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Great Expectations

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Great Expectations
Title page of Vol. 1 of first edition, July 1861
AuthorCharles Dickens
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesWeekly: 1 December 1860 – 3 August 1861
GenreRealistic fiction bildungsroman
PublisherChapman & Hall
Publication date
1861 (in three volumes)
Media typePrint

Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens. It depicts the growth and personal development of an orphan named Philip Pirrip ("Pip"). The novel was first published in serial form in Dickens' weekly periodical All the Year Round, from 1 December 1860 to August 1861.[1] In October 1861, Chapman and Hall published the novel in three volumes.

It is set among the marshes of Kent and in London in the early to mid 19th century. From the outset, the reader is "treated" by the terrifying encounter between Pip, the protagonist, and the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch.[2] Great Expectations is a graphic book, full of extreme imagery, poverty, prison ships, "the hulks," barriers and chains, and fights to the death.[2] It therefore combines intrigue and unexpected twists of autobiographical detail in different tones. Regardless of its narrative technique, the novel reflects the events of the time, Dickens' concerns, and the relationship between society and man.

Dickens felt Great Expectations was his best work, calling it "a very fine idea,"[3] and was very sensitive to compliments from his friends: "Bulwer, who has been, as I think you know, extraordinarily taken by the book."[4] The cast includes the capricious Miss Havisham, the cold and beautiful Estella, the kind and generous blacksmith Joe, the dry and sycophantic Uncle Pumblechook, and the eloquent and wise Herbert Pocket. Throughout the narrative, typical Dickensian themes emerge: wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil.

Great Expectations has been translated into many languages and adapted many times to movies and other media.

Plot summary[change | change source]

Pip is an orphan, about seven years old, who lives with his older sister and her kind blacksmith husband Joe Gargery on the coastal marshes of Kent. On Christmas Eve 1812, Pip is visiting the graves of his parents and siblings. There, he unexpectedly encounters an escaped convict who threatens him with death if he does not bring back food and tools. Terrified, Pip steals a file from among Joe's tools and a pie and brandy that were meant for Christmas dinner, which he delivers to the convict.

That evening, Pip's sister is about to look for the missing pie when soldiers arrive and ask Joe to fix some shackles. Joe and Pip go with them into the marshes to recapture the convict, who is fighting with another escaped convict. The first convict confesses to stealing food, clearing Pip.

A few years pass. Miss Havisham, a wealthy and lonely spinster, asks Mr Pumblechook, a relative of the Gargerys, to find a boy to visit her. She was jilted(suddenly reject or abandon a lover) at her wedding and still wears her old wedding dress and lives in the run-down Satis House. Pip visits Miss Havisham and falls in love with Estella, her adopted daughter. Estella is cold to Pip, which Miss Havisham encourages. During one visit, another boy picks a fistfight with Pip, where Pip easily wins. Estella watches, and allows Pip to kiss her afterwards. Pip visits Miss Havisham regularly, until he is old enough to learn a trade.

Joe accompanies Pip for the last visit to Miss Havisham, at which she gives the money for Pip to be bound as an apprentice blacksmith. Joe's assistant, Dolge Orlick, is envious of Pip and dislikes Mrs Joe. When Pip and Joe are away from the house, Joe's wife is brutally attacked, leaving her unable to speak or do her work. Orlick is suspected of the attack. Mrs Joe changes and becomes kindhearted after the attack. Pip's former schoolmate Biddy joins the household to help with her care.

Four years into Pip's apprenticeship, Mr Jaggers, a lawyer, informs him that he has been provided with money from an anonymous patron, allowing him to become a gentleman. Pip is to leave for London, but presuming that Miss Havisham is his benefactress, he first visits her.

Pip sets up house in London at Barnard's Inn with Herbert Pocket, the son of his tutor, Matthew Pocket, who is a cousin of Miss Havisham. Pip realizes Herbert is the boy he fought with years ago. Herbert tells Pip how Miss Havisham was deserted by her fiancé. Pip meets fellow pupils, Bentley Drummle, a violent of a man from a wealthy noble family, and Startop, who is nice. During a visit, Pip meets Jaggers's housekeeper Molly, a former convict.

When Joe visits Pip at Barnard's Inn, Pip is ashamed to be seen with him. Joe relays a message from Miss Havisham that Estella will be at Satis House for a visit. Pip returns there to meet Estella and is encouraged by Miss Havisham, but he avoids visiting Joe. He is upset to see Orlick now in service to Miss Havisham. He mentions it to Jaggers, who promises Orlick's dismissal. Back in London, Pip and Herbert exchange their romantic secrets: Pip adores Estella and Herbert is engaged to Clara. Pip meets Estella when she is sent to Richmond to be introduced into society.

