What is it about Great Expectations (1861) that makes it seem indispensable? Can it be its hero, Pip’s, search for a liveable identity? The small, terrified, often bullied child gets a glimpse of ‘the quality’ albeit in desuetude, becomes dissatisfied with being a blacksmith, receives the eponymous expectations, and tries to become a gentleman before settling for a more modest role and coming to a truer sense of what matters about human beings. Is it also a question of marvelling at how lives can be manipulated? When the child Pip, out of terror rather than altruism, helps a runaway convict on the Kentish marshes, his life is upheaved by Magwitch’s gratitude. The child Estella, whose origin is unknown until late in the book, is raised by the embittered, jilted Miss Havisham to wreak revenge on the male sex. Structurally and thematically, this may be Dickens’s most potent work, with everything seeming to bear on these central concerns.
Brian McFarlane’s latest book is Four from the Forties: Arliss, Crabtree, Knowles and Huntington, Manchester: MUP, 2018. He has had three overlapping careers, as teacher, academic, and writer. He is the author or editor of over twenty books and hundreds of articles and reviews on film and literature and related matters. He co-edited The Oxford Companion to Australian Film and was compiler, editor and chief author of The Encyclopedia of British Film. His most recent books include: Twenty British Films: A guided tour and Double-Act: The remarkable lives and careers of Googie Withers and John McCallum. He is currently serving as Adjunct Professor at Swinburne University of Technology and as Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University.
From the New Issue
Future Proof: How to build resilience in an uncertain world by Jon CoaffeeReviewed by Tom Bamforth
Lettersby Margaret Simons, Angela Woollacott, David Bradford, Michael K. Launer, and Sheila Fitzpatrick
Almost Human: A biography of Julius the chimpanzee by Alfred FidjestølReviewed by Nicholas Bugeja