My preferences are not important. Just look at what I've read, note what's lacking, and tell me to read it posthaste.
This marks the second of Dickens’s novels that I have read of my own accord rather than by the dictates of a class curriculum, the first having been David Copperfield. I can recall that, when reading Copperfield, I understood better the criticism of sentimentality often levelled against Dickens. Even with the occasionally saccharine touches, however, the novel never flagged in its enjoyability. There were still very sympathetic moments, the pathos of which felt earned and powerful. The ending was where the convenience of sentimentality reared its head, and made the book good rather than great.
Having now consumed Great Expectations I found the opposite to be true. the novel’s first half, though possessing some of the signature charms for which he was known, and said to have revived after a more serious batch of novels, is actually rather sere and dull when stacked up against Copperfield. Much of the drama and tension flags from a complete lack of revelation in each early turn of the story. I began to despair of the book’s ever redeeming itself, thinking that perhaps the book’s reputation as one of Dickens’s masterpieces-- some would say THE masterpiece of his oeuvre-- stood more on its seriousness and less on any wit or insight. When Pip’s convict returns to the action, the drama picks up again with a vengeance as well as setting the stage for Dickens’s truly witty and insightful revelations of character and situation.
The ending of Great Expectations-- particularly the alternate one appended in this edition-- strikes more honestly at the heart than the denouement in Copperfield. I have yet to encounter the novel in which Dickens successfully weds his ability to sustain drama in the bulk of Copperfield with the less sentimental, but still optimistic and kindly take on humanity demonstrated in Expectations’ conclusion. I still have yet to delve into Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend, though.