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Great Expectations

Great Expectations
Title page of Vol. 1 of first edition, July 1861
Author Charles Dickens
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Novel
Published Serialized 1860-1; book form 1861
Publisher Chapman & Hall
Media type Print
Pages 544 (first edition 1861)

Great Expectations is Charles Dickens's thirteenth novel and his penultimate completed novel; a bildungsroman which depicts the personal growth and personal development of an orphan nicknamed Pip. It is Dickens's second novel, after David Copperfield, to be fully narrated in the first person.[N 1] The novel was first published as a serial in Dickens's 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 marshes in Kent, and in London, in the early to mid-1800s,[2] and contains some of Dickens' most memorable scenes, including the opening, in a graveyard, where the young Pip is accosted by the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch.[3] Great Expectations is full of extreme imagery – poverty; prison ships and chains, and fights to the death[3] – and has a colourful cast of characters who have entered popular culture. These include the eccentric Miss Havisham, the beautiful but cold Estella, and Joe, the kind and generous blacksmith. Dickens's themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil.[3] Great Expectations is popular both with readers and literary critics, and has been translated into many languages, and adapted numerous times into various media.

Upon its release, the novel received near universal acclaim.[4] [6] During the serial publication, Dickens was pleased with public response to Great Expectations and its sales;[7] when the plot first formed in his mind, he called it "a very fine, new and grotesque idea".[8]


  • Development history 1
    • Beginning 1.1
    • Publication in All the Year Round 1.2
    • Revising 1.3
    • Revised ending 1.4
  • Publication history 2
    • In periodicals 2.1
    • Editions 2.2
    • First edition publication schedule 2.3
  • Illustrations 3
  • Reception 4
  • Plot summary 5
  • Characters 6
    • Pip and his family 6.1
    • Miss Havisham and her family 6.2
    • From Pip's youth 6.3
    • Mr. Jaggers and his circle 6.4
    • Antagonists 6.5
    • Other characters 6.6
  • Background 7
  • Conciseness 8
  • Point of view 9
  • Theme 10
  • Style 11
  • Novels influenced by Great Expectations 12
  • Film, TV and theatrical adaptations 13
  • Works 14
    • Text 14.1
    • French translations 14.2
    • General sources 14.3
    • Specific sources 14.4
      • About the life and work of Charles Dickens 14.4.1
      • About Great Expectations 14.4.2
  • Notes 15
  • References 16
  • External links 17

Development history

Charles Dickens, c. 1860

As Dickens began writing Great Expectations, he undertook a series of hugely popular and remunerative reading tours. His domestic life had disintegrated in the late 1850s however, and he had separated from his wife, Catherine Dickens. He was keeping secret an affair with a much younger woman, Ellen Ternan. It has been suggested that the reluctance with which Ellen Ternan became his mistress is reflected in the icy teasing of Estella in Great Expectations.[9]


In his Book of Memoranda, begun in 1855, Dickens wrote names for possible characters: Magwitch, Provis, Clarriker, Compey, Pumblechook, Orlick, Gargery, Wopsle, Skiffins, some of which became familiar in Great Expectations. There is also a reference to a "knowing man", a possible sketch of Bentley Drummle.[10] Another evokes a house full of "Toadies and Humbugs", foreshadowing the visitors to Satis House in chapter 11.[10][11] Margaret Cardwell discovered the "premonition" of Great Expectations from a 25 September 1855 letter from Dickens to W. H. Wills, in which Dickens speaks of recycling an "odd idea" from the Christmas special "A House to Let" and "the pivot round which my next book shall revolve."[12][13] The "odd idea" concerns an individual who "retires to an old lonely house…resolved to shut out the world and hold no communion with it."[12]

In an 8 August 1860 letter to Earl Carlisle, Dickens reported his agitation whenever he prepared a new book.[10] A month later, in a letter to Forster, Dickens announced that he just had a new idea.[14]

Publication in All the Year Round

Advertisement for Great Expectations in All the Year Round.

Dickens was pleased with the idea, calling it "such a very fine, new and grotesque idea" in a letter to Forster.[8] He planned to write "a little piece", a "grotesque tragi-comic conception", about a young hero who befriends an escaped convict, who then makes a fortune in Australia and anonymously bequeaths his property to the hero. In the end, the hero loses the money because it is forfeited to the Crown. In his biography of Dickens, Forster wrote that in the early idea "was the germ of Pip and Magwitch, which at first he intended to make the groundwork of a tale in the old twenty-number form."[15] Dickens presented the relationship between Pip and Magwitch pivotal to Great Expectations but without Miss Havisham, Estella, or other characters he later created.

