Our book today is certainly a visual treat: it’s the new Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens with deckle edges, French flaps, and an eye-catching wrap-around cover by Tom Haugomat, who faithfully signposts the novel’s most famous imagery: a boy in a graveyard, figures in a boat, sooty London, etc. This edition opens with an Introduction by English professor and Victorianist Tanya Agathocleous, who does her best and yet still sounds fairly exhausted:

At once haunting, moving, and hilarious, Great Expectations is a novel not easily forgotten. Along with its doomed romances and dramatic revelations, the novel is also memorable for its engagement with pressing social issues of the day, such as the transportation of convicts to Australia, the alienating nature of urban life, and the harshness and corruption of the justice system.

And is it any wonder? Not only has Great Expectations been reprinted 40,000 times in 40,000 editions since it first started appearing in serialized penguin great expectationsinstallments in 1860, but it was exhausting even before those editions, Dickens pumping away at full, shameless volume in order to boost the circulation of his magazine, All the Year Round. He had every reason to write purple prose at speed and without even the serious thought of reflection or revision; he knew exactly the kind of hyperventilating caricature-prose his readers would line up to buy, and in Great Expectations he delivers it in great slopping buckets.

A caustic old American critic half a century ago, having managed to reach early middle age without having read Great Expectations and then finally buckling down to it (for a paid piece on the book’s 100th anniversary, naturally), was for years fond of quipping, “I know novelists love to be Dickensian, but honestly.” But hard-core fans – this author has always had them and always will – will love ogling this new edition.

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