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Approaching literature: reading Great Expectations
Approaching literature: reading Great Expectations

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2.4 Summary

We do not have to share Q.D. Leavis's perception of the spiritual dimension of the novel to admit the mixed nature of Dickens's writing, its grounding in different fictional modes, which opens it up to many equally relevant and convincing readings.

However, to begin to develop a deeper insight into Great Expectations, we need to think more about how we approach this kind of writing. Like Pip, we may discover that our expectations have been based on some false or at least misleading premises. This is particularly so if we forget that the novel was published not only after familiar realist fictions of moral purpose such as Pride and Prejudice, but also after Gothic works such as Frankenstein, whose tales shadow Austen's orderly, coherent and humane world. This shadowing accompanies conventional views of the novel genre as one of realist formation, suggesting ways of writing that connect with the inner history of the psyche and the wider history of Britain in the world. The fact that today we are more aware both of the unexpected ways of the mind and of Britain's colonial history should encourage us to read Great Expectations, in a more challenging light than we expect of the familiar, mythical Dickens of childhood.