I love Charles Dickens, but I have always had a negative view of this book through watching a couple adaptations of it growing up. For one, I hate the idea of a romance centering around a foolish man in love with a cruel woman. It’s one of the main reasons I did not like reading Gone With the Wind, even if it’s a beautifully written book. But I did buy this book at the Goodwill a couples years ago and since then I’ve wanted to read it, despite not liking the main romance. So, I finally did it.
For reference, it took me about three weeks to read the first three hundred pages and about two days to read the last three hundred. That’s a bit of foreshadowing of how I disliked the beginning and liked the ending.
Synopsis: This famous classic tells the life of Pip, an orphaned boy who falls in love with a heartless girl and is brought out of poverty by a mysterious benefactor. Pip has big dreams, but does he not realize that his great expectations may lead him down a dangerous path.
I have extremely mixed feelings about this book (I feel as if I start off many of my reviews with a similar thought). I took so long to get through the first half of the book and I hated most of it. Pip is such an annoying, egotistic protagonist, and even though I like many of the background characters (Joe, Biddy, etc.), his behavior towards them just made me dislike him more. Honestly, I get by the ending of the book that Dickens was trying to make a point that one shouldn’t have great expectations without being grateful to those who sacrificed for them. That is why, after the halfway mark of the book, I really began enjoying it because Pip began having consequences for his decisions.
One of the things I love about Dickens are the eccentric characters filling his books. In Oliver Twist, my favorite character was the Artful Dodger. In A Christmas Carol, I liked Scrooge more because he’s eccentric and less because of his moral change. In Little Dorrit, I loved Pet (her full name is Minnie Meagles) just because she is so full of herself that she’s hilarious. And that’s only a few examples. Despite the seriousness of Dickens’s novels, there is also that sense of funny humor.
This book is no exception. I loved most of the quirky background characters. Mr. Jaggers, Pip’s guardian, is this perfect combination of terrifying and coolly hilarious. And his secretary, Mr. Wemmick, is so…bizarre. He rarely says what he really means and speaks in riddles, and yet he is also truly kind to Pip. I loved Herbert Pocket, a young man who becomes Pip’s best friend in London, and while he is imperfect, he demonstrates such loyalty which is rare to find in a friend.
There were some characters I didn’t like. Mr. Drummle was, by far, my least favorite character. He later marries Estella, and is constantly both absurd and rude to everyone. He is condescending, and every scene with him in it felt like fingernails against a chalkboard to me.
When it comes to Miss Havisham and her adoptive daughter Estella, I actually liked both of them. Havisham is filled with vengeful ideals, blinding her to what a monster Estella is becoming until it is too late. And yet her character was understandable and moving to read. She was spurned in love and took out her anger and resentment on all men. But, in the end, she realizes how her life could have been so different, if she had not let anger and hate consume her. Hers is a story of warning to all of us.
Likewise, Estella isn’t inherently bad. In fact, she is quite honest with Pip from the beginning that she has no heart with which to love him. She may seem cruel because she is cold, but she is also honest, which I love. It is Pip’s own fault he lets his feelings for her grow unabetted, and that he builds up in his mind the idea of marrying her. However, I love the last scene where they meet again after eleven years, and Estella tells Pip that she indeed learned to have a heart after marrying and going through such suffering. In a sense, I hope after the story ends that Estella can find peace in her life as Pip does.
Speaking of Pip, finally we come to him. He is the most annoying character I have read in a long time. At first I made allowances because he starts out as a small boy, but as the story progresses and he gets older, I could no longer make excuses for him. He only thinks of himself and his own “expectations.” He doesn’t see when his actions hurt others and builds up in his mind this false view of the world, whether it be about his benefactor or Estella. Saying that, in the end, after he realizes who his benefactor is, he begins to mature a bit through suffering. He realizes how ungrateful he has been about everything that was given him, and in the end fully decides to change his life for the better. I was certainly not expecting a redemption story in the end, as I can’t recall any of the adaptations ending on such a happy note.
As for the plot, I enjoyed the mysterious elements of the story. The question of who Pip’s benefactor was. Who were Estella’s real parents? These questions were answered by the end, and I really loved how the ending concluded on a happy note while still being realistic.
What are your thoughts of this book? Have you read it? Or watched an adaptation? I was surprised how most adaptations emphasized the romance, whereas the book emphasized Pip’s growth more. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,