Great Expectations: The Graphic Novel Neil McBeath, Oman

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Great Expectations: The Graphic Novel
Neil McBeath, Oman

Great Expectations: The Graphic Novel

Adapted for ELT by Brigit Viney 2010

Heinle Cengage Learning Andover; Hampshire

Pp. 160

ISBN 978-1-4240-2879-5

Last year, a review in The Guardian Weekly (Sabin 4/9/2009) reported that graphic novels earned nearly $16 million in 2008 and suggested that “mainstream acceptance has arrived. Now maybe retailers can stop acting like they’re embarrassed to sell them, and display them like periodicals, with their often fabulous covers facing outwards. Graphic novels are ‘graphic’, after all.” (P. 41.)
That being the case, perhaps it is also time for EFL to re-examine its attitude to graphic novels. Those of you with VERY long memories may remember an attempt to sell the Lucky Luke series as a teaching aid in the mid 1970s. That attempt failed, but mainly because Franco Belgian students saw no need to read English translations of a French original.
Great Expectations, by contrast, is a particularly English story, with all the gothic horror of misty Kentish marshes and prison hulks mixed into a heady brew of social class division and the underworld of early 19th century London.
Brigit Viney has taken full advantage of this rich setting, and along with the story itself, she offers a series of appendices giving background information. There is a short glossary (Pp 148-151), but that would really be expected in a text of this nature, and the definitions are taken from the Collins COBUILD Dictionary. More importantly, there is also a two page chapter summary (Pp. 152-153) which is actually less about plot that about characters; a brief biography of Dickens (pp. 154-155); a page on The Context of Great Expectations (P. 156) and A Tale of Two Endings (P. 157).
These last two pages are particularly welcome. It is easy for teachers of EFL, particularly native speakers with a background in English literature, to forget how completely foreign (in every sense) Dickens’ world must be to a young Chinese, Gulf Arab or South American student.
The graphic element of this story, therefore, helps to reduce that distance. There is no chance that the students’ suspension of disbelief will conjure up false images. When Miss Havisham retorts “I am yellow skin and bone”, we see that she is telling the truth. The illustrator shows us the mouldering decay of Satis House and its mistress in brutal candour. Pip, moreover, is portrayed as engagingly naïve, but his very artlessness makes him all the more likely to make the false assumption that Miss Havisham is his benefactor.
I would recommend this version of Great Expectations to any EFL teacher who has students at the B1-B2 CEF level, and who wants to encourage them to read. It ought to be an immediate success with European students, who will be familiar with the bande desinee format. Japanese students will see it as another form of manga, and the rest – well, they will be given a well designed, dramatically illustrated version of a book that can be read quite simply for pleasure, although it remains a classic of English literature.
The Literature course can be viewed here.

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