fell in love with reading at an early age so it would take a lot of punishment for me to hate it entirely.

  13. Pingback: Dickens in December – Wrap up « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  14. Lynn says:

    Wow, you have been reading up a storm. My claim to be a Dickens fan pales beside your list of nine. I’ve read Great Expectations, Bleak House, Dombey and Son and David Copperfield. David Copperfield is my fave. Of the four, I liked Great Expectations the least. My theory it is most widely read because it is one of the shortest of his books. I guess if I ran less, I’d read more although, I sometimes listen to audiobooks. Happy New Year to you!

    • TBM says:

      Happy New Year Lynn. I haven’t read Dombey and Son yet, but I hope to in the next few years. I need to take a little break. I’m with you, David Copperfield is my fave as well. Happy running!

  15. Madhu says:

    Seems like I read this a lifetime ago! Thanks for reminding me to pick it up again 🙂

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