Orphan Pip’s rise through society thanks to his mysterious benefactor wins poll by comfortable margin
The author himself might have preferred David Copperfield, but Guardian readers have voted for Great Expectations as their favouriteCharles Dickens novel.
Pip’s adventures won 24.9% of the reader poll, well ahead of the second-placed Bleak House with 16.9%. David Copperfield, which Dickens called his “favourite child”, was third with 9.2% of the vote.
From its famous opening in the graveyard, when the orphan Pip first encounters the shackled convict Magwitch, “a fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg”, through his meetings with the bitter Miss Havisham and the cold Estella, and his rise through society thanks to a mysterious benefactor, Great Expectations is, said voter gavinscottw, “not only – as others have observed – formally the most ingenious of the novels – but perhaps Dickens’s most morally angry work”.
Others were less impressed by the novel, and put its popularity down to the fact that “people are made to read it in school, so it’s the only one they’ve read”, said VaneWimsey, an Our Mutual Friend supporter. “It’s sooo thin and long-drawn-out. And Estella is just plain nasty. Don’t know what Pip sees in her. First crush, maybe … great love of anyone’s life, no way.”
Great Expectations’ place on school reading lists can’t be the only reason for its triumph, however, with the school perennial Oliver Twist only picking up 4.6% of the readers’ votes. Pip’s place in readers’ affections was also attributed to the wealth of film and television adaptations which have been made of the novel over the years. A new version from BBC One starring David Suchet as Jaggers, Ray Winstone as Magwitch and Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham is out for Christmas, and a new film adapted by One Day novelist David Nichollsstarring Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch is due to start shooting shortly.
“I suspect that’s one reason why Great Expectations is such a popular novel. Readers grow up with it,” wrote Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in the Guardian. “It’s probably also why so many of them sympathise with Pip, whose narrative voice involves the perspective of a wide-eyed child coming up against that of his wiser, sadder adult self. Anyone who first reads the story as a child and returns to it in later years is likely to feel a similar mixture of nostalgia and relief. But it isn’t only individual readers who have grown up with Great Expectations. Our culture has too. Dickens once claimed that David Copperfield was his ‘favourite child’ and that Great Expectations was a close second. It’s no coincidence that both novels are about how easily children can be warped or damaged, but of the two it is the shorter, sharper Great Expectations that has aged better.”
Despite a glowing user review from Jane Smiley, which saw the Pulitzer prize-winning author call it “one of my two or three favourite novels of all time”, praising its “magical” prose and “perfect blending of story and style”, Our Mutual Friend only picked up 6.5% of readers’ votes. “Where’s the love for Our Mutual Friend?” asked voter VaneWimsey, describing the author’s final complete novel as “the great masterwork of Dickens’s maturity”.
The least popular Dickens novel was, unsurprisingly, his unfinished final work The Mystery of Edwin Drood, with 0.8% of the vote, narrowly behind Martin Chuzzlewit (1%), The Old Curiosity Shop (1.2%) and Nicholas Nickleby (1.8%).
Your favourite Dickens novels: the result in full
A Christmas Carol 7.4%
A Tale of Two Cities 8.7%
Barnaby Rudge 4.6%
Bleak House 16.9%
David Copperfield 9.2%
Dombey and Son 1.9%
Great Expectations 24.9%
Hard Times 2.9%
Little Dorrit 3.6%
Our Mutual Friend 6.5%
Oliver Twist 4.6%
Martin Chuzzlewit 1%
Nicholas Nickleby 1.8%
The Mystery of Edwin Drood 0.8%
The Old Curiosity Shop 1.2%