As the idea and Dickens's ambition grew, he began writing. However, in September, the weekly All the Year Round saw its sales fall, and its flagship publication, A Day's Ride by Charles Lever, lost favour with the public. Dickens "called a council of war", and believed that to save the situation, "the one thing to be done was for [him] to strike in."[16] The "very fine, new and grotesque idea" became the magazine's new support: weeklies, five hundred pages, just over one year (1860–1861), thirty-six episodes, starting 1 December. The magazine continued to publish Lever's novel until its completion on 23 March 1861,[17] but it became secondary to Great Expectations. Immediately, sales resumed, and critics responded positively, as exemplified by The Times's praise: "Great Expectations is not, indeed, [Dickens's] best work, but it is to be ranked among his happiest."[18]

Dickens, whose health was not the best, felt "The planning from week to week was unimaginably difficult" but persevered.[17] He thought he had found "a good name", decided to use the first person "throughout", and thought the beginning was "excessively droll": "I have put a child and a good-natured foolish man, in relations that seem to me very funny."[19] Four weekly episodes were "ground off the wheel" in October,[20] and apart from one reference to the "bondage" of his heavy task,[21] the months passed without the anguished cries that usually accompanied the writing of his novels.[17] He did not even use the Number Plans or Mems;[N 2] he only had a few notes on the characters' ages, the tide ranges for chapter 54, and the draft of an ending. In late December, Dickens wrote to Mary Boyle that "Great Expectations [is] a very great success and universally liked."[7]


Charles Dickens, Jr. (in 1874), possibly the model for Herbert Pocket

Dickens gave six readings from 14 March to 18 April 1861, and in May, Dickens took a few days' holiday in Dover. On the eve of his departure, he took some friends and family members for a trip by boat from Blackwall to Southend-on-Sea. Ostensibly for pleasure, the mini-cruise was actually a working session for Dickens to examine banks of the river in preparation for the chapter devoted to Magwitch's attempt to escape.[15] Dickens then revised Herbert Pocket's appearance, no doubt, asserts Margaret Cardwell, to look more like his son Charley.[22] On 11 June 1861, Dickens wrote to Macready that Great Expectations had been completed and on 15 June, asked the editor to prepare the novel for publication.[17]

Revised ending

Following comments by Edward Bulwer-Lytton that the ending was too sad, Dickens rewrote it. The ending set aside by Dickens has Pip, still single, briefly see Estella in London; after becoming Bentley Drummle's widow, she has remarried.[17][23][24] It appealed to Dickens due to its originality: "[the] winding up will be away from all such things as they conventionally go."[17][25] Dickens revised the ending for publication so that Pip meets Estella in the ruins of Satis House, she a widow and he single. His changes at the conclusion of the novel did not quite end either with the final weekly part and the first bound edition, because Dickens further changed the last sentence in the amended 1868 version from "I could see the shadow of no parting from her."[17] to "I saw no shadow of another parting from her".[26] As Pip uses litotes, "no shadow of another parting", it is ambiguous whether Pip and Estella marry or Pip remains single. Angus Calder, writing for an edition in the Penguin English Library, believed the less definite phrasing of the amended 1868 version perhaps hinted at a buried meaning: ' this happy moment, I did not see the shadow of our subsequent parting looming over us.'[27]

In a letter to Forster, Dickens explained his decision to alter the draft ending: "You will be surprised to hear that I have changed the end of Great Expectations from and after Pip's return to Joe's...Bulwer, who has been, as I think you know, extraordinarily taken with the book, strongly urged it upon me, after reading the proofs, and supported his views with such good reasons that I have resolved to make the change. I have put in as pretty a little piece of writing as I could, and I have no doubt the story will be more acceptable through the alteration."[28][29]

This discussion between Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton and Forster has provided the basis for much discussion on Dickens's underlying views for this famous novel. Earle Davis, in his 1963 study of Dickens, wrote that "it would be an inadequate moral point to deny Pip any reward after he had shown a growth of character," and that "Eleven years might change Estella too."[30] Great Expectations would have been perfect had Dickens not altered the ending in deference to Bulwer-Lytton.[N 3][34]

In contrast, John Hillis-Miller stated that Dickens's personality was so assertive that Bulwer-Lytton had little influence, and welcomed the revision: "The mists of infatuation have cleared away, [Estella and Pip] can be joined."[35] Earl Davis notes that G.B. Shaw published the novel in 1937 for The Limited Editions Club with the first ending and that The Rhinehart Edition of 1979 presents both endings.[33][36][37]

  • Original manuscript – held at Wisbech & Fenland Museum, Wisbech
  • Great ExpectationsDavid Parker's article on the London Fictions site about the London of
  • Map of Dickens' London
  • radio adaptationTheatre Guild on the Air1953 at Internet Archive
Online editions
  • Great Expectations public domain audiobook at LibriVox

