Howard Jacobsen, The Guardian
How Charles Dickens was able to lower himself into the black depths of the soul and still make us laugh is one of literature’s great wonders. He took us where no other novelist ever has. And not only on account of what he wrote, but on account of his bridging the chasm between the serious and the popular, I consider Dickens to be our finest writer after Shakespeare.
David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend – beat that for an achievement. As for Great Expectations, it is up there for me with the world’s greatest novels, not least as it vindicates plot as no other novel I can think of does, since what there is to find out is not coincidence or happenstance but the profoundest moral truth. Back, back we go in time and convolution, only to discover that the taint of crime and prison which Pip is desperate to escape is inescapable: not only is the idea of a “gentleman” built on sand, so is that idealisation of woman that was at the heart of Victorian romantic love.
Great Expectations, in short, is a more damning account of the mess Dickens himself had made of love than any denunciation on behalf of the outraged wives club could ever be. Missing from the usual attack on Dickens’s marital heartlessness is any comprehension of the tragedy of it for Mr as well as Mrs Dickens, the derangement he suffered contemplating his own weaknesses, and its significance for the murderous, self-punishing novels he began to write.
You don’t have to like him, but you’re impoverished if you don’t. Read Jacobson’s scathing rebuke of what the BBC has done to Dickens, most notably, Great Expectations …