Irish author Roddy Doyle’s favorite film director – Charles Dickens

I paid 3.00 dollars for an essay. I mean, come on, the opening sentence is killer: Charles Dickens died in 1870, and I’m glad.

8 words from Roddy Doyle’s introduction to the abridged Puffin Classics version of Great Expectations was all it took.


Roddy Doyle is a writer who makes reading fun. Instead of telling us how great a novelist Dickens was, or how important Dickens is to the western canon, Roddy explores the idea of Charles Dickens – “great film director”.

He explains how Dickens knew the importance of great beginnings:

Great Expectations has – I keep reminding myself, it’s a book, not a film – the best start to a story I’ve ever read. There’s a small boy in a graveyard just as it’s getting dark – that’s good. He’s looking at the grave where his parents and five brothers are buried – very sad, but even better. When an escaped convict jumps out from behind a grave and grabs him – the absolute best.

Great Expectations: Abridged Edition (Puffin Classics), pg vi

Roddy shares how Dickens’s prose creates images, moving pictures, in our minds:

The main character, a boy called Pip, is walking home at night, to the house where he lives with his sister and her husband, Joe, who is a blacksmith: ‘Joe’s furnace was flinging a path of fire across the road.’ We see Pip, the road, the furnace, and we see them because, most of all, we see ‘the path of fire’ that lights the road ahead of Pip. It’s only four very simple words – ‘the path of fire’ – but, probably because it’s so simple, we can see it.

Great Expectations: Abridged Edition (Puffin Classics), pg vi

It’s easy to believe Dickens is a bore. Required high-school reading we never crack open, but Roddy reminds us, Great Expectations was written in weekly installments. 18th century streaming. Dickens knew how to grow and keep an audience.

Dickens wrote Great Expectations in weekly installments, a bit like a television series. Thousands of people waited anxiously for the next episode. They cared, because the writing was so great, the characters so huge and believable, horrible or lovely – so cinematic. Dickens was the a film director waiting for the invention of the camera. Luckily, he was too early.

Great Expectations: Abridged Edition (Puffin Classics), pg vii

Charles Dickens is a bit like Sunday School, you’re told all the great stories, but you never go back and read them for yourself.

Time to read Dickens for myself.

Thank you Mr. Doyle.

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