I don’t usually make it a point to agree with my dad. Not that he has bad taste or anything; I just don’t want to borrow all my opinions from him. I want my own opinions, you know? But with Dickens, I’m really starting to agree with my dad.
Dad loves/hates Charles Dickens. He loves the story lines. He loves the side characters. (Ask him about Fagin sometime. He’ll go on for hours.) But he absolutely can’t stand the main characters. Not because they’re terrible people. They’re just terrible characters. They’re barely there.
Remember how Twilight was about a girl who did absolutely nothing, but still somehow attracted every boy around her? Take that, but without the attractive element, and you’ve got Great Expectations. It’s a brilliant story about a no-account kid named Pip who’s destined to be an illiterate blacksmith, but then suddenly he’s informed that he’s been given a small fortune and the opportunity for an education. He spends the next few hundred pages navigating adventures, mysteries, prison-breaks, and romance. But he has absolutely no spine, and no personality to speak of. He is hopelessly in love with a girl he knows doesn’t like him. But he doesn’t do anything about it except pine for her. He has lots of opinions, which he keeps to himself, and which change dramatically based on the person who most recently spoke with him. He has absolutely no emotional control over himself, no idea how to spend his money, and really no purpose in life. And by the end of the book… he’s really not any different than when he started. Except he now has a greater appreciation for his brother-in-law.
Having said (ranted) all of that, I would still recommend the book. (I know, right?) But here’s why Dickens is still incredible. For starters, he has the same skill Victor Hugo has for making side characters. Every single person, with or without a name, has a backstory, a purpose, and will probably show up again. And even though I already know that, I still get surprised. Not every person is equally important to the story, of course, but there are no unimportant characters.
Also, if you can ignore how hopeless Pip is, you’ll see a lot of other characters grow and change around him. There are some really complex timelines going on, and every character is intertwined with at least a few others in ways you would never expect. And while Pip is a sniveling chowderhead throughout the book, his love interest has some really deep-seeded psychological problems—that she fully recognizes—that she has to grapple with.
If you enjoy any Victorian-era books, I’d say go ahead and pick up Great Expectations. But make fun of Pip the whole way, or you’ll go crazy.