My Expectations Were a Bit Greater


Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, 1861

There are few gracious ways to express distaste or rejection. I learned one from a Cuban house-guest who returned a bowl of Cheerios to my mother, saying “This is very good, but I don’t like it.” What better way to state that something may be excellent, yet not suit your personal taste?

Regarding Great Expectations, I would like to quote William Suarez and say “This is very good, but I don’t like it.” I know I will get comments defending the book, and that’s great. I get far more indignant comments on negative reviews than I get approving comments on positive ones. Which is wonderful. I am glad people love works of classic literature enough to sign up for whatever type of account you need to post a wordpress comment and register their discontent with my discontent. Preach. I’m glad you like Great Expectations and I wish I did too.

Here’s why I should like it:

  • Miss Havisham, withering eternally in her bridal garb, is an iconic, symbolic character of the first order. She is near the top of the list of characters who seize the imagination.
  • The book has all the stylistic elements of Dickens that I love in his other works, including quirky, foible-filled characters, that dark humor, and the trope of the sweet kid whose morality is threatened by corrupt adults.
  • Wemmick’s devotion to his Aged Parent and the whimsical contraptions he devises to entertain the old fellow are delightful, endearing and uplifting.

Here are the personal reasons, particular to me, that I don’t like Great Expectations:

  • I do not enjoy seeing Pip turn his back on the poor, humble people who love him unconditionally in favor of rich, proud Estella and Miss Havisham. I know that this is his flaw and characters should have flaws. I know that this is only part of his character arc. But, he behaves like an avaricious coward for the majority of the book and I don’t get any pleasure out of knowing about him or his exploits. It hurts me to see him turn his back on Joe Gargery. It doesn’t hurt good, it just hurts.
  • The moral of Miss Havisham’s character does not resonate with me, because it’s too obvious. Of course you should not shut yourself up in your crumbling mansion and never see the light of day again. Of course you should not allow the worst thing that ever happened to you become the defining element of your life, thus making yourself a permanent shrine to a temporary pain and exaggerating the weight of the original insult until you blight your own happiness far more effectively than the bloke who jilted you. I don’t need a heavy-handed allegory to teach me that.
  • Pip and Estella are viewed as a classic love story, but I can’t get into it. Given that they are both victims of Miss Havisham’s ridiculous agenda, I concede it’s nice that they could find a type of shelter in each other. But, I fundamentally don’t care about them or their romance. Perhaps Estella’s not responsible for her wretched personality, but she’s still simply the worst. I can’t feel joy at the prospect of anyone being tied to her for life. Pip is slightly more likable, but only slightly. After dragging myself through 300 pages of his spinelessness and greed, I can’t muster up any concern for his marriage prospects.

For the record, I read Great Expectations three times. People I respect said that they love it, so I kept trying to see what they saw, and I came to the conclusion that they were right, Great Expectations is very good. But, I don’t like it.

You might like Great Expectations if:

  • you’re any literature lover but me.

You might not like Great Expectations if:

  • your tastes are remarkably similar to mine.

Final Thoughts: Bring it on. Tell me why I’m wrong and crazy. I already concede that I’m in the wrong for not liking this book, but I’m more than happy for you to

2 thoughts on “My Expectations Were a Bit Greater

  1. Arrgghhh I replied and I think my post vanished. I will start again, sorry if it comes up twice.
    I am not agreeing with you in some parts and agreeing in others. I love this book, but maybe it is because I read it first 42 years ago and loved the story then and have always loved it since. Sometimes books just become old friends and you can’t analyse them dispassionately anymore.
    I think Pip is like a lot of us (well me) in that we do things we are ashamed of in our foolish youth..thoughtless stuff that we brush aside until we look back and realise. It is awful about Joe I agree, it is painful to watch and painful to remember our own mistakes…so I agree but I don’t dislike Pip for it so much.
    I don’t think Pip and Estelle are a great romance I think it is an excellent portrayal of hopeless foolish besotted love. There are two endings of the book and I like the one where they don’t end up together..I love that estelle is such a cow tho..and I don’t think she is moulded to be that way by miss H. I think she has just been let free to be her nasty self.
    I agree miss H character is a bit obvious and unrealistic…but I do think there are bitter people out there, disappointed and just horrible through and through and that can lead to them being deeply unkind to others. My MIL was one although she is a bit extreme I think she fits and a bitter disappointed lady out to upset others.
    I absolutely LOVE the aged P..he has become part of my family..he crops up all the time in our conversations..
    I love the humour in the is gentle, dark but human
    I love Jaggers ….I met a lawyer once just like him, he even chewed his finger..I am sure he tried to emulate Jaggers.
    I love the misty marsh scene and the getting of the file and Wittles at the beginning. So atmospheric and so like the area I lived when I read the book as a young teenager.
    I don’t know…maybe it is just that great expectations and I are mates…for all our faults and I have to support it as a good mate should…mind you if I was pip, and someone offered me a golden future I might still be tempted to turn my back on the old mate….(NOT REALLY)

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