External links

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c Charles Dickens 1993, p. 1, introduction.
  4. ^ a b c (Paul Schlicke 1999, p. 263)
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to Mary Boyle, 28 December 1860.
  8. ^ a b c
  9. ^ Great Expectations, Introduction, p. 12, Penguin English Library 1984
  10. ^ a b c Paul Schlicke 1999, p. 259
  11. ^ Fred Kaplan, ed. Dickens' Book of Memoranda, 1981.
  12. ^ a b Charles Dickens, letters, Letter to Wilkie Collins, 6 September 1858.
  13. ^ (Charles Dickens 1993, p. xiv), introduction by Margaret Cardwell
  14. ^ Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to John Forster, mid-September 1860 (?).
  15. ^ a b c (John Forster 1872–1874, p. 9.3)
  16. ^ Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to John Forster, 4 October 1860.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g (Paul Schlicke 1999, p. 260)
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to John Forster, beginning October 1860.
  20. ^ Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to Wilkie Collins, 14 October 1860.
  21. ^ Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to Edmund Yates, 24 February 1861.
  22. ^ (Charles Dickens 1993, p. xxvii–xxx)
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to John Forster, April 1861.
  26. ^ (Charles Dickens 1993, p. 412)
  27. ^ Great Expectations, Penguin , 1965, p. 496
  28. ^
  29. ^ Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to John Forster, 25 June 1861.
  30. ^ (Earle Davis 1963, pp. 261–262)
  31. ^ (John Forster 1872–1874, p. 9. 3)
  32. ^ a b c d (Paul Schlicke 1999, p. 261)
  33. ^ a b (Earle Davis 1963, p. 262)
  34. ^ (George Gissing 1925, p. 19), chapter III, The Story-Teller
  35. ^ (John Hillis-Miller 1958, p. 278)
  36. ^
  37. ^ For a more detailed look into the revision of the ending, see Calum Kerr, From Magwitch to Miss Havisham: Narrative Interaction and Mythic Structure in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations,
  38. ^
  39. ^ (Robert L. Patten 1978, p. 271)
  40. ^ (Robert L. Patten 1978, pp. 288–293)
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ (Robert L. Patten 1978, p. 292)
  49. ^ Charles Dickens, Letters, Lettere to John Forster, beginning October 1860
  50. ^
  51. ^ (Jerome Hamilton Buckley 1974)
  52. ^ a b (John Hillis-Miller 1958, pp. 249–278)
  53. ^ (F. R. & Q. D. Leavis 1970)
  54. ^
  55. ^ (Paul Schlicke 1999, p. 264)
  56. ^ (Jerome Meckier 1992, pp. 157-197).
  57. ^ (Paul Schlicke 1999, pp. 261–262)
  58. ^ a b c (Paul Schlicke 1999, p. 262)
  59. ^ (John Forster 1872–1874, p. III, 1)
  60. ^ Cited by George Newlin, Understanding Great Expectations, Westport Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000, p.xiv
  61. ^
  62. ^ Charles Dickens, Letters, Letter to Wills, 4 September 1860
  63. ^ Gladys Storey, Dickens and Daughter, London, Frederick Muller Ltd, 1939, pp.106–107
  64. ^ (Charles Dickens 1993, p. xiv)
  65. ^ (Harry Stone 1979, pp. 279–297)
  66. ^ a b (Robin Gilmour 1981, p. 123)
  67. ^ (Paul Davis 1999)
  68. ^ (Paul Davis 1999, p. 153)
  69. ^ Cited by (Paul Davis 1999, p. 158)
  70. ^ Cited by David Trotter, Introduction to Great Expectations, Londron, Penguin Books, 1996, p.vii
  71. ^ (Michael Cordell 1990, pp. 34, 24)
  72. ^ Cited in Dickens and the Twentieth Century, Gross, John and Pearson, Gabriel, eds, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962, p.199-211.
  73. ^ (Charles Dickens 1993, p. 218)
  74. ^ Dickens and the Twentieth Century, Ed. John Gross and Gabriel Pearson, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962, p.209.
  75. ^ (Henri Suhamy 1971, p. 15)
  76. ^ (Henri Suhamy 1971, p. 16)
  77. ^ (Henri Suhamy 1971, p. 17)
  78. ^ (Sylvère Monod 1953, p. 443)
  79. ^
  80. ^
  81. ^
  82. ^ (A. E. Dyson 1970, p. 1)
  83. ^
  84. ^ (Charles Dickens 1993, p. 31)
  85. ^ Nicolas Tredell, Charles Dickens: David Copperfield/ Great Expectations. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.209.
  86. ^
  87. ^
  88. ^ Fforde, Jasper (2002) Lost in a Good Book, Hodder & Stoughton, 0-340-82283-X
  89. ^
  90. ^
  91. ^
  92. ^
  93. ^
  94. ^
  95. ^


  1. ^ Bleak House alternates between a third-person narrator and a first-person narrator, Esther Summerson, but the former is predominant.
  2. ^ Nineteen double sheets folded in half: on the left, names, incidents, and expressions; on the right, sections of the current chapter.
  3. ^ George Gissing wrote: "Great Expectations (1861) would be nearly perfect in its mechanism but for the unhappy deference to Lord Lytton's judgment, which caused the end to be altered. Dickens meant to have left Pip a lonely man, and of course rightly so; by the irony of fate he was induced to spoil his work through a brother novelist's desire for a happy ending, a strange thing, indeed, to befall Dickens."
  4. ^ In Great Expectations, only London is named, along with its neighbourhoods and surrounding communities.
  5. ^ Briskness here evokes abruptness.


