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A reader's guide to Great Expectations

Updated Wednesday, 1st December 2004

Charles Dickens' classic 1861 novel Great Expectations explores the social classes of the Georgian era.

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Our Big Read year ends with Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, and I must confess that this novel is a particular favourite of mine. Its opening chapter is surely one of the most striking and memorable in literature, evoking the feelings of young Pip Pirrip when he unexpectedly encounters a terrifying convict on the bleak Kent marshes. Indeed the settings throughout are described vividly, and the characters are a wonderfully varied bunch. Who could forget the reclusive Miss Havisham, icy Estella, or gentle giant Joe? There are some wonderful comic creations, including Pumblechook, Wemmick and Wopsle (no, they are not a firm of solicitors!).

Great Expectations was published during 1860-1861, and was an immediate success. There was something very engaging about Pip’s troubled journey through life, told in his own voice, from two perspectives: the child’s and the adult’s. Dickens succeeded in producing a moral book, without being dreary and unbearably didactic.

Great Expectations Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC

I’ve known students who have been set Great Expectations at GCSE level, A-level, and at university level, which may seem like overkill; but, in truth, it is a work that can be savoured at different stages of your life for different reasons. Every human emotion is here.

No wonder Great Expectations made it to the top 21! There are other fine Dickens novels, such as Bleak House (which finished at number 79), but the story of dear Pip is the one that tends to touch the hearts of its readers.

By the way, it is one of the texts on the OU course A210 Approaching Literature, recruiting now if you feel like joining us...

Thanks for a great year!

 

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