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on March 26, 2004
Another reviewer claims that you have to be at least 21 years old to read this book. Although I don't think it should be "forced" on schoolchildren (they will only hate it) I read this novel when I was a child and I loved it. I have just re-read it now and I enjoy it all the more. This is my favorite novel by Dickens. It is from his later period and is criticized for being too dark - which, however, makes it more perfect for today's sensibilities. Stephen King cites this work as one of his favorites: he believes that it is this book that brought the gothic novel mainstream.
Was there ever a novelist who created more memorable characters than Dickens? Here, we meet perhaps his most intriguing - Miss Havisham. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, I will not spoil it by describing her. The story is similar to parable about the prodigal son - good Pip inexplicably comes into some money and goes off to the corrupting city.
AN IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE: Dickens wrote two ending for this book. His friends thought that the original ending was too downbeat and they asked him to come up with a different one. It is the upbeat ending that is the official ending of the novel. However, most critics agree that the original unpublished ending is better. Most modern editions feature the unpublished ending in an appendix. MAKE SURE YOU BUY A COPY THAT CONTAINS THE ORIGINAL ENDING!
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on June 29, 2000
This book is incredible. I read it last year (in eighth grade), and I love it. I love Charles Dickens' language and style. Whoever is reading this may have little or no respect for my opinions, thinking that I am to young to comprehend the greatness of the plot and language, and I admit that I probably do not completely appreciate this classic piece of literature. I do read above a 12th grade level, although that doesn't count for a whole lot. It took me a while to get into this book. In fact, I dreaded reading it for a long time. But nearer to the end, I was drawn in by the poignant figure of a jackal, Sydney Carton. In his story I became enthralled with this book, especially his pitiful life. After I read and cried at Carton's transformation from an ignoble jackal to the noblest of persons, I was able to look back over the parts of the book that I had not appreciated, and realize how truly awesome they are. I learned to appreciate all of the characters, from Lucy Manette to Madame Defarge. I also was affected by all of the symbolism involved with both the French Revolution, and the nature of sinful man, no matter what the time or place. My pitiful review could never do justice to this great book, please don't be discouraged by my inability.
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on April 27, 2006
I've taught this book in 9th grade for years because it is a curriculum requirement. During that time, I have raved about the incredible abilities of Dickens to create memorable characters, plot fascinating fiction, make the lives of ordinary people in England memorable, write incredibly descriptive passages . . . .

The time has come to tell the truth. While it may be a great *work of literature*, Great Expectations is a tough book to like.

There is much to appreciate - in the intellectual sense of the word - about GE, from carefully drawn characters to an infinitely detailed plot. Without exception, students love to play *connect the characters* as the novel progresses. They discuss the unrequited love between Pip and Estella, Biddy and Pip - they love the relationship between Joe and Pip. They are fascinated and repulsed by Miss Havisham and her house. They are shocked by Magwitch, and enthralled by his sacrifice. Truly, this has all the makings of a 9th grade *hit*! So what's the problem? Language,length, and format.

The language is off-putting. So much is colloquial to the time and difficult to bring current. Joe's dialect (along with the convict's) is VERY difficult for my deep south students to imitate when reading aloud, and sometimes even difficult for them to decipher at all. Sentences can go on (and on and on and on and on) so that the end hardly seems connected to the beginning. While common when Dickens was writing, these patterns are a bit difficult for a modern audience.

Length and format are a problem that go together. Originally published as a serial, this novel was presented a chapter or two at a time, with a wait between installments. That allowed a reader to digest the events in a chapter, contemplate the relationships, discuss them with friends and build up anticipation for the next installment. By virtue of that style, many side-stories are included that have little bearing on the overall plot. Likewise, there is much detail included that seems almost irrelevant when one is reading the novel in full. Those are the very things that fostered interest in the serial, and yet in a novel, they seem extraneous and confusing. At the end, the novel seems (just a bit) overwritten (and perhaps that is because it wasn't originally a novel).

In summary, my feelings about this novel are mixed. The story itself is fascinating, but I find myself eternally dreading that time of year when I will yet again introduce it to another crop of unsuspecting students . . .
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VINE VOICEon May 19, 2008
How nice to reread an old classic as an adult, instead of in the classroom. A wonderful novel of Pip who comes into his "great expectations" via an unknown benefactor -- who he believes to be Miss Havisham. We see how the influence of money and position affect Pip's relations with his family and former neighbors, and not necessarily for the better. There are lots of surprise twists and turns in the plot, especially about Miss Havisham and her adopted "daughter" Estella and her true parentage.