  • , texts from Forster, Whipple, Chesterton, Leacock, Baker, House, Johnson, van Ghent, Stange, Hagan, Connolly, Engel, Hillis Miller, Moynahan, Van de Kieft, Hardy, Lindberg, Partlow
  • , texts from Chesterton, Brooks, Garis, Gissing, et al
  • , texts from Brooks, Connor, Frost, Gilmour, Sadrin et al.
  • (distributed by Penguin)

About Great Expectations

  • , edited by J. W. T. Ley, 1928
  • , first published 1945

About the life and work of Charles Dickens

Specific sources

General sources

  • [95]

French translations

  • , an unsigned and unpaginated introduction
  • , introduction and notes by Margaret Cardwell
  • , introduction by David Trotter, notes by Charlotte Mitchell



Stage versions have included:

Like many other Dickens novels, Great Expectations has been filmed for the cinema or television numerous times, including:

Film, TV and theatrical adaptations

Dickens' novel has influenced a number of writers, Sue Roe's Estella: Her Expectations (1982), for example explores the inner life of an Estella fascinated with a Havisham figure.[85] Miss Havisham is again important in Havisham: A Novel (2013), a book by Ronald Frame, that features an imagining of the life of Miss Catherine Havisham from childhood to adulthood.[86] Rosalind Ashe's Literary Houses, (1982), second chapter is a paraphrasing of Miss Havisham's story with details about the nature and structure of Satis House, and coloured imaginings of the house within.[87] Miss Havisham is also central to Lost in a Good Book (2002), an alternate history, fantasy novel by Jasper Fforde, which features a parody version of Miss Havisham.[88] It won the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association 2004 Dilys Award.[89] Magwitch is the protagonist of Peter Carey's Jack Maggs, which is a re-imagining of Magwitch's return to England, with the addition, among other things, of a fictionalised Dickens character and plot-line.[90] Carey's novel won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1998. Mister Pip (2006) is a novel by Lloyd Jones, a New Zealand author. The winner of the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Lloyd Jones's novel is set in a village on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville during a brutal civil war there in the 1990s, where the young protagonist's life is impacted in a major way by her reading of Great Expectations.[91]

Novels influenced by Great Expectations

Great Expectations is written in first person and uses some language and grammar that has fallen out of common use since its publication. The title Great Expectations refers to the 'Great Expectations' Pip has of coming into his benefactor's property upon becoming a gentleman with no particular profession, while being supported in gaining the education of a gentleman. Great Expectations is sometimes seen as a bildungsroman, a novel depicting growth and personal development from childhood to adulthood, in this case, of Pip.[8]


Some of the major themes of Great Expectations are crime, social class, empire and ambition. From an early age, Pip feels guilt; he is also afraid that someone will find out about his crime and arrest him. The theme of crime comes into even greater effect when Pip discovers that his benefactor is a convict. Pip has an internal struggle with his conscience throughout the book. Great Expectations explores the different social classes of the Magwitch to the extremely rich like Miss Havisham. Pip has great ambition, as demonstrated constantly in the book.

John Hillis-Miller first shows that, as in many novels by Dickens, most characters, and in the beginning, the protagonist, are "outcasts" living in insecurity. Thus, Pip, orphaned, grows up in a world full of sinister tombs, dangerous swamps, and threatening masses of prison ships emerging from the fog that dominate the shores. His existence reproaches him: "I was always treated as if I had insisted on being born in opposition to the dictates of reason, religion and morality".[84]

Mr Pumblechook: "And may I--May I--?", by John McLenan.

Hope and social exclusion are two competing themes. The eponymous "Expectations" refers to its Victorian definition, "a legacy to come".[83] The title immediately announces that money plays an important part in the novel and its themes but is only part of a broader package whose coherence John Hillis-Miller highlights in his book, Charles Dickens, The World of His Novels.[52]


It is not until Magwitch's return, a plot twist that unites loosely-connected plot elements and sets them into motion, that the protagonist's point of view joins those of the narrator and the reader.[81] In this context of progressive revelation, the sensational events at the novel's end serve to test the protagonist's point of view. Thus proceeds, in the words of A. E. Dyson, "The Immolations of Pip".[82]

[80] that confers a superiority that the narrator shares.dramatic irony This is a red herring, as the decay of Satis House and the strange lady within signals the fragility of an impasse. At this point, the reader knows more than the protagonist, creating [79] However, according to Paul Pickrel's analysis, Pip being both narrator and protagonist; recounts with hindsight the story of the young boy he was, who did not know the world beyond a narrow geographic and familial environment. The novel's direction emerges from the confrontation between the two periods of time. At first, the novel presents a mistreated orphan, repeating situations from

Although the novel is written in first person, the reader knows - as an essential prerequisite – that Great Expectations is not an autobiography but a novel, a work of fiction with plot and characters, featuring a narrator-protagonist. In addition, Sylvère Monod notes that the treatment of the autobiography differs from David Copperfield, as Great Expectations does not draw from events in Dickens's life; "at most some traces of a broad psychological and moral introspection can be found".[78]

Pip before Magwitch's return, by John McLenan

Point of view

Great Expectations appears then as a tragedy, since the characters suffer physically, psychologically or both, or die, often violently, while suffering. Happy resolutions of the web of love remain elusive, while the web of hate thrives throughout the novel. The only happy ending is Biddy and Joe's friendship sealed in marriage by the birth of two children, since the final reconciliations, except that between Pip and Magwitch symbolising Pip's maturation, do not alter the general order. Though Pip extirpates the web of hatred, the first ending denies him happiness and the second leaves his future uncertain, punctuating his storyline with a question mark.[77]

