Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

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  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Given my recent emphasis on Victorian Literature, I don’t think it would surprise you to know I’ve enjoyed all the Charles Dickens novels I’ve read thus far. A Christmas Carol (discussed here) is one I have read regularly during the holidays since I was a teenager, and while I didn’t love the other Christmas novellas, my recent readings of Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities were both enjoyable experiences, although the later was not a favorite.

But from the very beginning, when a young boy in a graveyard meets a stranger in irons one Christmas Eve, I was hooked on Great Expectations (first published 1860-1861). From that first scene, it began to be a new favorite novel. I found that I wanted to read slower so the unfolding story would be prolonged and thus the intense enjoyment of the unknown would be extended. That didn’t quite happen: I couldn’t wait to keep reading and I read the book quickly.

As with Dickens’ other novels, the plot of Great Expectations revolves around conveniences. From the perspective of the poor young orphan Pip, Dickens follows his experiences as he comes into money and becomes a “gentleman.” Characters return when least expected and everything ties together nicely in the end. But such conveniences make a tidy novel, and I loved how in Great Expectations I knew that nothing was to be taken for granted. It was not just well crafted but completely enjoyable.

I was quite interested by the role of money in Victorian England, and since Great Expectations dealt with a poor boy who becomes rich, it was especially apparent in this novel. As with the other Victorian books I read this summer, there was a large economic disparity among the people. For the poor, 25 pounds was a fortune. Some only made 50 pounds in a year. On the other hand, for the rich, five hundred pounds was easily spent without too much guilt, for it was readily available (to some extent). Victorian England, then, seemed full of inequalities. Pip’s experiences carefully illustrated those differences.

As a coming-of-age story, Great Expectations at times frustrated me. Even though I could understand Pip’s reactions, I didn’t want to like him, for example, as he forgot his simple but dear brother-in-law Joe Gargery, who had cared for him during the hard times. It was impossible not to like Pip, though, for he was a universal “everyman” making choices that may be similar to those I would have made, faults and all. All comes full circle, and Pip learns from mistakes. Great Expectations is fully satisfying. I was tempted to begin again immediately upon finishing, but I’ve decided to wait a while first.

Author Lloyd Jones obviously enjoys Charles Dickens and the novel Great Expectations in particular. But his novel Mister Pip (published 2006) even more celebrates the power of the written word and story in our everyday life. Matilda is a teenager on a small forgotten Pacific island that is ravaged by Civil War. Pop Eye (aka Mr Watts), the last white man on the island, steps in to teach the school and does so by reading the children Great Expectations every day. As the children on the island immerse themselves in the foreign world of Victorian London, they find that Pip’s story in a distant and unknown world helps them cope through the horrors of their daily life.

The situations the islanders face are horrific: one should be aware that the book contains brutality and rape in it, albeit tactfully written about (if such subjects are actually able to be carefully approached, I think he did so). Yet Pip’s coming-of-age story was a comfort to the children in the school, and when life got too hard for these children who had nothing, they could mentally escape to Victorian London and ponder Pip’s plight. The Mister Pip of the title could refer to their teacher (Mr Watts) or Matilda and the other children. He was their “everyman”

If the novel has a fault, it is that it ends rather abruptly. I was not satisfied with the last fifty pages of Matilda’s story, as Lloyd Jones parallels her story to Pip’s. But as I mentioned, the majority of the book focused on the power of story, and I loved that. If you likewise appreciate the power of story in helping one find peace, you may enjoy Mister Pip. You should read Great Expectations first, however, as Mister Pip is full of Dickens’s plot details.

I enjoyed Mister Pip for the most part, but I won’t be returning to it. No, when I next feel the craving, I want to be taken away to Victorian London in the pages of Dickens’s masterpiece: Great Expectations. Just like Matilda, I loved it.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. I admit, of the three Dickens novels I’ve read (A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, and Great Expectations), this is the only one I’ve liked. Especially now, comparing it to Bleak House, it is so much better! Better in terms of characterization, plot, prose, everything. Bleak House has pretty much deterred me from ever reading anything else by Dickens, but I will definitely keep Great Expectations in mind as the one exception to the rule.

    1. Amanda, despite the fact that you dont’ like Bleak House, I still am looking forward to it since I know Karen at Books and Chocolate loves it! I’m glad you at least like this one, though. I do think it a very accessible book, for the most part!

