Emily May's Reviews > Great Expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
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it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, clothbound-own

“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.”

I first read Great Expectations when I was thirteen years old. It was the first of Dickens' works that I'd read of my own volition, the only other being Oliver Twist, which we'd studied parts of in school. You know, I missed out on a lot when I was thirteen. By this, I mean that I didn't always understand the deeper meaning lying beneath the surface of my favourite classics. I favoured fast-paced and gritty stories and didn't understand the love for Austen (later cured). But there was something about Great Expectations that hit me hard on all levels and there was a deeper understanding I took from it even back then.

I should say first of all, this book makes me feel sad. Not a Lifetime movie emotionally overwrought pass-me-the-kleenex kind of sad. I have read it several times and have never once cried while reading it. But the book never fails to leave me with this hollow feeling that things could have been so different. When I was a kid, I often wished I could jump inside the TV and warn the good guys not to do something; stop something horrible from happening. This is that kind of book for me. All the not-knowing and mistaken assumptions that float between the characters in this novel is torture.

Some readers don't like Dickens. He's been called "lacking in style", as well as a bunch of other things. Well, I think he's like the Stephen King of the Victorian era. He loves his drama, his characters are well-drawn but sometimes edging towards caricatures, he has a wonderful talent for painting a vivid picture of a scene in your mind but a bunch of his books are a hundred pages too long. Whatever. I love his stories. And I love his characters.

In Great Expectations, you have the orphaned Philip "Pip" Pirrip who has spent his short life being poor and being bullied by his sister who is also his guardian. You have Joe Gargery, a kind man who also allows himself to be bullied by Pip's sister (his wife). Then you have the infamous Miss Havisham who was abandoned at the altar and now spends her days wandering around her mansion in her old wedding dress, hating men and raising the young Estella to be just like her.

“You are in every line I have ever read.”

At its heart, this is a book about someone who is given an opportunity to have all their dreams come true, to be better than they ever thought they could be, to be loved by someone who they never thought would look at them. We all yearn for something badly at times. Imagine having the chance to get exactly what you always wanted. Imagine becoming better and higher than you knew was possible. Imagine having all of that and then realizing that perhaps the most important thing you ever had got left behind.

Pip was always my favourite Dickens protagonist because he wants so much and I sympathise with him. I can understand why he does what he does and why he wants what he wants. But the saddest thing is that ambition can make you lose sight of other important things and Pip has a lot of hard lessons to learn along the way. It's a book that was extremely relevant to the times when social class was of utmost importance in Britain. Essentially, the book deconstructs what it means to be a "gentlemen" and makes a not-so-subtle criticism of a class-based society.

Who are the real gentlemen? The top hat wearing men of London with all their fine china and ceremony? Pip, who gets a chance to become one of them? Or Joe Gargery, the rough-talking blacksmith who even years later tells Pip: "you and me was ever friends"?

There is a powerful lesson in here and I love it. Even after all these years.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
December 9, 2010 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-46 of 46 (46 new)

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Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ You make this sound amazing. I probably need to give it another try.


Emily May It just really worked for me :) Let me know what you think if you do try it again.


message 3: by Shawn (new) - added it

Shawn Thornton Great Review.


Emily May Thanks, Shawn.


Amelia, the pragmatic idealist Love this review! You make me want to read it again!


Megan Love this review. Have only just recently read my first Dickens and you have cemented my decision that this will be next.


Emily Wonderful review. :) I love this classic as well and I now really want to reread it again. :D


Emily May @Amelia Thank you :)

@Megan Thanks! I look forward to seeing what you think.


Emily May Emily wrote: "Wonderful review. :) I love this classic as well and I now really want to reread it again. :D"

Thanks, Emily :)


Sierra I loved this book but hated reading it LOL if that makes sense. So I gave it 3 stars for hurting my poor 10th grade brain.


Emily May Haha! I'm so glad I didn't have to study this in school :P


Sierra You're lucky!


message 13: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex I read this book as one of three for a Literary Theory paper. I really enjoyed it, probably gonna read it again sometime. Dickens is great.


message 14: by William (new)

William I could use a good sad book to read.


Jackie Your reviews are amazing and now I want to read it. Thank you :)


message 16: by Chris (new) - added it

Chris I also read this when I was way younger. Didn't like it back then, but I kind of feel like rereading it now. Loved your review!


Becky (Blogs of a Bookaholic) This is the best review of Great Expectations I've ever seen, brilliant!


message 18: by Karen (new)

Karen Really insightful review about what makes Dickens such a great and interesting author-- his colorful and decent (and some not so decent to show the moral contrast) characters, his vivid description of the period, the criticism of the social order, etc. I have to admit his Christmas Carol-- sure, to a lot of people it probably sounds so cliche at this point, only because it's been redone a bazillion times (and a lot of times done very badly and cheesily by bad sitcoms and other hideously-bad drama shows), but when it's done really well, or if you actually READ the original Dickens story (I once was lucky enough to see Patrick Stewart do a one-man reading of it in front of a live audience! So good!), the sweet, hopeful message of genuine redemption really comes through; Dickens really makes you believe that it's never too late for a bitter curmudgeon who's closed himself and his heart off from the rest of humanity to change for the better, they just need to really look back on their life and see what they've missed (as you pointed out was one of the themes in Great Expectations as well), what effect they've had on people, what sort of legacy they will leave behind, etc. And believe it or not, one of my favorite, and honestly I think one of the best versions of A Christmas Carol is the Muppet Christmas Carol-- Michael Caine actually makes for a really good, effective, curmudgeonly Scrooge who also manages to make you feel bad for him in the pathos of self-inflicted loneliness (and it doesn't hurt that there are also some very funny moments of comedy and sweetness from the Muppets themselves! :0). I don't know who these boneheads are who dismiss Dickens for being merely "melodramatic"-- if anything, I would say he is one of the mostly genuinely honest, compassionate, and HUMAN writers I've ever read, who really knows how to convey to the reader all the eccentricities, emotions and foibles of human society!