This is "the general frame of the novel", as of the overwhelming crisis when Pip realises his and Estella's situations. Suhamy specifies that the term "love" is generic, applying it to both Pip's true love for Estella and the social attraction Estella harbours for Drummle, the former of which she cannot feel and the superficiality of the latter she does not conceal. Similarly, Suhamy adds, Estella's "rejection" of Magwitch becomes a matter of interpretation; the young lady does not know he is her father but still holds contempt for everything that appears below her station.[76]

Diagram (in French) of the structure of Great Expectations

Further, as explained by Henri Suhamy in his course on Great Expectations, beyond the chronological sequences and the weaving of several storylines into a tight plot, the sentimental setting and morality of the characters form a consistent "pattern".[75] He describes this pattern with two central poles, that of "foster parents" [parents adoptifs] (Miss Havisham, Magwitch, and Joe) and that of "young people" [jeunes gens] (Estella, Pip and Biddy) between two other poles called "Dangerous Lovers" [dangereux amants] (one of Compeyson, the other of Bentley Drummle and Orlick). Pip is the centre of this web of love, rejection and hatred [amour, rejet, haine]. Biddy and Joe grow from friendship [amitié] to love [amour], in their relationship over the course of the story.

Similar brevity is key to the "decantation", stated Ricks, particularly in the second sentence, showing Pip's chilling, pitiless indifference but "without making a terrific demonstration of mercilessness."[74]

Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money.[73]

G. B. Shaw called the novel "compactly perfect"; similarly, Algernon Swinburne stated, "The defects in it are as nearly imperceptible as spots on the sun or shadow on a sunlit sea."[70][71] This impression of excellence also comes from, according to Christopher Ricks, "the briskness of the narrative tone."[N 5] Pip's thoughts while he is in London, preparing for a visit from Joe, his oldest friend and protector demonstrates this:[72]

The format of the weekly periodical more-or-less limited Dickens, notes Paul Davis. It required short chapters, centred on a single subject, and an almost mathematical structure.[67] Pip's story contains three stages: his childhood and early youth in Kent, dreaming to rise above his humble station; his time in London after receiving the eponymous "great expectations"; and his final disillusionment when he discovers the source of his fortune and slowly realises the vanity of his false values.[68] The novel further divides each stage into twelve parts of equal length. This symmetry contributes to the impression of completion, underlined by a number of commentators, including [69]


Beyond its biographical and literary aspects, Great Expectations appears, according to Robin Gilmour, as "a representative fable of the age."[66] Dickens was aware that the novel "speaks" to a generation applying, at most, the principle of "self help" and believed to have increased the order of daily life. That the hero Pip aspires to improve, not through snobbery, but through the Victorian conviction of education, social refinement, and materialism, was seen as a noble and worthy goal. However, by tracing the origins of Pip's "great expectations" to crime, deceit and even banishment to the colonies, Dickens unfavourably compares the new generation to the previous one of Joe Gargery, which Dickens portrays as less sophisticated but especially rooted in sound values, presenting an oblique criticism of his time.[66]

Margaret Cardwell draws attention to Chops the Dwarf from Dickens's 1858 Christmas story "Going into Society," who, as the future Pip does, entertains the illusion of inheriting a fortune and becomes disappointed upon achieving his social ambitions.[64] In another vein, Harry Stone thinks that Gothic and magical aspects of Great Expectations were partly inspired by Charles Mathews's At Home, which was presented in detail in Household Words and its monthly supplement Household Narrative. Stone also asserts that The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, written in collaboration with Wilkie Collins after their walking tour of Cumberland during September 1857 and published in Household Words from 3 to 31 October of the same year, presents certain strange locations and a passionate love, foreshadowing Great Expectations.[65]

The Uncommercial Traveller, short stories, and other texts Dickens began publishing in his new weekly in 1859 reflect his nostalgia, as seen in "Dullborough Town" and "Nurses' Stories." According to Paul Schlicke, "it is hardly surprising that the novel Dickens wrote at this time was a return to roots, set in the part of England in which he grew up, and in which he had recently resettled."[58]

The theme of homecoming reflects events in Dickens's life, several years prior to the publication of Great Expectations. In 1856, he bought Gad's Hill Place in Higham, Kent, which he had dreamed of living in as a child, and moved there from faraway London two years later. In 1858, in a painful divorce, he separated from Catherine Dickens, his wife of twenty-three years. The divorce alienated him from some of his closest friends, such as Mark Lemon. He quarrelled with Bradbury and Evans, who had published his novels for fifteen years. In early September 1860, in a field behind Gad's Hill, Dickens burned almost all of his correspondence, sparing only letters on business matters.[62][63] He stopped publishing the weekly Household Words at the summit of its popularity and replaced it with All the Year Round.[58]