As always, a Dickens novel is peopled with wonderful and unusual characters that eventually all play a part in telling the story. I understand that there were two endings of this book published. The version I read had only one ending and I don't know which one it was. I will have to search out another version of this book to see which I liked best.
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on October 17, 2008
I first read this novel almost 40 years ago. I've just finished rereading: it remains my favourite Charles Dickens novel. `A Tale of Two Cities' was initially published in weekly instalments over 31 weeks in 1859: it is historical fiction, encompassing the period from 1775 to 1792.

The novel is divided into three separate sections (books) dealing with different events in the lives of Dr Alexandre Manette, his daughter Lucie, French emigrant Charles Darnay and his family, as well as a number of other people and events in France and England. I believe that the novel will be easier to follow for a reader broadly familiar with the history leading to and consequences of the French Revolution in 1789.

On my first read, I was most interested in the French aspects of the novel: the images of Madame Defarge knitting, and Vengeance, together with the guillotine, have remained in my mind. This time, I was more focussed on identifying some of the themes that run through the novel. Those themes are resurrection, relationships, retribution and redemption.

The sufferings of Dr Manette, and later of Charles Darnay; the relationships between Dr Manette, Lucie, Mr Lorry, and others; the role of the DeFarges, and Vengeance, in both sustaining relationships and seeking retribution; and the redemption of Sydney Carton: combine in a way which illustrates much of what can be good and bad about humanity.

`Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,' observed the Marquis, `will keep the dogs obedient to the whip as long as this roof,' looking up to it, `shuts out the sky'.

To write more about the story may spoil its impact for those yet to read it. It is both a fine example of English literature and an interesting work of historical fiction. This is a novel where both the journey and the destination matter.

`It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on June 5, 2004
Why do I come here to "review" this? It isn't anyone's book club selection, no. But 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. This 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.
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on July 27, 2013
This is an abridged edition. Shame on Amazon for not saying so in the description. Fortunately this book passed into the publoc domain long ago, so you can find free editions online which are not abridged.
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on June 28, 2012
Great Expectations must have been what the readers of Dickens' serial publication must have had when they first read it, and I have to wonder if they were as disappointed as I was after slogging all the way through to the skewed, disjointed, and extremely contrived ending. This was written as a serial, not a novel, and I think Dickens (and his readers) would have benefited from a rewrite before publication in novel form.

If ever there was a novel that set out to have no meaning, no core, no arc, and most of all, no satisfaction, it must be Great Expectations. The novel's title clearly states Dickens' perspective and intention; that great expectations in life will be met by great (and bitter) disappointment, and the greater the expectation, the greater your disappointment in life will be. The idea that a woman jilted at the altar will spend her life grooming a young girl to make other young men's lives miserable, is a contrived, almost paranoid idea from a male's perspective. Mrs. Havershim's great expectations for life were dashed, because instead of moving on to meet a better man, she chooses to become a shut-in and ruin a young man's expectations for life. However, if it seems that Dickens is building towards some kind of message about not having overblown expectations and then being bitter if they don't work out, the reader is to be disappointed. Dickens goes out of his way not to make this point or any point, but to make a grimly sad tale bereft of any kind of compass or solace for either the characters or the reader.
Pip, the protagonist, survives his encounter with the damaged Estella, who had been deliberately damaged by Havershim to be "unable to love". The ending, in which he encounters her again briefly and is glad she is able to have the heart to "understand his heart as it was", is unbelievable, pompous and drowning in its own self-pity, all at the same time. It also feels as if Dickens took a perfunctory way to get out of a story that had meandered its way away from him.

Great Expectations must be the most disappointing, overblown "classic" novel I have ever read, not because it doesn't have a happy ending, but because of the way that Dickens has created his characters and shapeless mess of a story, and presented it in the most abrasive fashion possible. I was relieved at the end to have finished it, not satisfied, not sad, and certainly not edified. There is nothing to learn or grow from in this novel; it has made me less of a Dickens fan. And that is the most disappointing result of reading it.
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VINE VOICEon May 19, 2008
I will never, the rest of my life forget these two sentences. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...." and at closing "It is a far, far, better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."

Wow, this is not your usual Dickens. No quirky characters with strange names and laugh out loud moments, just a darn good story -- the story of two cities, London and Paris. It is difficult to put the plot into words, but when the book begins you are in London at the time of the American revolution and spies (or suspected spies) abound, and the story eventually switches to France prior to and during the French revolution.

