Sarah Waters: Great Expectations

Sarah Waters OBE is a multi-award winning British Author. She has written 6 novels, including Tipping the Velvet (1998) which won the Betty Trask Award and was adapted into a multi-award winning and BAFTA nominated television programme. Waters has been named Author of the Year four times and was awarded an OBE in 2019 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for Services to Literature.

I think I must have come across Great Expectations as a child, through TV adaptations, but I first read the novel when I was a student, and have read it many times since then, and I always find something new in it. The story of an orphan, Pip, who helps a runaway convict, then is turned into a ‘gentleman’ by a mysterious benefactor, only to make a discovery that overturns all his snobbish assumptions about where his wealth has come from, it’s a novel about growing up and finding one’s place in the world – and, in the process, realising that the world is a network of hidden connections, a system in which privilege and oppression are deeply intertwined. Like all of Dickens’s fiction, it’s full of empathy and compassion for vulnerable people: for abused children, for the poor, for the ‘simple-minded’, society’s rejects. It’s also a story about guilt and shame and the return of the repressed, all played out on a wonderfully gothic landscape of marshes, fogs and murky riversides. The unexpected reappearance of the convict, Magwitch, climbing purposefully towards Pip up a shadowy staircase on a night of furious wind and rain, is one of the best moments of Victorian fiction – perhaps one of the best moments of fiction, ever – and still makes me shiver.

Earlier this year, Sarah visited one of our Prison Reading Groups at HMP Thameside to discuss her book Tipping the Velvet.

Thank you, Sarah for choosing this book!

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Photo Credit: Charlie Hopkinson


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