  2. great review. i think i read “great expectations” in high school…or middle school…it’s one of those books that just slipped off once I graduated. (I guess that’s about every book I read back then, though.) I’ll be putting it back on my reading list.

  3. Alas, Dickens is one of my hated authors. Well, “hate” is probably too strong of a word, but I really don’t enjoy his writing at all. I’ve tried to read this book several times, and each time I just fail to care at all about it, I hate Pip, and I stop well before the halfway point. I want to like it and read it, really I do, but I just can’t!

    1. Steph, ah to each her own. I’m surprise that this book was one that didn’t work for you. I like Pip — I guess I see myself in him, even though I certainly hope I would have reacted differently and not been meant to poor Joe!

  4. This is my favorite Dickens as far as writing goes. It’s sarcastic and witty, but with fewer words than the usual. My favorite story of his is David Copperfield. I think I’m due for a reread soon!
    I have not even heard of Mister Pip but it sounds like I would enjoy it.

  5. I tried listening to the audio version of Great Expectations last year on a road trip home but it’s not ideal for a drive through the middle of nowhere. I do have the book on my pile at home though, because I do want to read it.

    1. Suzanne, I actually started this one on audio — via librivox download. And it was wonderful! But I wanted to know what would happen next so I turned to the book. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

  6. I did enjoy Mister Pip and (I’ll whisper this very quietly) more than I enjoyed Great Expectations. But I’m peculiar in that I prefer 19th century fiction when it comes from just about anywhere but Britain. It was doing all those modern languages at school! But the books make a lovely comparison and a great review – thank you REbecca – it’s lovely to have you back posting again!

    1. litlove, ah, I definitely prefer to the old books over the new and I’ve been reading lots of Victorian English lit this summer. I’m glad Mister Pip worked for you too. It wasn’t a favorite for me, but I’m glad I read it close on the heels of Mr Dickens story.

  7. Great Expectations is among my most favorite novels of all time. I love Pip in spite of his failings and all the characters are just so fantastic. Mr. Wemmick and the Aged make me laugh every time. I have not yet read Mr. Pip but my husband who puts Great Expectations at number one on his list of favorites has and he liked it but wasn’t bowled over by it. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Dickens novel. I think it is getting to be time I try to fit one into my reading plans.

  8. I too did Dickens in high school and I cannot remember whether I enjoyed it very much. But, I do love Victorian based literature as an adult – so maybe I should go back to it now.

  9. Great Expectations is definitely a big favorite of mine, as with several other commenters. I feel like Dickens surpassed himself with Pip – he lets him become so unsympathetic in the middle part of the plot, yet he’s so likable in the beginning and is allowed to redeem himself in the end. That middle section seems like a big risk for a writer whose characters are (in my opinion) often a tad undynamic. And all the supporting characters are so much fun: Pumblechook and Wemmick, Joe Gargery, and Miss Havisham of course!

    1. Emily, I feel the same way about Pip. Even though he was somewhat awful int he middle, I still couldn’t help liking him! I also loved the “supporting characters.” when I first met Miss Havisham I thought I’d met her already because I’d heard the name — but she was so much more interesting than I’d ever imagined!

  10. Great Expectations is also my favourite Dickens. I can’t imagine anyone not loving it, but apparently there are always two sides to it, the ones who adore Dickens and the ones who can’t stand him! David Copperfield is my second fave. Definitely will be reading more (maybe all?) of his books! ANd by the way, Rebecca, I’m so happy your blogging break was short. It was so nice seeing your name pop up in the comments on my blog! Missed you!

    1. Claire, yes, I couldn’t stay away 🙂 I’m with you on not imagining anyone NOT loving it but I’m finding that what I love is often quite different from the majority of the world. And apparently Dickens is always a touch and go. I’m glad to hear another that likes David Copperfield. I’ll have to get to that one (along with all the Dickens. I just like his books so much for the most part!!).

  11. I recently re-read Great Expectations and I agree with you that while I wanted the book to never end and read it slowly, I could not put it down! I read the book initially in middle school and DID NOT LIKE IT. But as I have evolved over the years and my power of understanding and appreciation have increased (I hope!:)) I really liked revisiting this book. In fact liked is an understatement. I know that Pip is not always likeable and Estella in fact makes one wonder about incomplete childhood and the choices that stem from it; but in the end the coming of age is so well done! It’s now one of my all-time favorites.

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