Review: Great Expectations

by Nov 13, 2014Books3 comments

Great ExpectationsGreat Expectations by Charles Dickens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book because blogger Justin Taylor said professor Leland Ryken said I should. I was not disappointed. A few of the many coincidences stretched my ability to be immersed in the world Dickens created, but they did not break that ability. It was the characters who, though sometimes painted in extreme colors, kept me immersed. Dickens’ send-up of high-society toadies was hilarious. I was also deeply affected by Joe’s grace to Pip, and by Biddy’s wisdom. Who cannot see the grace of God reflected in those characters? And I felt Pip’s rocky experience with fortune was a valuable picture.

Reading stories isn’t just about distilling morals, it’s about that immersion. But the world you see when you’re immersed in Dickens is a moral one, and if there is a moral to this particular story, I think I got it. Mixing up two biblical proverbs: “Better is a little with righteousness than great treasure and trouble with it” (Prov. 16:8). The great expectations we sometimes entertain that our ship will come in fail to recognize that ships carry rats and disease in our fallen world, and not just cargo. The Greeks knew that stories shape us precisely because of the moral worlds they create. We should know it as well, and it’s a mark of the common grace of God that an unconverted man, living however in a Christ-haunted culture, could produce tales of such moral worth—and sheer enjoyment.

Simon Prebble, the reader of the Blackstone audio book I listened to (from, was absolutely world class. His British accents were sumptuous and grating as the situation required, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to experience this book.

I did get the audio book for 99 cents (see Taylor’s post for more info), and I mostly listened to the book while driving, doing laundry, and feeding a beautiful newborn boy whose life, I pray, will benefit from a family stability Pip did not enjoy.

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  1. Don Johnson

    A great book. Dickens changed the ending under the protests of his friends, the original had Pip and Estella never getting together, which probably would have been a little less contrived and more realistic. However, Dickens is one I return to again and again.

    Unfortunately, I also am aware of Dickens’ own spiritual tragedy, having apparently rejected the gospel at a very young age. I have a biography in my library which describes Dickens as a young boy living next door to a Baptist preacher, even attending services at the Baptist church at times, but decidedly rejecting what the preacher taught. His personal life unfolded tragically in consequence.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Mark Ward

    Yeah, I read about the multiple endings on Wikipedia, and the audio book I listened to explained its history and included the original ending. Very interesting.

  3. mitrellim

    Mark, I am presently reading the book as well! However, I have been doing so old-school 🙂 Dickens has made me laugh much more than I anticipated (Joe pouring the gravy, any passage about Mrs. Joe before the attack, the description of Joe’s church dress, etc.), and he has made me feel like I have really understood the internal motivations of the characters (Joe as humble, loving, and simple [yet proud of his simplicity]). I will admit, though, that I believe I would not have enjoyed this book at any point before 25. There seems to be a maturity required, but perhaps that is just an expression of my own immaturity.