August 28, 2002:
Great Expectations. Bittersweet, not optimistic; yet still bathed in that middle-class sentimentality. The ever-lovin' innocence of children, blah blah blah.
Dark humor: threats of cannibalism on Christmas Day. Where all of his works read as stage-plots, this one is interesting as a Gothic: Pip tied up at the lime kiln on a dark and stormy night. No Dickens character is ever fully realized; usually they're one-dimensional, embodiments of a principle or a personality tic. Pip gets a second dimension: corruption.
Secondary characters drawn with more depth than protagonists, who tend to be cutouts: Oliver Twist exists only to cry, be good, be adorable, and be abused.
Contrast this with, say, Barrie. I know this is an oddball comparison, but hear it out. Dickens wants to reform society, Barrie wants to entertain children; but Barrie's villains have more depth and human contradiction than Dickens'. Hook is sometimes not such a bad guy; Fagin is nothing but a bad guy, there are no corners of his shallow soul not filled with petty evil.