The two books both detail homecoming. Although David Copperfield is based on much of Dickens personal experiences, Great Expectations provides, according to Paul Schlicke, "the more spiritual and intimate autobiography."[58] Even though several elements hint at the setting — Miss Havisham, partly inspired by a Parisian duchess, whose residence was always closed and in darkness, surrounded by "a dead green vegetable sea," recalling Satis House,[59][60] and the countryside bordering London Bridge prior to the 1824–1831 reconstruction.[61]

Great Expectations's single most obvious literary predecessor is Dickens's earlier first-person narrator-protagonist David Copperfield. The two novels trace the psychological and moral development of a young boy to maturity, his transition from a rural environment to the London metropolis, the vicissitudes of his emotional development, and the exhibition of his hopes and youthful dreams and their metamorphosis, through a rich and complex first person narrative.[57] Dickens was conscious of this similarity and, before undertaking his new manuscript, reread David Copperfield to avoid repetition.[19]


  • Compeyson (surname), a convict who escapes the prison ship after Magwitch, who beats him up ashore. He is Magwitch's enemy. In some editions of the book, he is called "Compey." A professional swindler, he was engaged to marry Miss Havisham, but he was in league with Arthur Havisham to defraud Miss Havisham of part of her fortune. Later he sets up Magwitch to take the fall for another swindle. He works with the police when he learns Abel Magwitch is in London, fearing Magwitch after their first escapes years earlier. When the police boat encounters the one carrying Magwitch, the two grapple, and Compeyson drowns in the Thames.
  • Arthur Havisham, younger half brother of Miss Havisham, who plots with Compeyson to swindle her.
  • Dolge Orlick, gout-ridden father. She marries Herbert Pocket near the novel's end. She dislikes Pip at first because of his spendthrift ways. After she marries Herbert, they invite Pip to live with them.
  • Miss Skiffins occasionally visits Wemmick's house and wears green gloves. She changes those green gloves for white ones when she marries Wemmick.
  • Startop, like Bentley Drummle, is Pip's fellow student, but unlike Drummle, he is kind. He assists Pip and Herbert in their efforts to help Magwitch escape.


  • Mr. Jaggers, prominent London lawyer who represents the interests of diverse clients, both criminal and civil. He represents Pip's benefactor and Miss Havisham as well. By the end of the story, his law practice links many of the characters.
  • John Wemmick, Jaggers's clerk, called "Mr. Wemmick" and "Wemmick" except by his father, who is referred to as "The Aged Parent", "The Aged P.", or simply "The Aged." Wemmick is Pip's chief go-between with Jaggers and looks after Pip in London. Mr. Wemmick lives with his father in John's "castle," which is a small replica of a castle, complete with a drawbridge and moat, in Walworth.
  • Molly, Mr. Jaggers's maidservant whom Jaggers saved from the gallows for murder. She is revealed to be Magwitch's estranged wife and Estella's mother.
Mr. Wemmick and "The Aged P.", illustration by Sol Eytinge Jr.

Mr. Jaggers and his circle

  • The Convict, who escapes from a prison ship, whom Pip treats kindly, and who in turn becomes Pip's benefactor. His name is Abel Magwitch, but he uses the aliases Provis and Mr. Campbell when he returns to England from exile in Australia. He is a lesser actor in crime with Compeyson, but gains a longer sentence in an apparent application of justice by social class.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, simple folk who think they are more important than they really are. They live in Pip's village.
  • Mr. Wopsle, clerk of the church in Pip's village. He later gives up the church work and moves to London to pursue his ambition to be an actor, adopting the stage name Mr. Waldengarver. He sees the other convict in the audience of one of his performances, attended also by Pip.
  • Biddy, Wopsle's second cousin and near Pip's age; she teaches in the evening school at her grandmother's home in Pip's village. Pip wants to learn more, so he asks her to teach him all she can. After helping Mrs. Joe after the attack, Biddy opens her own school. A kind and intelligent but poor young woman, she is, like Pip and Estella, an orphan. She acts as Estella's foil. Orlick was attracted to her, but she did not want his attentions. Pip ignores her affections for him as he pursues Estella. Recovering from his own illness after the failed attempt to get Magwitch out of England, Pip returns to claim Biddy as his bride, arriving in the village just after she marries Joe Gargery. Biddy and Joe later have two children, one named after Pip. (In the ending to the novel discarded by Dickens but revived by students of the novel's development, Estella mistakes the boy as Pip's child.)

