According to George Orwell, the biggest problem with Dickens is that he simply doesn't know when to stop. Every sentence seems to be on the point of curling into a joke; characters are forever spawning a host of eccentric offspring. "His imagination overwhelms everything," Orwell sniffed, "like a kind of weed."
I suspect that's one reason why Great Expectations is such a popular novel. Readers grow up with it. It's probably also why so many of them sympathise with Pip, whose narrative voice involves the perspective of a wide-eyed child coming up against that of his wiser, sadder adult self. Anyone who first reads the story as a child and returns to it in later years is likely to feel a similar mixture of nostalgia and relief. But it isn't only individual readers who have grown up with Great Expectations. Our culture has too. Dickens once claimed that David Copperfield was his "favourite child" and that Great Expectations was a close second. It's no coincidence that both novels are about how easily children can be warped or damaged, but of the two it is the shorter, sharper Great Expectations that has aged better.
Few works of fiction have enjoyed such a lively creative aftermath. Peter Carey has rewritten it in Jack Maggs. Television shows from The Twilight Zone to South Park have echoed it in ways that range from loving homage to finger-poking parody. Even the title has settled in the public consciousness, with shops such as "Grape Expectations" (wine) and "Baked Expectations" (cakes). It's hard not to be fond of a novel that so perfectly reflects its author's restless, rummaging imagination.