Friday, February 10, 2012

In which I have Great Expectations

Despite being the lucky recipient of a small library of books about Dickens from Oxford University Press it still came as a bit of a surprise to me that this week would have seen his 200th birthday. I knew that there was a 200th anniversary of some sort I just hadn't been paying that much attention because generally I'm not that much of a fan. When I realised that Tuesday was the big day it struck me as an amazing coincidence that I'd just started reading 'Great Expectations' (though in truth it's more likely that I'd finally picked it up because of all the background Dickens activity, I certainly bought it just before Christmas as an alternative to watching the mini series)

'Great Expectations' has turned out to be a bit of a revelation (as well as having possibly the best ever title for a 'classic') - it's funny, properly and deliberately funny, which I never saw coming. My low expectations were based on a humourless television series from some time in the late 70's which I saw when I was far to young, but also when there were only 3 channels available so you had to take your chances and make the best of them. I'm pleased that I missed this years (no doubt lavish and excellent) take on it because at least I'm coming to the book fresh and also because I have nagging feeling that no adaptation would do it proper justice.

All of which has made me wonder - have I actually read 'A Christmas Carol'? I thought I had but now it occurs to me that I might not of, I've seen several versions - the same goes for Oliver Twist, but have I read  either of them? And if I haven't how will the books compare to what I think I know of them? When I was a child and television consisted almost entirely of Delia Smith and snooker (or so it seemed) I was far more likely to discover a classic in book form and then see a film version (Jane Austen) but at some point that changed (Elizabeth Gaskell). Being by nature a reader I'm back to discovering things through the printed word and after years of thinking I didn't care at all for Dickens am being forced to consider that perhaps I just don't care for other peoples versions of him. 

Perhaps because it's late I find that a worrying thought - on reflection most of the Jane Austen adaptations I've seen have been pretty naff compared to the originals, fun to watch, but really my life would be poorer if I thought that was all there was to her writing. What else have I been missing out on? And if there's a moral to this ramble it's this - if you think you know Dickens (or any other classic author) pick up a book and make sure. 


  1. I have to admit despite seeing the Old Great Expectations film and various TV adaptations I still found surprises in Great Expectations. I think the minor characters have in their way such a big part in the mian story but there characters were largely either missed or down-played.

  2. I couldn't agree more, and the big thing with Victorian lit especially is the detail. I'm not comfortable with the realisation that I think I know something through abridged, edited, and embellished adaptations - I feel lazy and remiss about it!