From Pip's youth

  • Miss Havisham, wealthy spinster who takes Pip on as a companion for herself and her adopted daughter, Estella. Embittered after being jilted at the altar by her fiance some years before, Havisham is an eccentric woman who perpetually wears her wedding dress, and one shoe, as she was when she learned her bridegroom would not appear. She conceives a hatred for all men, and plots to wreak a twisted revenge by teaching Estella to torment and spurn all men, including Pip, who loves her. Miss Havisham is later overcome with remorse for ruining both Estella's and Pip's chances for happiness. Shortly after confessing her plotting to Pip, she dies as the result of being badly burned when her dress accidentally catches fire.
  • Estella, Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, whom Pip pursues throughout the novel. She is a beautiful girl, and grows more beautiful after her schooling in France. Estella represents the life of wealth and culture for which Pip strives. Since Miss Havisham ruined Estella's ability to love, Estella cannot return Pip's passion. She warns Pip of this repeatedly, but he will not or cannot believe her. Estella does not know that she is the daughter of Molly, Jaggers's housekeeper, and the convict Abel Magwitch, given up for adoption to Miss Havisham after her mother was arrested for murder.
  • Matthew Pocket, Miss Havisham's cousin. He is the patriarch of the Pocket family, but unlike her other relatives, he is not greedy for Havisham's wealth. Matthew Pocket tutors young gentlemen, such as Bentley Drummle, Startop, Pip and his own son Herbert.
  • Herbert Pocket, the son of Matthew Pocket, who was invited like Pip to visit Miss Havisham, but she did not take to him. Pip first meets Herbert as a "pale young gentleman" who challenges Pip to a fistfight at Miss Havisham's house when both are children. He later becomes Pip's friend, tutoring him in the "gentlemanly" arts, and sharing his flat with Pip in London.
  • Cousin Raymond, relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money. He is married to Camilla.
  • Georgiana, relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money. She is one of the many relatives who hang around Miss Havisham "like flies" for her wealth.
  • Sarah Pocket, the sister of Matthew Pocket, relative of Miss Havisham. She is often at Satis House. She is described as "a dry, brown corrugated old woman, with a small face that might have been made out of walnut shells, and a large mouth like a cat's without the whiskers."

Miss Havisham and her family

  • Philip Pirrip, nicknamed Pip, an orphan and the protagonist and narrator of Great Expectations. In his childhood, Pip dreamed of becoming a blacksmith like his kind brother-in-law, Joe Gargery. At Satis House, about age 8, he meets Estella, a contact which destroys his peace of mind. He tells Biddy that he wants to become a gentleman. As a result of Magwitch's anonymous patronage, Pip lives in London and becomes a gentleman. Pip assumes his benefactor is Miss Havisham; the discovery that his true benefactor is a convict shocks him.
  • Joe Gargery, Pip's brother-in-law, and his first father figure. He is a blacksmith who is always kind to Pip and the only person with whom Pip is always honest. Joe is disappointed when Pip decides to leave his home to live in London to become a gentleman rather than be a blacksmith in business with Joe. He is a strong man who bears the shortcomings of those closest to him.
  • Mrs. Joe Gargery, Pip's hot-tempered adult sister Georgiana Maria, called Mrs. Joe, 20 years older than Pip. She brings him up after their parents' death. She does the work of the household, but too often loses her temper. Orlick, her husband's journeyman, attacks her, and she is left disabled until her death.
  • Mr. Pumblechook, Joe Gargery's uncle, an officious bachelor and corn merchant. While not knowing how to deal with a growing boy, he tells "Mrs. Joe", as she is known, how noble she is to bring up Pip. As the person who first connected Pip to Miss Havisham, he claims to have been the original architect of Pip's expectations. Pip dislikes Mr. Pumblechook for his pompous, unfounded claims. When Pip stands up to him in a public place, after those expectations are dashed, Mr. Pumblechook turns those listening to the conversation against Pip.

Pip and his family


Eleven years later, Pip visits the ruins of Satis House and meets Estella, widow to the abusive Bentley Drummle. She asks Pip to forgive her, assuring him that misfortune has opened her heart and that she now empathises with Pip. As Pip takes Estella's hand and leaves the ruins of Satis House, he sees "no shadow of another parting from her."

Pip visits Magwitch in jail and tells him that his daughter Estella is alive. Magwitch responds by squeezing Pip's palm and dies soon after, sparing an execution. After Herbert goes to Cairo, Pip falls ill in his rooms. He is confronted with arrest for debt; he awakens to find Joe at his side. Joe nurses Pip back to health and pays off the debt. As Pip begins to walk about on his own, Joe slips away home. Pip returns to propose to Biddy, to find that she and Joe have just married. Pip asks Joe for forgiveness, and Joe forgives him. As Magwitch's fortune in money and land was seized by the court, Pip no longer has income. Pip promises to repay Joe. Herbert asks him to join his firm in Cairo; he shares lodgings with Herbert and Clara and works as a clerk, advancing over time.

A few days before the escape, Joe's former journeyman Orlick seizes Pip, confessing past crimes as he means to kill Pip. Herbert Pocket and Startop save Pip and prepare for the escape. On the river, they are met by a police boat carrying Compeyson for identification of Magwitch. Compeyson was the other convict years earlier, and as well, the con artist who wooed and deserted Miss Havisham. Magwitch seizes Compeyson, and they fight in the river. Magwitch survives to be taken by police, seriously injured. Compeyson's body is found later.

Magwitch makes himself known to Pip

Miss Havisham tells Pip that Estella was brought to her by Jaggers aged two or three. Before Pip leaves the property, Miss Havisham accidentally sets her dress on fire. Pip saves her, injuring himself in the process. She eventually dies from her injuries, lamenting her manipulation of Estella and Pip. Jaggers tells Pip how he brought Estella to Miss Havisham from Molly. Pip figures out that Estella is the daughter of Molly and Magwitch.

