After years of indifference towards Mr Dickens I've had my epiphany with 'Great Expectations' - unfortunately I'm given to understand that he wrote nothing else like it but I'm prepared to try my luck with 'Barnaby Rudge' and 'The Pickwick Papers'. With 'Barnaby Rudge' it's because the background of the anti catholic Gordon riots sounds interesting, 'The Pickwick Papers' just sounded like it might be a fun read from the back cover - although heaven knows when I'll get round to either of them.
'Great Expectations' took me a while to get through, despite coming in at a little under 500 pages there's a lot of reading in this book - it's definitely not one to rush not least because most the pleasure is in the detail. The Dickens I've read recently (Christmas short stories) has veered towards the sentimental, 'Great Expectations' has a streak of humour as well as Gothic horror that more than saves it from any tendency in that direction. It's also the humour that slowed me down, there's no point in rushing a good joke and there are so many of them to enjoy. Part of me would have like not to have enjoyed this book so much - to be able to say hand on heart that Trollope, or Collins, or Oliphant or Braddon, have done better or are as good but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is just possibly the best Victorian novel out there (though 'Lady Audley's Secret' is a strong contender).
I don't think there's anything very much I can say about plot - I imagine most people are familiar with it, though again I have to say if you only know 'Great Expectations' through filmed versions please read it - I doubt very much that any adaptation could really do it proper justice. (I'm also just a bit worried that it wasn't the best place to give Dickens a second chance, it seems likely that anything else will be something of an anti climax.) It is undoubtedly a brilliantly well balanced book - Pip's development from boy to man with all the obnoxious fazes in-between is well executed, Miss Havisham stays just this side of possible as does Magwitch. Jaggers the lawyer and his clerk Wemmick are probably my favourite characters partly because they feel nicely observed, partly because they are among the details that make the novel so rich.
If there was a downside it would be on the sheer amount of coincidence used to drive the plot along - but that's not the sort of thing that worries me too much and especially not here when there are so many other things to enjoy that I'm quite willing to suspend my disbelief for a while. All in all expectations of this reading experience were exceeded, this is a book I feel much the richer for being better acquainted with and that I think is destined for many re reads.
So glad you love this - I reread recently after a gap of 40+ years and was quite swept along with itReplyDelete
Your recommendations never disappoint Elaine, you were right again :)Delete
I love it too - and studying it for A level enhanced my love rather than destroying it.ReplyDelete
I have to say, I never finished 'Barnaby Rudge', I should give it another go and I'd like to know what you make of it. I think 'David Copperfield' and above all 'Bleak House' are better and more fun, if you fancy dallying further with Dickens.
Helen (gallimaufry) (blogger hates me)
Helen, Blogger is like that. 'Barnaby Rudge' was an impulse purchase (and this is why I imagine Waterstones will survive) it may be a long time before I read it. I thought I had a copy of 'Bleak House' but don't so will get one forthwith.ReplyDelete
I agree about the coincidence element but I still loved it and found that Wemmick and the aged my favourite characters. I was surprised really at how big the minor characters were in the overall plot and feel of the story. I loved it when Wemmick got marriedReplyDelete
Wemmick is a wonderful creation, the moment when his new wife lets him keep his arm about her waist is lovely. I agree that it's bits like that which make the book come alive.Delete
Isn't it nice when you suddenly realise exactly how a book has earned its reputation? My boyfriend is about to read Great Expectations for the first time and I am itching to discuss it with him. It's also years since I gave it a re-read so about time for me too; especially since I took a punt and bought his complete works this week! :-O Can't wait to hear what you think of Barnaby Rudge as I'd never heard of this one....ReplyDelete
It'll be a long time before I read Barnaby Rudge I fear, and yes, you're spot on about that moment with a book. Your Dickens set looks beautiful (envy).ReplyDelete
Great Expectations is a marvelous novel. Interesting to see how EVERY character is inextricably connected at the end. Dickens is able to do this by creating the Compayson (sp?) character.ReplyDelete
Danny - it is a marvellous novel, although again as an uncritical reader (which might have been a better blog title than 'desperate', but to late now) I enjoyed it almost entirely for the adventure and the humour. One day I'll go back armed with plenty of criticism and see what I make of it then.ReplyDelete