Great Expectations for ‘Great Expectations’

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

–To declare that Great Expectations, DICKENS’ last work, is also his best, would be somewhat hazardous, inasmuch as that those who have trembled with delight over the pages of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield will remain firm in the belief that such books cannot be bettered, even by the author, wilfully resenting any attempt to convince them to the contrary. It is fortunate, therefore, that we can refer the incredulous to the book itself — if “seeing is believing,” reading can prove no less so.

The former and more popular works of DICKENS are to be regarded as successions of sketches, rather than as completed and harmonious wholes. The plot was in every instance made subordinate to the characters. Amid the quaint touches of humor, the shrewd observation of actualities, and the all-pervading pathos with which DICKENS imbued his creations, we forgot to follow the thread of the story; and a critical examination at its close invariably assured us that at times the author had also forsaken the clue. It was the embarrassment of riches exemplified. In Great Expectations, however, DICKENS has mastered his wealth. He disburses his treasures as liberally as ever, but more judiciously. We have the same powerful delineations of character, the same strength and glory of color, the same vigorous contrasts of light and shade, but the whole is better managed; regard is had for the picture in its entirety, as well as for the effect of particular portions of the canvas. And the consequence is, that the work is one to challenge criticism.


It would be difficult to imrove the plot in its conception, more difficult still to say in what manner it might have been better managed. From the introduction of the story, where we find “Pip” and his convict in the churchyard, until the moment that we take leave of them, the plot progresses in so natural and apparently unstudied a manner, that the reader asks himself in vain: What should the author have added, what should he have taken away? Our interest is enlisted at the first tap of expectancy, nor is it dismissed the service until the completion of the volume.


A new round of characters has been created, and much of their conversation is quotable. “Barkis,” “Mrs. Gamp,” the respected “Mr. Pecksniff,” and other of our old acquaintances must look to their laurels. We have an especial favorite in ‘Joe Gargery,” good, honest, tender-hearted, strong-armed “Joe,” with his confused English, but his ever unconfused notions of right and wrong, and his unfailing devotion to vacillating and rather unworthy “Pip.” “Is that you, dear Joe?” asks the latter when he wakes from a trance of fever, to find a strong hand clasping his emaciated digits. “Which it air, Pip, old chap,” replies the ever constant “Joe.” How we sympathize with the patient man while his impatient spouse is “on the ram-page,” and how we think that her punishment would have been a deserved one had the villainous “Orlick” dealt stripe instead of that brutal blow, which spoilt ” a fine figure of a woman, she were, Pip.” Apropos of this “Orlick,” his is the most unartistic character in the book, and also the most unnecessary. For his crime there seems no adequate motive, and we rather suspect he is brought on the stage simply to be used as a means, in the hand of Providence, for delivering the worthy “Joe” from the troublesome “rampages” of his wife. “Miss Havisham,” in a literal sense, may be objected to as an exaggerated and impossible character. The faded and withered bridal dress, the accessory stocking, — worn unwashed and unremoved for years, — the mouldering bridal feast, the apartments whence the light of day and the faintest approach to a breath of fresh air were so carefully excluded, all these musty luxuries would have been swept away by friends and physicians even at the cost of a commission de lunatico inquirendo. The faded bridal silk would have been exchanged for wholesome flannel, the stockings would have been changed, and a general ventilation and fumigation of the apartments effected. But we fancy the author did not mean that the accessories with which he shrouded this lady should be literally understood. The withered and moldering surroundings are typical, they indicate that the woman’s life was in the past; that the current of her life, all pulsations of her heart in sympathy with the outer world, stopped when the clocks in the house were stopped by her command, on the bridal morning, so long ago.

In Great Expectations we joy to find that the cunning hand which drew “Little Nell,” and so many other pleasant portraitures of the brain, is not yet paralyzed, and that we may look forward to additional pleasures from the same source. The mine is not exhausted, — its boundless wealth becomes now plainly apparent, and we await with greater expectations than before what the future shall unearth. An illustrated edition of the book is published by T.B. PETERSON & BROTHERS, of Philadelphia.

The New York Times (New York, New York) Aug 19, 1861

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One Response to “Great Expectations for ‘Great Expectations’”

  1. Kathy Says:

    love this web site!

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