I've finally discovered a greater pleasure than reading
Dickens – and that's re-reading Dickens. Great Expectations, the 14th in our epic Dickens readathon, was,
shamefully, the only one of his books I'd read properly before (at school), and
visiting it again was an unalloyed joy. George Orwell said that once Dickens
has described something you see it for the rest of your life, and here the
images of Pip looking at the little graves of his family, the lawyer Jaggers
obsessively washing his hands, Wemmick posting his dinner into his letter-box
mouth, were just like flashback.

Yet there were surprises too. I'd forgotten just how quickly the hero
Pip goes bad, becoming an unbearable, snobbish idiot even before his life is
changed by coming into money. In fact, he's a complete tool for pretty much most
of the book. Yet the changes in his character are turned into something so
psychologically true, so gripping, and rendered with such unbearable honesty
that it's car-crash compelling. When Pip describes his shame as his childhood
protector Joe comes to visit him in his new life as a London gentleman ('If I
could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have'), it's like a
stab through the heart.

I'd also forgotten just how dark, mysterious, ghostly, weird and violent
the novel is. Dickens describes how the feelings of guilt and fear that
accompany childhood trauma (in this case an escaped prisoner threatening to eat
your heart and liver) can taint your entire life and warp everything that comes
afterwards. It's such a haunted book. Perhaps I still love David Copperfield slightly more, but it's very close. This book is
like David Copperfield's sad,
dark, grown-up and heartbreaking shadow. I cried like a baby at the end. What
more can I say?

Next time, the last Big Beast and the second-to-last novel
in our list – Our Mutual Friend

Louise Willder, Copywriter

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. I think Great Expectations was the only Dickens book I was ever required to read in school (in the United States). It’s a shame that more of his books weren’t on our reading lists. I did check out some of his other books on my own and especially loved Bleak House. Which, BTW, I ought to reread soon.

    Reply

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