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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably his best, 13 Aug 2003
This review is from: Great Expectations (Penguin Popular Classics) (Paperback)
There are many things to dislike about Dickens. He has a tendency to go for novels of overblown length (one review on this website of his shortest novel ‘Hard Times’ seems to think that bigger means better, which I am inclined to disagree with). His characters (especially the women) are either innocent virtue or wholly malevolent. And then of course there’s the lachrymose sentimentality…
With ‘Great Expectations’ all this gets reined in. It tells the story of Pip, apprenticed to kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery, who is provided with an unexpected opportunity to become a gentleman. He shuns his working class roots and goes off to fulfil his ambitions in London, the primary motivation presumably being his desire to impress the beautiful but cold-hearted Estella.
From this premise, Dickens weaves a simple but hugely effective yarn that contains an important moral lesson. In true Dickens style it is exercised in a preachy manner; but considering the time Dickens wrote it in, it was the only way to get across his radical social criticism. ‘Great Expectations’ has all the positive aspects of the ‘later’ Dickens novels, whilst managing to dispense with the usual criticisms applied to his writings. It is tightly and deftly plotted, but doesn’t take time to flourish into something gripping (hello ‘Bleak House’). There are complex characters too – such as Pip, who is subject to a voyage of self-discovery, and Jaggers, who isn’t as sinister as he seems. Even some of the female characters are interesting, like Biddy, who is sweet-tempered and pious, but not afraid to stand up for herself either. And when Dickens goes for the emotional jugular he genuinely moves you – the chapter in which Joe (the novel’s true gentleman) visits Pip for the first time in London, and behaves awkwardly but manages to emerge with dignity, is absolutely heartbreaking.
‘Great Expectations’ is a novel with acute social commentary, populated with a cast of unforgettable characters and featuring a plot that gets all the more exciting as it reaches its denouement. It is a typical Dickens novel, but one that neutralises the factors that so often blight his writing, thus elevating it above the rest of his (mostly excellent) works.
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