It’s Victorian-era England. Pip is just a simple forge boy chosen to entertain rich Miss Havisham and her beautiful adopted daughter, Estella. Though he finds himself falling for Estella, Pip knows he may never have her, as she is a rich woman while he is just a simple boy. But one day, a lawyer shows up at Pip’s simple home and tells him that he has great expectations, provided for by a mysterious benefactor. In the higher class, Pip still finds himself lacking as a suitor for Estella’s hand in marriage. But the discovery of Pip’s mysterious benefactor’s identity shatters his knowledge of the world around him, and eventually, his life.
At first, Great Expectations seems to be your standard, old-England book of a simple boy growing a large fortune because of his hard work and deep morales. But as this five-hundred page novel slowly unfolds, it becomes more and more mysterious; Miss Havisham’s clocks have stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and she sits in her house a ghostly specter, wearing her wedding dress, which hasn’t been taken off since her wedding day over twenty years ago. As Pip’s fortunes come to him through what is described as a mysterious benefactor, he begins to conform to Estella’s wealth-corrupted ideals, looking down on Joe, his brother-in-law, who raised him, and Biddy, the woman who has grown to be like a sister, best friend, and future wife to him, because they are of a lower social class. Pip begins to develop expensive habits, driving himself and his newfound friend and housemate, Herbert, deep into debt, but never really doing anything about it.
Above all, he continues to long for Estella, who becomes increasingly pretty as she grows older. But she does not fall for Pip the way he falls in love with her; both describe her heart as one of ice, incapable of love. She is shaped by Miss Havisham to wreak revenge on what she believes has wronged her.
Pip also spends his money foolishly. Once he has received his great expectations, I expected him to spend it wisely, coming from such a humble background that he comes from. However, Pip spends most of it on furniture, and slowly begins to spend more and more money going to clubs like The Finches of the Grove. He is not at all humble, and the way he treats Joe and Biddy is aggravating. Eventually, Pip became so unbearable that I didn’t want to read any more of the book, and I probably wouldn’t have; fortunately, I was forced to, as this was a book we were reading in English class. From Chapters 20 to 45, I was fed up with Pip. I didn’t want to read the book because of him, in fact. Through the reader’s dislike of Pip, Dickens conveys the message that love is corrupting. It’s effective, but I always wonder why it had to be that way; couldn’t Dickens have made some other character unlikeable?
The beginning of the book is slow, and seemingly random, sporadic events seem to occur. However, if you leave behind the slow beginning, each and every event contained in the book is connected in the final climax. Dickens only inserts scenes that don’t greatly contribute to the plot for comic relief, which is an entirely new take, as most books include many scenes unrelated to the actual plot of the book.
Dickens wrote two endings for this book. The original ending was never published; it was changed just prior to its publication on the recommendation of Dickens’s friend. The book with its changed ending was a huge hit. However, in many copies today, you can find the original ending, the changed ending, or both. My copy contained both endings, and I must say I greatly preferred the original ending to the changed ending. While the changed ending satisfied me as a reader, the original ending stayed true to the characters and their lifestyle decisions.
I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. Dickens achieves his goal with this book; its content is clear, everything contributes to an absolutely genius plotline, and the reader ends up hating the characters for a reason. Sometimes, due to old English, the content is not clear, and there are often large chunks of description that tend to bore the modern-day reader. Overall, though, this book is pure genius, with a riveting, if slow, plot, and characters with a purpose.