Pip and Herbert build up debts. Mrs Joe dies and Pip returns to his village for the funeral. Pip's income is fixed at £500 per annum when he comes of age at twenty-one. With the help of Jaggers's clerk, Wemmick, Pip plans to help advance Herbert's future prospects by anonymously securing him a position with the shipbroker, Clarriker's. Pip takes Estella to Satis House. She and Miss Havisham quarrel over Estella's coldness. In London, Bentley Drummle outrages Pip, by proposing a toast to Estella. Later, at an Assembly Ball in Richmond, Pip witnesses Estella meeting Bentley Drummle and warns her about him; she replies that she has no problems about courting him.

A week after he turns 23 years old, Pip learns that his benefactor is the convict he encountered in the grave, Abel Magwitch, who had been transported to New South Wales after being captured. He has become wealthy after gaining his freedom there, but cannot return to England on pain of death. However, he returns to see Pip, who was the motivation for all his success.

Pip is shocked, and stops taking Magwitch's money. He and Herbert Pocket devise a plan for Magwitch to escape from England.

Magwitch shares his past history with Pip, and reveals that the escaped convict whom he fought in the churchyard was Compeyson, the fraudster who had deserted Miss Havisham.

Pip returns to Satis Hall to visit Estella and meets Bentley Drummle, who has also come to see her and now has Orlick as his servant. Pip accuses Miss Havisham of misleading him about his benefactor. She admits to doing so, but says that her plan was to annoy her relatives. Pip declares his love to Estella, who coldly tells him that she plans on marrying Drummle. Heartbroken, Pip walks back to London, where Wemmick warns him that Compeyson is seeking him. Pip and Herbert continue preparations for Magwitch's escape.

At Jaggers's house for dinner, Wemmick tells Pip how Jaggers acquired his maidservant, Molly, rescuing her from the gallows when she was accused of murder.

Then, full of remorse, Miss Havisham tells Pip how the infant Estella was brought to her by Jaggers and raised by her to be unfeeling and heartless. She knows nothing about Estella's parentage. She also tells Pip that Estella is now married. She gives Pip money to pay for Herbert Pocket's position at Clarriker's, and asks for his forgiveness. As Pip is about to leave, Miss Havisham's dress catches fire. Pip saves her, injuring himself in the process. She eventually dies from her injuries, lamenting her manipulation of Estella and Pip. Pip now realises that Estella is the daughter of Molly and Magwitch. When confronted about this, Jaggers discourages Pip from acting on his suspicions.

A few days before Magwitch's planned escape, Pip is tricked by an anonymous letter into going to a sluice-house near his old home, where he is seized by Orlick, who intends to murder him and freely admits to injuring Pip's sister. As Pip is about to be struck by a hammer, Herbert Pocket and Startop arrive and save Pip's life. The three of them pick up Magwitch to row him to the steamboat for Hamburg, but they are met by a police boat carrying Compeyson, who has offered to identify Magwitch. Magwitch seizes Compeyson, and they fight in the river. Seriously injured, Magwitch is taken by the police. Compeyson's body is found later.

Pip is aware that Magwitch's fortune will go to the Crown after his trial. Herbert, who is preparing to move to Cairo, Egypt, to manage Clarriker's office there, offers Pip a position there. Pip always visits Magwitch in the prison hospital as he awaits trial, and on Magwitch's deathbed tells him that his daughter Estella is alive. After Herbert's departure for Cairo, Pip falls ill in his room, and faces arrest for debt. However, Joe nurses Pip back to health and pays off his debt. When Pip begins to recover, Joe slips away. Pip then returns to propose to Biddy, only to find that she has married Joe. Pip asks Joe's forgiveness, promises to repay him and leaves for Cairo. There he shares lodgings with Herbert and Clara, and eventually advances to become third in the company. Only then does Herbert learn that Pip paid for his position in the firm.

After working eleven years in Egypt, Pip returns to England and visits Joe, Biddy, and their son, Pip Jr. Then, in the ruins of Satis House, he meets the widowed Estella, who asks Pip to forgive her, assuring him that her misfortune, and her abusive marriage to Drummle until his death, has opened her heart. As Pip takes Estella's hand, and they leave the moonlit ruins, he sees "no shadow of another parting from her."

References[change | change source]

  1. "Was Dickens Really Paid By the Word?". University of California Santa Cruz: The Dickens Project. Regents of the University of California. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Charles Dickens 1993, p. 1, introduction.
  3. "The Grotesque and Tragicomedy in Dickens' Great Expectations". Retrieved 6 November 2012.[permanent dead link]
  4. Ian Brinton. "Dickens Bookmarks 12 - Great Expectations" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 November 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2013.