When it comes to Great Expectations you either find Dickens’ narrating first person protagonist style of writing in Great Expectations interesting or tortuous, and I’m not one to stop reading books often, but I had to put Mr. Dickens’ back on the shelf.
I read this book when I was younger and wanted to revisit it now that I’m older but I think I made a mistake. The mistake I made was that I now believe I skimmed this book or read the cliff notes(yes, people got cliff notes before the internet was created) for a book report. Also because the characters in this book are very familiar in popular culture, I believe it might of created an illusion that I actually read this book, when I never fully read it. Because if I couldn’t like this now, at 33, I probably hated it even more at 16.
Great Expectations is a story about a boy named Pip who wants to become a gentleman to please an attractive girl that treats him like dirt. When he comes into money he ends up becoming a little snob and saying some pretty impolite things to his sister’s husband Joe even though Joe and Pip are good friends. I understand that this book is a personal character growth and Pip will grow out of this attitude but honestly I just do not like Pip at all. In fact the only characters I like in this entire story are Joe, a hard working blacksmith with the heart of gold, and Miss Havisham, the weird old lady that can’t let go of the past. I realize it is probably Dickens’ intention for us not to like Pip at first because it is his story of maturity, but did he have to make him such a brat?
My experience with Dickens’ writing in Great Expectations makes me so disappointed. I hope that this isn’t what to expect from the rest of his novels. My first problem is that I don’t enjoy a book written in the first person, that is being narrated in first person by the same character. This causes a disconnect for me with the character because the narrative prose is much more advanced than the actual character’s intelligence but the narrator still leaves the reader in the dark about how he has changed and will change to have this intelligence. Replying within the narrative instead of in actual dialogue was my biggest issue when it came to this writing style. You would be told what Pip said instead of actually reading what he said in a dialogue with another character.
My other issue with reading Dickens is that he writes scenes that do absolutely nothing for me. It is basically just Pip relaying what is going on in a scene instead of the scene actually playing out. Dickens is telling us a great deal of information instead of showing us but even then what he is trying to tell us makes no impact on the story whatsoever. Because he is telling us all this information from the viewpoint of Pip, it feels like a laundry list of observations, instead of an actual story. If this book was written today, the editor would write in the margin, “What is the importance of this scene in the overall narrative that is trying to be told?”
Dickens does introduce characters extremely well. He is able to describe them to a degree where it anchors that character in your mind. I never once had issues following who the characters were in this book. Miss Havisham is one of most prolific characters in all of literature and I enjoyed most scenes with her in them.
Would this novel have gotten better the further I went into it? Probably, but I just was not invested in the story. To get personal for a second, I think that my dislike of this book might of had a lot to do with Pip and Estella, because it reminded me of myself when I was younger. I would like a pretty young girl and try to change myself for her, get her attention, and seek her approval but end up getting hurt. I changed and when I see that behavior in men and women now, it bothers me, because people need to be desired because of who they are, and not what they look like. I understand that Pip changes later in the novel but at the beginning I just want nothing to do with him because he is just a naive little boy.
Maybe I’ll revisit Dickens in the future. Bleak House or Hard Times might be more up my alley. I believe I read some of Hard Times when I was a kid around the time I “thought” I read Great Expectations. I’m now questioning all the things I thought I read in school because,lets be honest, I was a cliff notes pro. For now though, I’m passing on Dickens, he just isn’t for me.