Every now and then I’d like to review a classic novel for you lovely readers. My degree demands that I read a lot of these classics and I sometimes wish I could be really frank in my seminars. But often screaming “I HATE THIS NOVEL, WHY WAS IT EVER PUBLISHED?!?” wouldn’t fit in with the theme we are analysing at the time.
So I am going to use this as my forum for speaking my mind. What else is a blog for eh?
I think everyone is made to feel that they should read at least one classic in their life. I know I went into my the English half of my degree feeling like a fool because I’d never heard of Christopher Marlowe (please don’t judge me!). So before you embark on this, quite honestly mammoth task, let me share what I have learnt from degree so that you only have to read the ones that are really worth it.
This year I have been studying Dickens, focusing on four novels; David Copperfield, Bleak House, Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend. I am currently still trawling my way through 800 or so pages of Our Mutual Friend so this is quite a nice, yet still related, break. I want to start with Great Expectations.
This is a novel who’s reputation precedes it. Everyone knows about Pip. Lots of us have had to read it at school. But does it live up to the hype? I had a strange relationship with the novel. I first met Great Expectations when I was 14. My then (awful) English teacher made us read the first chapter aloud in class and then we watched 4 or 5 scenes from a black and white film adaptation. That was it. Until 7 years later and I read it properly in my final year at university.
I had high hopes, mostly because people say how amazing it is and dub it one of Dickens’ best works. But the cynic in me now thinks that’s just because it’s one of the shorter novels, so it’s one people can actually be bothered to read. But I am here to tell you that it is no where near as good as his other novels.
Dickens himself said that he had to re-read David Copperfield before writing Great Expectations because he didn’t want to repeat anything. You can tell when you read this book that ol’ Doady was in his mind. Great Expectations feels like a poor imitation of its superior predecessor. The sense of growth that you get from David in his first person narration is severely lacking in Expectations. Pip seems to be nothing more than the perpetual disatisfied child. The ending is a total anticlimax and there isn’t one character that I really connected with.
As ever, Dickens’ plot is intelligent and complicated and you won’t be bored. But the characters leave a lot to be desired and if, like me, you’ve read David Copperfield recently you will be disappointed. I found myself spending more time feeling exasperated at the irritating characters than caring what was happing to them.
So now that I’ve read it properly, I don’t see what the big deal is all about. Dickens had a way with words, no-one can deny that but Great Expectations isn’t unique in that. You can pick up any Dickens novel and it will be stuffed full of metaphors, imagery and will be so vividly written that it will all feel real. But his other novels all have something more than Expectations. They have believable engaging characters who you are really emotionally involved with.
I could go on all night, but I won’t. I’ll finish off now. It might be twice the size, but if you want the story of a man from his difficult childhood through all his trials and tribulations, read David Copperfield and give Great Expectations a wide berth.