In 1861, The Atlantic Monthly, a cultural and literary magazine based in Boston, wrote a critical review of Charles Dickens’ newest novel of the time, Great Expectations. The unknown author of this article begins by praising the “conscious genius” of Charles Dickens. The author surmises that the very title denotes this by saying that “such a title might have been a good device to attract attention; but the most famous novelist of the day, watched by jealous rivals and critics, could hardly have selected it, had he not inwardly felt the capacity to meet all the expectations he raised” (1). His “conscious genius” plays a major role in “stimulating and baffling the curiosity of his readers” (1). Each new turn makes the readers wonder in amazement.
Next the author discusses the plot of the story. The author notices two tendencies which are harmonized in the novel’s plot. These are: “a singularly wide, clear, and minute power of accurate observation … and is opposed or controlled by the strong tendency of his disposition to pathetic or humorous idealization” (1). The article also comments on how characters are described as caricatures.
Throughout the article, the author describes Great Expectations in respect to his previous novels as if they or his critics had mastery over him. He has learned that he can’t simply narrate as a “mere looker-on” but uses observation as the basis of his plot. Along with G.K. Chesterton in another article, this author compares Dickens’ writing style with that of Thackeray. The final part of the article deals with the auspicious characters of Dickens’ novel. The author praises Dickens for creating original characters, none of which “may excite the personal interest which clings to Sam Weller or little Dombey, they are better fitted to each other and the story in which they appear than is usual with Dickens” (1). Pip is described in great detail as one whose character is “delineated” throughout the novel. The article ends with their conviction that this novel is a masterpiece and they look forward to reading more “romances” from Dickens.
After reading and thinking about this article, I would agree with some of the things this article said about the genius of Charles Dickens; his gift as a novelist is incredible yet this novel does not agree with my literary palate; it is much too dark and unredemptive. I would therefore agree with the article’s statement that Dickens was a conscious genius. I would also agree with the novel’s statement that Dickens’ caricaturist description of characters is very humorous. However, I would disagree with the article when it calls the novel a “romance” numerous times. While this novel may have some “romantic” elements with Biddy and Estella (both instances resulted in failures on Pip’s part), I felt the novel was more of a dramatic comedy or tragedy and had more to do with social status and class distinction than love. This may be a “roman” in the eyes of Frenchman but it has little to do with romantic interest. I would disagree with the article in one more respect; the article states that Great Expectations is a masterpiece. Due to my distaste for the darkness, despair, unhappy ending, and choppy plot line in the novel, I must place Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities first due to its engaging plot and redemptive ending. Such is my opinion of this article.