Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
A terrifying encounter with an escaped convict in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decaying Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor—these form a series of events that changes the orphaned Pip’s life forever, and he eagerly abandons his humble origins to begin a new life as a gentleman. Dickens’s haunting late novel depicts Pip’s education and development through adversity as he discovers the true nature of his ‘great expectations’.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is the perfect example of why we should all revisit the classics as adults. This novel is incredible, filled with some of the most fascinating literary characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading: Pip, Miss Havisham, Estella, Joe, Herbert, Wemmick, Jaggers, and Magwitch.
From the Publisher
Pip doesn’t expect much from life…
His sister makes it clear that her orphaned little brother is nothing but a burden on her. But suddenly things begin to change. Pip’s narrow existence is blown apart when he finds an escaped criminal, is summoned to visit a mysterious old woman and meets the icy beauty Estella. Most astoundingly of all, an anonymous person gives him money to begin a new life in London.
Are these events as random as they seem? Or does Pip’s fate hang on a series of coincidences he could never have expected? Penguin Classics
Book Club Party Ideas for Great Expectations
“In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.”
“Miss Havisham laid a hand upon my shoulder. In her other hand she had a crutch-headed stick on which she leaned, and she looked like the Witch of the place.
‘This,” said she pointing to the long table with her stick, “is where I shall be laid when I am dead. They shall come and look at me here.’”
“What have I done! What have I done!”
And be sure to stop the clocks at twenty minutes to nine!
What to Wear
Herbert bestows a nickname on Pip based on Pip’s past apprenticeship: “Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There’s a charming piece of music by Handel, called the The Harmonious Blacksmith.”
Handel’s The Harmonious Blacksmith can be found on The Essential Masters Collection.
Book Club Menu for Great Expectations
“Dine like Dickens with a hearty winter meal topped off with a decadent dessert.” oprah.com
“Hearty and savory” are words that nicely describes this English Pork Pie recipe … much like the “beautiful round compact pork pie” Pip stole from Mrs. Joe’s pantry for the convict.
A decadent dessert: British Berry Pudding
Uncle Pumblechook provides the spirits on Christmas Day: “I have brought you as the compliments of the season – I have brought you, Mum, a bottle of sherry wine – and I have brought you, Mum, a bottle of port wine.”
And Pip thinks to himself: “Every Christmas Day he presented himself, as a profound novelty, with exactly the same words, and carrying the two bottles like dumb-bells. ”
Book Club Resources for Great Expectations
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 3 1/2 stars (3,437 reviews)|
|Amazon: 4 stars (575 reviews)|
|Barnes and Noble: 4 stars (113 reviews)|
|My rating: 4.5 stars
The characters in this novel are memorable.
Especially the spurned bride-to-be, Miss Havisham.
- “An absorbing mystery as well as a morality tale, the story of Pip, a poor village lad, and his expectations of wealth is Dickens at his most deliciously readable. The cast of characters includes kindly Joe Gargery, the loyal convict Abel Magwitch and the haunting Miss Havisham. If you have heartstrings, count on them being tugged.” — Amazon.com
- “Great Expectations has the most wonderful and most perfectly worked-out plot for a novel in the English language, according to John Irving, and J. Hillis Miller declares, Great Expectations is the most unified and concentrated expression of Dickens’s abiding sense of the world, and Pip might be called the archetypal Dickens hero. –Modern Library Classics
- “…tonight I want to talk about this incomparably rich and wonderful book, and how as a fourteen year old kid I simply sank into it, taking it slowly week by week, glorying in its mysteries, its great grotesque portrait of Miss Havisham in her rotting bridal finery, its often painful recounting of a young boy’s awakening to a seductive world beyond the blacksmith’s forge to which destiny has condemned him. continue reading reviewThis book was about me. It was about wanting to learn, wanting to transcend, wanting to achieve while anything and everything seems hopelessly beyond one’s dreams. Of course life changes for Pip. And the world Pip enters was a world that dazzled me and only made my adolescent ambitions burn all the more hurtfully. I think this book is about all who’ve ever tried for more, ever reached for the gold ring — and it’s about some, of course, who’ve gotten it. It’s also a wondrous piece of storytelling, a wondrous example of how in the first person (“I am, etc.” ) a character can tell you more about himself than he himself knows. What a feat. And a very strange thing about this book, too, was the fact that Dickens said more about Pip and Pip’s dreams than Dickens knew he was doing. Dickens himself didn’t quite realize, I don’t think, the full humanity of the character he created. Yet the character is there — alive, captivating, engaging us throughout with full sympathy. Go for it. If you never read anything else by Charles Dickens, read and experience this book. Afterwards, David Copperfield will be a ride in the sunshine, I assure you. And both books will stand by you forever. For whom am I writing this? For myself perhaps just because Pip meant and still means so much. For some one perhaps who’s unsure about this book and needs a push to dive into a classic.
Oh, is this book ever worth the effort. -. Enough. Read it, know it.” –Anne Rice, Author
- Discuss the title Great Expectations and the theme of “expectations” of the major characters in this book.
- Mrs. Havisham used and manipulated both Pip and Estella. What was her motivation? Did she receive the outcome she had hoped for?
- Pip’s benefactor insisted that Pip maintain his nickname “Pip” in order to receive his funds. Why do you think his benefactor did this?
- Pip is attracted to Estella, as he says, “against reason, against promise, against peace.” Do you understand Pip’s devotion to Estella? Why or why not?
- Discuss the theme of suffering – specifically how Pip, Miss Havisham and Estella are affected by their own sufferings.
- The character of Biddy acts as Pip’s conscience. In what ways?
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Charles Dickens and Great Expectations
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Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…
My favorite quote from Great Expectations
“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle”
Great Expectations has been adapted for stage and screen over 250 times! Below are a few of the movie adaptations.
Great Expectations (1946) (The Criterion Collection) Spine #31)
Great Expectations (Masterpiece Theatre, 1999)
Great Expectationswith Ethan Hawke and Gweneth Paltrow (1998)
Great Expectations (BBC, 1981)
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