Since Charles and Mary Lamb condensed and abridged their Tales from Shakespeare, it has been hoped that great stories imbued with contemporary language in a modern format will appeal to young readers. Great Expectations is one of three Victorian novels among the first five titles of Lucent’s Classic Graphic Novel Collections, an exciting tool for creating and extending meaning from some of the more commonly assigned pieces of literature.
The creation of a graphic adaptation requires that the artist incorporate the theatrical elements of set and costume design. This version of Great Expectations excels in this regard. Interesting landscapes suggest the isolation of Pip's life on the marshes in the shadow of the prison ships. These panels contrast with cityscapes depicting layers of humanity in a cramped, crowded Dickensian London. Miss Havisham and her sepulchral home, Satis House, are drawn as sufficiently gothic to appeal to the macabre interests of students preoccupied with the paranormal. The artist also had the additional challenge of producing aging versions of Pip, Estella, Biddy and Magwitch, which is accomplished handily through trademark facial details.
This adaptation is particularly successful in translating the sense of the story into images. Pip's refined sensibilities and self-important sense of station as he rejects his uncle, the blacksmith Joe Gargery, are poignantly conveyed through details such as Pip's newly foppish attire when he is released from his apprenticeship. Estella is depicted as appropriately doll-like and cold. A panel depicting a village school could be an excellent jumping off point to discuss the concept of education as Pip esteems it. Panel arrangements and page layouts are punctuated with unexpected details including glimpses seen through windows and ample use of silhouettes and chiaroscuro.
One departure from typical comic convention involves the use of boldface to represent terms defined in a glossary provided in association with Collins. That bolding persists in subsequent iterations of the word, and overall, it can be confusing for graphic novel readers who read changes in typeface to represent emphasis. The glossary might be more valuable if the terms defined were related to the period, or closely related to the thematic content of the text. In Great Expectations, boldfaced terms include some overly simple vocabulary including "stupid," "bride," "ma’am," "blind," and "rude." Other, more nuanced vocabulary is not covered in the glossary. While Pip's greatest concern is that he is "common" and thus unworthy of Estella, the antonym "uncommon" is defined while "common" is not.
The text is divided into three volumes of twenty chapters each. This adaptation includes a cast of characters, character summaries, the Collins glossary, a biography of Dickens focusing on the autobiographical elements of Great Expectations, a brief article about Victorian England and Newgate Prison, and an essay summarizing the debate between the two endings, the original unhappy ending having been discouraged by Dickens' friend and fellow novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton. The book also includes five significant passages from the source text with textual analysis.
In addition to providing curricular support and an alternate means of access for students struggling with Dickens' sentence structure and vocabulary, the series will appeal to a larger population of comic, manga and graphic novel readers. Recommended for school and public libraries.