Why I’m reading Great Expectations

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– Mostly because the only other Dickens I’ve ever read was A Tale of Two Cities in high school, and that just doesn’t seem right.

– Because not having read Great Expectations constitutes a serious gap in one’s cultural literacy. I know that Pip and Miss Havisham are characters from Dickens. But I don’t much know what it means to compare someone to Pip or Miss Havisham. Also, afterwards I’ll be able to check Great Expectations off on those lists of the “100 Greatest Books You Really Should Have Read And If You Haven’t, You’re Practically A Barbarian” that are always going around and making you feel inadequate.

havisham– I read in a recent Writer’s Digest about a method for getting past writer’s block. It involved just copying whole bits out of a classic text. So just typing in pages out of Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Dickens. I’m not experiencing writer’s block, but I can see the value in such an activity. Typing out someone else’s words can make you intimate with them in a way that merely reading them does not.

I’m not copying bits of Great Expectations, but it is worthwhile to see how one of the masters tells a story. What I am particularly impressed by in Dickens is the way in which he uses physical mannerisms to tell you everything you need to know about a character. Mr. Jaggers’ constant gnawing on his finger. The comic way in which Mr. Pocket attempts to pull himself up by his hair. Joe’s wiping his hand across his nose in response to his wife’s abuses. The details are so specific that they make the characters leap off the page.

– Okay, I must confess, I’m also reading Great Expectations to cleanse my reading palate after a series of bad tasting novels. I won’t name any names, but I’ve just finished several newer novels that have been touted as the up and coming thing and found them so very disappointing. I’ll admit, they tend to be high concept type novels–books that are getting all the buzz–and perhaps that’s where the problem is. An interesting concept with crappy writing is still just a crappy novel for me. It feels increasingly as if just not enough editing is happening in the publishing world.

The thing about buzz is that it gets your expectations up. If it’s the book everyone is talking about, the one facing out at the local bookstore, then you expect it to be really good. And when it’s not, you just wonder why, exactly, everyone is talking about it.

Dickens, of course, had his own share of buzz back in the day. People were waiting with baited breath to read the next installment of Great Expectations. Luckily he didn’t disappoint. You’d think that being an undergraduate English major and a fairly educated person, I would know how this novel ends, or even where it’s headed. But I don’t, so I’m just along for the ride and enjoying the feeling of knowing I’m in good hands, as far as writers go.


  1. Unbelievably I have never read A Tale Of Two Cities. I think I was in a different class the year it was read. So I have it on my Kindle and will be reading it in the new year… I actually never read any Dickens until a few years ago when I finally read Great Expectations. I enjoyed it and I am looking forward to this one.

    • It’s been so long since I read A Tale of Two Cities that it’s hard to compare the two. But Great Expectations was quite comforting, and I’m sad to have finished it, which I did today.

  2. I love anything and everything by Dickens! I think, though, that David Copperfield is my favorite. 🙂

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