Robert L. Patten estimates that All the Year Round sold 100,000 copies of Great Expectations each week, and Mudie, the largest circulating library, which purchased about 1,400 copies, stated that at least 30 people read each copy. Aside from the dramatic plot, the Dickensian humour also appealed to readers. Dickens wrote to Forster in October 1860 that "You will not have to complain of the want of humour as in the Tale of Two Cities," an opinion Forster supports, finding that "Dickens's humour, not less than his creative power, was at its best in this book." Moreover, according to Paul Schlicke, readers found the best of Dickens's older and newer writing styles.
Overall, Great Expectations received near universal acclaim. Not all reviews were favourable; Margaret Oliphant's review, published May 1862 in Blackwood's Magazine, vilified the novel. Critics in the 19th and 20th centuries hailed it as one of Dickens's greatest successes although often for conflicting reasons: GK Chesterton admired the novel's optimism; Edmund Wilson its pessimism; Humphry House in 1941 emphasized its social context. In 1974, Jerome H. Buckley saw it as a bildungsroman, writing a chapter on Dickens and two of his major characters (David Copperfield and Pip) in his 1974 book on the Bildungsroman in Victorian writing. John Hillis Miller wrote in 1958 that Pip is the archetype of all Dickensian heroes. In 1970, QD Leavis suggests "How We Must Read Great Expectations." In 1984, Peter Brooks, in the wake of Jacques Derrida, offered a deconstructionist reading. The most profound analyst, according to Paul Schlicke, is probably Julian Moynahan, who, in a 1964 essay surveying the hero's guilt, made Orlick "Pip's double, alter ego and dark mirror image." Schlicke also names Anny Sadrin's extensive 1988 study as the "most distinguished."