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Great Expectations: A Fable Reading Guide to the Classic Charles Dickens Novel

Great Expectations
The Jim Beaver Book Club has just started reading “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. The actor best known as Ellsworth on HBO’s Deadwood and Bobby Singer on Supernatural has loved this book since high school. “I first read Great Expectations in 9th Grade advanced English class,” explained Jim Beaver. “I was already a voracious reader, and ‘Great Expectations’ hooked me from the first sequence. Storytelling is one of the most primal actions of humankind, and no one, I think, does it better more consistently than Dickens.”
Read Great Expectations with the Jim Beaver Book Club!

Why does Great Expectations matter today?

Born more than 200 years ago in England, Charles Dickens was a bestselling Victorian novelist and a vocal social critic. His astute social commentary, vivid characterization, timeless themes, and insights into human behavior still inspire contemporary readers.The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Barbara Kingsolver recently adapted the story of Dickens’ David Copperfield for modern readers in “Demon Copperhead.” That novel proves how Dickens can still make us recognize systemic injustices and strive for a better world. The books subreddit is filled with people who loved the book as well! One Reddit user highlighted Dickens’ ability to connect all the characters and tie everything together in the end. Another reader saw the book as an excellent guide to London and social life during the 19th Century.“I LOVE Great Expectations. I am in love with Charles Dickens in general because of his ability to tie everything together in the end ... He even took in his audience’s opinion into account while continuing the story, which is why Great Expectations has two endings-- be sure that your copy has both. It’s so interesting, since so few books’ alternate endings thought out by the author have been published.”Jim Beaver added these thoughts for readers in his book club:

"It's just plain fun to read Dickens.  His social commentary, his asides, his extremely subtle sarcasm, are a delight to read and often wildly funny, even in the midst of tragic or frightful scenes.  He has a power of language and phrasing that is inimitable, though often imitated in his time.  I find myself thinking frequently, 'How did he manage to phrase that line so magnificently entertainingly?'  His characters are some of the most beautifully detailed and distinct in all literature, and practically any one of them could be the protagonist of a novel of their own."  

Great Expectations on Hulu

That’s the trailer for the new Great Expectations adaptation on Hulu, starring Fionn Whitehead, Olivia Colman, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Ashley Thomas, and Johnny Harris. Here’s more about the series that reframes the story for modern audiences:

"A coming-of-age story of an orphan, Pip, who yearns for a greater lot in life until a twist of fate shows him a dark world of possibilities. He is forced to contend with the true cost of this new world and if it will make him the man he wishes to be."

Quotes from Great Expectations

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule.” ― Charles Dickens

“In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.” ― Charles Dickens

“Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces – and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper – love her, love her, love her!” ― Charles Dickens

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” ― Charles Dickens

“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”― Charles Dickens

“I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.” ― Charles Dickens

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before--more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.” ― Charles Dickens

“You are in every line I have ever read.” ― Charles Dickens

“We need never be ashamed of our tears.” ― Charles Dickens

What is Great Expectations about?

The novel focuses on the intertwined lives of several characters. Our hero is Pip, who journeys from poverty into the higher classes as the story progresses. Along the way, he meets Miss Havisham, an unhappy woman living in a decaying mansion, constantly dwelling in the past. Her adopted daughter is Estella, who is struggling to form healthier relationships. Finally, the story hinges upon Abel Magwitch, an escaped convict who is one of Dickens’ most significant characters -- evolving from a villain into a transformative agent.We asked Fable Coach, our helpful AI reading companion, for some thoughts about the novel. I’ve adapted some of that commentary.“Great Expectations explores themes of class, ambition, and personal growth. Set in 19th-century England, the story follows the journey of Pip, a young orphan boy who dreams of becoming a gentleman. The plot centers around Pip’s unexpected encounter with an escaped convict named Magwitch, and his subsequent meeting with the mysterious and eccentric Miss Havisham, who lives in a decaying mansion and wears a wedding dress frozen in time. Through these encounters, Pip develops great expectations about his own future and aspires to rise above his humble origins.”Our AI reading companion also highlighted how the themes of the novel still resonate today:

"Dickens explores the emptiness of pursuing superficial goals and encourages readers to consider the value of authentic relationships and personal growth. Pip's self-discovery and realization of the true meaning of his expectations are themes that resonate with contemporary readers, as many of us grapple with questions of identity, purpose, and belonging in an ever-changing world."

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