The Experience of Reading: Great Expectations

  • Derek Alsop
  • Chris Walsh


Although ‘reading’ and ‘interpretation’ are not exact synonyms, each activity may obviously be said to overlap with the other to a very considerable extent. Indeed, the fourth definition of ‘read’ in the OED is ‘the act of interpreting or expounding’, and etymologically the word ‘read’ derives from the Old English rāedan — advise, consider, discern. The process of considering or deliberating sometimes entails ‘putting to the test’ or ‘an experiment’ (part of the first OED definition of ‘experience’). But, as the OED’s definitions indicate, ‘experience’, like ‘expectation’, has a personal, subjective dimension to it (‘being consciously affected by an event’) as well as an impersonal, objective dimension (‘actual observation of fact or event’). To read, to interpret, to experience, — these are all ‘acts’ (or ‘actions’) performed by individual human beings, whether alone or with others. ‘Acts’ suggests ‘acting’, and ‘active’, and yet there is clearly a ‘re-active’ (if not passive, exactly) aspect to reading, interpretation, and experience. Something is being read, interpreted, experienced. Repeated acts become a ‘practice’, the second OED definition of which word reads:

the habitual doing or carrying on of something; usual, customary or constant action; action as distinguishable from profession, theory, knowledge, etc.; conduct …


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  1. 16.
    See Max Byrd, ‘“Reading” in Great Expectations’, PMLA, Vol. 91 (1976), pp. 259–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© D. K. Alsop and C. J. Walsh 1999

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  • Derek Alsop
  • Chris Walsh

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