On Great Expectations | OUPblog

Miss Havisham, Estelle and Pip

Great Expectations is arguably Charles Dickens’s finest novel – it has a more cogent, concise plot and a more authentic narrator than the other contender for that title, the sprawling masterpiece Bleak House. It may also enjoy another special distinction – Best Title for Any Novel Ever. Certainly, it might have served as the name for any of Dickens’s other novels, as the critic G. K. Chesterson has noted before me. “All of his books are full of an airy and yet ardent expectation of everything … of the next event, of the next ecstasy; of the next fulfillment of any eager human fancy,” wrote Chesterson. What’s more, it might have been used for a number of the best novels written by any author – American novels in particular. Think of The Great Gatsby, Absalom, Absalom, Invisible Man, or Revolutionary Road. The same goes for Saul Bellow’s short tour de force, Seize the Day, or that of Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle. But think too of Balzac’s novel Lost Illusions, nearly a synonym for Dickens’s phrase, or another French book, Madame Bovary. Think of all the works of Jane Austen, with the various expectations that so many characters in every one of her books have about who should marry whom. And on and on.

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