Dickens does a marvelous job (as always) of building his story one step at a time and slowly peeling back the layers one at a time. This is not a put down and pick it up a week later kind of a book, it is very intense and complicated and you have to pay close attention. I was just floored at how he sucked me in with his descriptions of the mobs, terror and the madness of the revolution leading you to a nail biting finish. I admit to holding my breath during those last few pages!

Highly recommended, and well worth the time to discover (or rediscover) an old classic.
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on December 10, 2009
At long last, I have completed this dreadful book. I started reading Oliver Twist ten months ago and swore it off a half-dozen times. I disliked right from the first chapter, but the deeper I got, the more I felt compelled to finish it so I could truthfully say that I'd read this "classic" and that I didn't like it. Oliver Twist is #5 (chronologically) on the must-read novels of The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. I thoroughly enjoyed Don Quixote (Penguin Classics) and even the challenging The Pilgrim's Progress (Penguin Classics), and I absolutely loved Gulliver's Travels (Penguin Classics) and Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics). This book, however, is not in the same class.

This is the first Dickens I've ever read, and despite my absolute loathing of this novel, I won't swear him off as an author: I "get" what people like about him. However, please pay attention to the negative reviews from readers who have read other Dickens novels when they say this is not his best. I trust them because they identify all of the things that I hate about this book and say they're absent from his better works.

First and foremost, Oliver Twist is excessively wordy. Dickens never takes the opportunity to say in fifty words would he could say in ten -- he uses 100 or more instead. That's because, as I've learned, he was paid by the word to write this! While modern writing stresses the concise, this is the opposite. There are dozens of examples one could point to, but off the top of my head, here's one: A murderer is feeling and he runs into a street vendor hocking some kind of Victorian stain remover. It goes on for a page and a half about all that this cleaner can do, only to get to the point that the vendor says it can even get out blood stains (which the murderer has on his hat), and then the murderer flips out and runs away. There's even one chapter that begins with several paragraphs explaining that it has nothing to do with the plot, and everything -- everything -- is described in such obsessive detail, you will have to skip over entire sentences just to get to the point time and time again.

Secondly, the character of Oliver is thoroughly unlikeable. He's such a sad sack that I was actually rooting for his bullies and tormentors. Dickens quite unskillfully tries to manipulate his audience into false compassion by throwing everything short of sexual molestation at the poor child, right from birth. In this ugly underworld, everyone is petty and cruel for no reason -- but they're especially mean to Oliver. We only later find out why.

The books politics are thoroughly Marxian, too. The unspoken villain, all along, is industrial capitalism. This is why the poor degenerates in the slums live so badly. But, of course, if not for capitalism and the industrial revolution, most of them would have never lived at all. This would have suited the elites -- the true heroes of the story -- just fine; for what starts out looking like a portrayal of the injustices (real and imagined) faced by the working class, Oliver Twist is really an elitist smear against the "low-born."

Aristocrats have always championed socialism as a means of preserving the old order. Capitalism, even the state capitalism of Oliver Twist, allows for too much social mobility. By mid-way or so through this book, it becomes evident that it is only the lower middle class -- the petty bourgeois -- that are exploiting those under them. The elites are of unimpeachable character and come in to save Oliver -- who, (spoiler alert) is high-born after all! No wonder all those low-life miscreants were so rotten to him.

Now, for what was good about the book: The criminal gang. The characters of Fagin (though probably antisemitic), Sikes, the Dodger and Charley Bates, and especially Nancy are wonderfully rendered. The sections of the book that focus on them -- WITHOUT that annoying little brat Oliver -- are enjoyable, even in spite of Dickens' verbosity. Oliver is the worst, but all of his elitist protectors are unbearably overdone, too. Every scene involving Oliver and them is so "oh, I'm so grateful, I love you so much;" "Oh, Oliver, you bring us so much joy!" -- and that's after five minutes of meeting them.

And finally, the plot: It is built on such ridiculous coincidences.. I can only marvel at how dumb the nineteenth century audience must have been to gobble this up. Still, I wouldn't have necessarily hated it so much had it been told over 100 pages instead of 455. I can only imagine what a modern book editor would do if Dickens submitted this manuscript. This book was simply awful. I hated it. And yet... I feel compelled to give Dickens another shot, nonetheless. If indeed I'm fooled twice, then shame on me.
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