message 19: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Wow, this review is excellent! I've had this in my bookshelf for a while and always passed over it but I definitely want to pick it up and give it a go now.


message 20: by Carly (new)

Carly I have only watched the movie adoptations from Dicken's books, but I really enjoyed them. And if you enjoy the movie, you have to love the books, right? ;-) So I will give it a try.
Great review by the way!


Emily May Thank you all for your kind words :) I hope you love it like I do!


message 22: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Skinner Damn. This is a fine appreciation of much that is great about Dickens at his best.

Thinking about your review made me realize that the difference between a 4 Star and a 5 Star review (from me) can be summed up in this question: Was this a really good piece of entertainment (4 Stars) or did this book affect my life and the way I lived it? (5 Stars).

By this criterion Great Expectation, and David Copperfield too, are definitely 5 Star treasures. Thanks for inspiring me to consider this.


Vanessa J. I perfectly understand you, I think. After finishing this book, I had a feeling of emptiness and sadness. Not that reading the book was like peeling an onion, but still, I felt that way.

P.S.: I absolutely loved your review. You're really good at writing them, but this one portraits all my feelings for this book...


Emily May Thank you, Vane. I'm glad you took the same things away from this book that I did... just thinking about it makes me feel those same old emotions.


message 25: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz Excellent review. I agree with every word!

I've just finished the book and I feel sad that it's over. I didn't expect to be so caught up in Pip's world. (Dickens can sometimes drag in places, but not in this case).

So many great quotes within its pages, but the one you chose to start with, sums up the book completely.


Emily May Thank you, Liz! I'm glad you enjoyed it too :)


message 27: by Liz (new) - added it

Liz Great review Emily! Your review is like reading an excerpt from a book itself! Well done! I have always heard about this book and had mild interest in reading it but was never really compelled. But after reading your review I will definitely be picking this up! Thanks!


message 28: by Alexandra (new) - added it

Alexandra A friend recommended Great Expectations to me some years back. We were in book club together and for him it was the gold standard. Your review has pushed me over the edge, I'm going to read it. Love the review, thanks.


message 29: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan This has been on my TBR list for a while! Your review is excellent! I might have to give this a go before the years end! Thanks Emily!


Sorento62 Emily May wrote: Dickens is "the Stephen King of the Victorian era."

Yes! Love the comparison.


message 31: by Lucia (new)

Lucia You've made me feel like reading this!! I guess I'll give it a try too :)


Hardik Kapadia When Emily may gives something a 4star or 5 stars, you ought to read that


message 33: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa I agree with your opinion of "I understand what he does and what he wants".Though he misbehaved to his ever closest friend Gargery and I hated that kind of pip pursuing great expectation.GE is not a easy book to read, I've done 1/4, it must be a great book after I watched the movie,I will try to finish it.


message 34: by Saba (new) - added it

Saba Nisar An amazing review. I am reading it presently, and after reading your review I want to read it all instantly


message 35: by Haz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Haz Great review!


Kayleigh Muttschall I love this review! I read this book when I was 13 too, although I'm only a year older now. I was just looking through the reviews to find someone who loves Dickens as much as me! =)


Emily May Kayleigh wrote: "I love this review! I read this book when I was 13 too, although I'm only a year older now. I was just looking through the reviews to find someone who loves Dickens as much as me! =)"

Thank you, Kayleigh! I'm glad you also enjoyed it :)


Benjamin oleket Nice review.
I will always love this book, it leave some hollowness in me whenever i reread some parts, i love the ending bt the thought of this bk having two endings still hurts


message 39: by Stephen Hatfield (new)

Stephen Hatfield Jeff, what an Amazon way to critique a story of book! Kudos to you. Steve


message 40: by Steven (new) - added it

Steven Fullman Never cried? Surely with Pip's final dignity with Joe and Biddy...surely


Mahmoud Azzam Bravo


message 42: by Mirela (new)

Mirela l really love your rewiews it makes me wanna read everything you commented. 😊


message 43: by Zaidi Syed (new)

Zaidi Syed I could use a good book to read


message 44: by Zaidi Syed (new)

Zaidi Syed Love read💖💖


SeanM Great review. Thank you!


message 46: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan nice review - i read GE for the first time recently (left a review), and i also felt a hollowness, as you describe it. even if pip finds an unlikely happy ending, so many of the other characters are unnecessarily sad most of their lives.

recommendation: if you're ever in london, visit charles dickens's house (doughty street). i think he was a dickensian character himself.


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