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Discussion questions for Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The third season of the Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group has now come to a close, but the fun isn’t over yet. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst will be answering your Dickens questions LIVE on Twitter on Friday 25th September at 3pm GMT (11am EST). Tweet your questions to @owc_oxford with the #OWCReads hashtag and Robert will answer them on Friday.

We’re just over a fortnight away from the end of our third season of the Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group. It’s still not too late to join us as we follow the story of young Pip and his great expectations. If you’re already stuck in with #OWCReads, these discussion questions will help you get the most out of the text. They come courtesy of the co-editor of the OWC edition of Great Expectations, Professor Robert Douglas-Fairhurst of Madgalen College, Oxford.

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  1. Why do you think Dickens revised the ending to his novel? Which version to you prefer?”
  2.  Much of Great Expectations revolves around money, especially what it can and cannot buy. Are there any values other than economic ones in the novel?
  3. The narrator we hear is simultaneously the younger Pip who is experiencing the events and the older Pip who is remembering them. How do these two voices work alongside (or against) each other?
  4. In David Copperfield, Dickens tells us that ‘trifles make the sum of life’. Which parts of Great Expectations are most important? How successfully do individual details fit into the novel as a whole?
  5. At one point Pip refers to events coming to life in his memory ‘like a stain that was faded but not gone’. Is there any escape from the past in Great Expectations?
  6. Dickens’s notes for his earlier novel The Old Curiosity Shop included the reminder to ‘Keep the child in view’. How successfully does Great Expectations capture the way a child thinks and feels?
  7. After Pip first meets Estella, he enjoys thinking of himself as the hero of a fairy tale who will rescue her from Satis House. But as he discovers later, he is living out a different kind of plot. How many different stories are working alongside each other in the novel? Is it a comedy? A tragedy? A romance? Something else?
  8. Great Expectations originally appeared in weekly instalments. What effect does it have on the story if you can only read one small portion of it at a time?
  9. Dickens’s novel has often been adapted for the screen. What are some of the problems that a screenwriter or director would face in turning Great Expectations into a film or television mini-series?
  10. Dickens often played around with different titles before he chose the one he eventually printed on the first page. If you had to choose another title for Great Expectations, what would it be?

Don’t forget, you can follow along, and join in the conversation by following us on Twitter and Facebook, and by using the hashtag #OWCreads.

Featured image: Victorian living room by VinnyCiro. CC0 via Pixabay.

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