The Open University since 2006
Alternatively you can skip the navigation by pressing 'Enter'.
Scotland and The Battle for Britain: Episode 1Wednesday, 28th September 2016 01:35 - BBC Two (except Scotland)Andrew Marr discovers why the Scotland he was born in has changed so much politically. Read more: Scotland and The Battle for Britain: Episode 1
Life Story: ParenthoodAvailable until Sunday, 30th October 2016 01:00Some parents are more closely involved than others. Read more: Life Story: Parenthood
Life Story: CourtshipAvailable until Sunday, 23rd October 2016 01:25
BBC Inside Science - 2016/2017 series: What's left to explore?Available for over a year
Scotland and The Battle for Britain: Episode 2Available until Friday, 21st October 2016 01:35
Take the photographic memory testCan you capture scenes just by looking at them? Find out with our photographic memory test. Launch now: Take the photographic memory test
The lottery of birthThis free course, The lottery of birth, will look at both the big picture of the ‘lottery of... Try: The lottery of birth now
Organisations and management accountingThis free course, Organisations and management accounting, examines the nature of organisations,... Try: Organisations and management accounting now
This free course, Approaching literature: Reading Great Expectations, considers some of the different ways of reading Great Expectations, based on the type of genre the book belongs to. This is one of the most familiar and fundamental ways of approaching literary texts. The novel broadens the scope of study of a realist novel, in both literary and historical terms. The course includes extracts from critical writings, which are discussed in detail.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- read and understand the classic novel Great Expectations, based on the genre of the book
- study literature at a higher level.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Openings and ogres
- 2 Grotesque expectations
- 3 Hallucinatory reading
- 4 Little Britain and the Empire
- Next steps
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Approaching literature: Reading Great Expectations
In this course we focus upon a specific novel, and consider some of the different ways in which it can be read. We do this by identifying its genre, or the kind of writing it belongs to.
The novel as a kind of writing continuously involved in offering representations of the everyday, of the past and present world, is inevitably bound up with the different ways in which we have come to think about ourselves in relation to that world. Insofar as novels typically have a specific location in time and place, they are characteristically involved in the major upheavals of their societies, directly or indirectly: we are viewing the novel as a genre capable of registering in satisfyingly complex ways what we think we know about how the world we live in has come about. This goes beyond what used to be the dominant way of thinking about novels in this country — that they were basically moral, English and liberal, although of course many of the greatest novels can usefully be thought of in that way.
If a novel like Charles Dickens's Great Expectations (1860–1) may be thought of as a ‘classic’ example of the genre, then we would expect to find that the nature of its realism is more than simply a matter of the presentation of the moral growth of a single character. Depending upon how we choose to read it, it may also be about many other things, more or less apparent. In what follows, I want to suggest a range of approaches to this novel, each of which builds on its predecessor. To begin with, I consider how contemporary readers and critics viewed the novel — what sort of expectations they had — as a way of thinking about our expectations, and to question assumptions based upon the familiar, almost mythical, Dickens that we all think we know. Next, approaching the text as an ‘autobiographical’ type of novel, I look at how it takes us beyond the actuality of first person narrative — with which we so easily identify as readers — towards the realm of the gothic or ‘grotesque’. This enables me to proceed to a ‘hallucinatory reading’, derived from critics who explain the novel in terms of the fantasies of desire and revenge expressed through hidden psychic patterns linking the different characters. Finally, further questioning the idea that we should read Dickens's novel as realist in any simple sense, I take up the possibility that we should think of it as playing a part in the broader history of Britain, including its colonial history. It has been held that the mainstream realist novel did much to ‘normalise’ imperialist attitudes. I do not think things are quite so straightforward: apart from anything else, this presumes a very limited idea of the genre. Nevertheless, it takes us beyond the familiar, towards a reading that raises yet more possibilities for what we may find in the novel. My aim is to increase your sense of the genre's potential, not just to advocate any one reading, or place Great Expectations within a particular category.
Great Expectations has been published in many editions over time. In order to reference sections of the novel, we have chosen to use the 1994 edition (Oxford University Press, ed. M. Cardwell with an introduction by K. Flint). You may be reading a different version of the book, so the references will not be the same. However, they will give you an idea as to where to find the sections mentioned.
This OpenLearn course provides a sample of Level 2 study in.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Literature courses or view the range of currently available OU Literature courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Monday, 11th January 2016
Last updated on: Monday, 11th January 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
If you enjoyed this, why not follow a feed to find out when we have new things like it? Choose an RSS feed from the list below. (Don't know what to do with RSS feeds?)
Remember, you can also make your own, personal feed by combining tags from around OpenLearn.
All our alternative formats are free for you to download, for more information about the different formats we offer please see our FAQs. The most frequently used are Word (for accessibility), PDF (for print) and ePub and Kindle to download to eReaders*.
- Word (1.2 MB)
- PDF (1.6 MB)
- ePub 3.0 (965 KB)
- ePub 2.0 (966 KB)
- Kindle (509 KB)
- RSS (260 KB)
- HTML (1009 KB)
- SCORM (1007 KB)
- OUXML Package (44 KB)
- OUXML File (120 KB)
- IMS Common cartridge
- Moodle backup (1.1 MB)
*Please note you will need an ePub and Mobi reader for these formats.