Quick Classics: Great Expectations

30 April 2013

In sum

Ragged orphan Pip meets a convict, then an old lady who makes up in tragi-cunning for what she resolutely lacks in marbles. Adventure is had, naiveté exploited, and any hope for London as a cheerful getaway destination profoundly ruined.

Why the world thinks you should read it

One the the great Victorian novels, grand sweeps of malcontent harnessed into a format geared to entertain a newly literate and politically engaged public. The prime English bildungsroman (“coming of age” narrative)—every popfic hero from Frodo the Hobbit to Finn the Human owes his dues to young Master Pip.

Don’t read it if

You object to being clobbered about the brain with a giant wet fish o authorial moralising. This is social critic extraordinaire Dickens at his least hysterical, but where Hard Times is a Brynne Edelsten on the subtlety/tact scale, GE still hits about a Prince Philip.


The most recent was apparently made to save the newly unemployed cast of the Potter films.


Nah. The prose is Victorian, but not overly so. Dickens’ descriptions are like satirical play-doh—colourful, fun and gloriously visceral, but not exactly built for precision and prone to getting dry. Thanks to short chapters riddled with more cliff-hangers than a speleologist convention. GE zips over the cobblestones at a satisfying canter.

So should you bother?

Yessir. Dickens is absolutely a master, this is easily his most accessible long work, and, what’s more, it’s enormously exciting—all the suspense of Speed, without any of the Keanu! Plus, exclaiming “What the Dickens!” at surprising twists is unendingly enjoyable for the simple-minded amongst us.*

*Ensure cover is visible for maximum effect—especially rewarding on crowded trains.

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