Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Great Expectations

In spite of my numerous references to Dickens on My Lady Bibliophile, I have never actually reviewed a book. You'll be seeing several reviews of Dickens' novels this year, due to his bicentennial, and as Masterpiece Theatre just released Great Expectations, and I just read the book, I would like to start with his most classic novel.
When I recommend Dickens to someone who has never read it before, I always tell them to start with Great Expectations. Firstly, it's only 500 pages compared to the normal 900 (this should cause you to sigh with relief and anticipation) and secondly, it's his most classic mixture of happiness and tragedy, with an ending that won't dampen your appetite for more.

So let us proceed, my friends, into the lovely and mysterious world of Pip, Magwitch, and Miss Havisham.

The Plot
Young Pip lives with his much older sister and her blacksmith husband, Joe Gargery, on the marshes in England. In his childhood, he meets an escaped convict, Magwitch, stealing and lying for the man under threat of death, only to see Magwitch later re-captured on Christmas Day. He desires to forget this dark episode, and does so quite successfully under the influence of the bitter Miss Havisham and her ward, Estella, who 'befriend' him, and help him with his apprenticeship to Joe. Enamored with Estella, who cruelly wounds him every time they meet, years pass as he languishes under his apprenticeship and longs to come into some property, to be a 'rich gentleman' so that he can win Estella's hand and be forever happy.
He comes into his property. A Mr. Jaggers releases Pip from his apprenticeship to travel to London and set up as a young gentleman with 'Great Expectations'. And so, as he severs the ties with his past friends, and moves on to culture and wealth, he grows more and more secure under the promises of a mysterious and un-named patron.
Then he finds out who his patron is, and his hopes for Estella, his unkindness to his childhood friends, and his plethora of borrowed riches all crumble to dust as he realizes the full extent of his empty dreams, and the cruelty of Miss Havisham. Hunted and harried, in danger of his life and his happiness, he meets some of the darkest moments of his past in this stunning tale of good and evil. True to Dickens, you may find good where you would never have looked and evil where you never suspected.

The Ending (no spoilers)
Dickens had two endings for this tale originally, but I have never read his original one.  I don't consider Dickens' rewrite to be any less legitimate for being number two. The fact is, all authors rewrite almost everything in their books, and what the public receives is often the third or fourth major change from the original manuscript. The purists who complain that his original ending should have been left are generally the movie producers and lovers of tragedies. And when writing a book, you should never end it on a note of hurt, but on a note of hope. I would like to delve more into right and wrong types of endings in the near future.

My Thoughts
Great Expectations certainly left its mark on our family. You'll commonly hear quotes from the book such as "Be ever grateful, boy, to them that brought you up by hand." "Don't know ya." and "What larks, eh, Pip?" To understand their full meaning, you'll have to read the novel for yourself, and if you enjoy it as much as we did, you'll be quoting it too. :)
I used correction tape on Dickens, but find his plot lines in the books I've read so far to be very appropriate and unobjectionable. Due to the crime of London, however, such as references to murders and hangings, it might cause problems with some readers. If you like Douglas Bond's books, then you'll have no problem with Dickens' plot lines.
I like the way Dickens handled justice in this novel. He didn't excuse wrong, but he didn't deal harshly with it either. Justice mixed with mercy makes a very good tale, and true to Biblical values.

Movie Adaptations
I have not seen the newest Masterpiece Theatre adaptation, nor do I think it likely that I will at present. It is quite inaccurate to the novel, and I was rather disappointed.
If you would like more information regarding the 2012 adaptation, you can click here for an article detailing the plot of the episodes. It doesn't tell how it is different from the actual book, but I would be happy to tell you by email.
I would love to give you my thoughts on the adaptations I have seen of Great Expectations, if you would like to request a review by email. I will cover casting, accuracy, language, violence, etc. The following adaptations are available for request:

Starring Gerry Sandquist

Starring Ioan Griffudd

 Just senda request to the address on the sidebar with the name of the starring actor (or request all of the above!) and I shall be thrilled to share. Please note that there will be spoilers, so if you prefer to read the novel first, you can request a review afterwards. No expiration date to the review offer. :) (And if you don't mind spoilers, then go ahead before you read the novel.)

BBC Radio

BBC Radio produced a charming and professional adaptation brought to audio in 1994. I highly recommend that you buy or check out a copy. The only thing I remember at present is the usual objection of language. The voices were true to life, and the accuracy was excellent. I have enjoyed this twice already, and hope to hear it again, being able to find it through my library system.

Audio Production
Martin Jarvis wins hands-down for his stellar reading of this novel. You can find it on the newer Playaway technology, as well as CD.

This book ranks in my top three Dickens, and I highly encourage you, if you have never dared to read a man who was paid by the word, to start your journey with Great Expectations. It will be the first of many re-reads, and the start of a long and happy appreciation of Britain's finest author.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Miss Havisham loooks too young and Estella looks to old in the PBS version. We love the BBC version of Great Expectations and Martin Jarvis is AWESOME reading it.

    1. I agree; in the new one Estella looks too old. :) We had fun with Martin Jarvis, didn't we?

      Love and cuddles,

    2. Great Expectations! Oh, I loved the book, and I'm making it a point to watch at least one of the movies. I'd rather see them all, so I can form my opinion and find my favorite, however.

    3. Have fun with the movies, Ashley. :) We'll have to compare favorites afterwards...

  2. Other quotes we've enjoyed from the BBC movie version: "Put the case..", "Aged P.", and "portable property". It's a lot of fun when a book lends itself to be quotable!:)

  3. My Lady B,

    You have piqued my interest in Dickens, I think I'll take your advice and begin with Great Expectations. That is quite a feat since I've known of him for all my life and never yet read him. I'll save the movie until after I've read the book!

    1. Dear Mrs. Hayse,
      I am thrilled to have inspired you to read one of my favorite authors. I hope you find the same enjoyment that I have. :) Thank-you for stopping by!


  4. Hello Schuyler!
    If it's something you'd like to do...you've been tagged again. This time by Anna and me. :) http://facingthewavesblog.blogspot.ca/2012/04/tagged_09.html


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