Pip tells Miss Havisham that he is as unhappy as she can ever have meant him to be. He asks her to finance Herbert Pocket. Estella tells Pip she will marry Bentley Drummle.

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. Pip takes Estella to Satis House. She and Miss Havisham quarrel. At the Assembly Ball in Richmond Estella meets Bentley Drummle, a brute of a man. A week after he turns 23 years old, Pip learns that his benefactor is the convict from so long ago, Abel Magwitch, who had been transported to New South Wales after that escape. He became wealthy after gaining his freedom there. As long as he is out of England, Magwitch can live. But he returns to see Pip. Pip was his motivation for all his success in New South Wales. Pip is shocked, ceasing to take money from him. He and Herbert Pocket devise a plan to get Magwitch out of England, by boat. Magwitch shares his past history with Pip.

Pip sets up house with Herbert Pocket at Barnard's Inn. Herbert tells Pip the circumstances of Miss Havisham's romantic disappointment, her jilting by her fiancé. Pip goes to Hammersmith, to be educated by Mr Matthew Pocket, Herbert's father. Jaggers disburses the money Pip needs to set himself up in his new life. Joe visits Pip at Barnard's Inn, where Pip is a bit ashamed of Joe. Joe relays the message from Miss Havisham that Estella will be at Satis House for a visit. Pip and Herbert exchange their romantic secrets - Pip adores Estella and Herbert is engaged to Clara.

Four years into Pip's apprenticeship, Mr. Jaggers, a lawyer, approaches him in the village with the news that he has expectations from an anonymous benefactor, with immediate funds to train him in the gentlemanly arts. He will not know the benefactor's name until that person speaks up. Pip is to leave for London in the proper clothes. He assumes that Miss Havisham is his benefactor. He visits her to say good-bye.

London locations
Miss Havisham with Estella and Pip. Art by H. M. Brock

Miss Havisham, a wealthy spinster who wears an old wedding dress and lives in the dilapidated Satis House, asks Pip's Uncle Pumblechook (who is Joe's uncle) to find a boy to visit. Pip visits Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella, falling in love with Estella on first sight, both quite young. Pip visits Miss Havisham regularly until it comes time for him to learn a trade; Joe accompanies Pip for the last visit when she gives the money for Pip to be bound as apprentice blacksmith. Pip settles into learning Joe's trade. When both are away from the house, Mrs. Joe is brutally attacked, leaving her unable to speak or do her work. Biddy arrives to help with her care and becomes 'a blessing to the household'.

On Christmas Eve, around 1812,[56] Pip, an orphan who is about seven years old, encounters an escaped convict in the village churchyard while visiting the graves of his mother, father and siblings. The convict scares Pip into stealing food and a file to grind away his shackles, from the home he shares with his abusive older sister and her kind husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. The next day, soldiers recapture the convict while he is engaged in a fight with another escaped convict; the two are returned to the prison ships.

Locations in the novel

Plot summary

Overall, Great Expectations received near universal acclaim.[4] 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.[51] John Hillis Miller wrote in 1958 that Pip is the archetype of all Dickensian heroes.[52] In 1970, QD Leavis suggests "How We Must Read Great Expectations."[53] In 1984, Peter Brooks, in the wake of Jacques Derrida, offered a deconstructionist reading.[54] 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."[55]

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.[48] 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,"[49] an opinion Forster supports, finding that "Dickens's humour, not less than his creative power, was at its best in this book."[15][50] Moreover, according to Paul Schlicke, readers found the best of Dickens's older and newer writing styles.[4]


Publications in Harper's Weekly were accompanied by forty illustrations by John McLenan;[42] however, this is the only Dickens work published in All the Year Round without illustrations. In 1862, Marcus Stone,[43] son of Dickens's old friend, the painter Frank Stone, was invited to create eight woodcuts for the Library Edition. According to Paul Schlicke, these illustrations are mediocre yet were included in the Charles Dickens edition, and Stone created illustrations for Dickens's subsequent novel, Our Mutual Friend.[32] Later, Henry Mathew Brock also illustrated Great Expectations and a 1935 edition of A Christmas Carol,[44] along with other artists, such as John McLenan,[45] F. A. Fraser,[46] and Harry Furniss.[47]


Part Date Chapters
1–5 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 December 1860 (1–8)
6–9 5, 12, 19, 26 January 1861 (9–15)
10–12 2, 9, 23 February 1861 (16–21)
13–17 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 March 1861 (22–29)
18–21 6, 13, 20, 27 April 1861 (30–37)
22–25 4, 11, 18, 25 May 1861 (38–42)
26–30 1, 8 15, 22, 29 June 1861 (43–52)
31–34 6, 13, 20, 27 July 1861 (53–57)
35 3 August 1861 (58–59)

First edition publication schedule

Robert L. Patten identifies four American editions in 1861 and sees the proliferation of publications in Europe and across the Atlantic as "extraordinary testimony" to Great Expectations's popularity.[40] Chapman and Hall published the first edition in three volumes in 1861, five subsequent reprints between 6 July and 30 October, and a one-volume edition in 1862. The "bargain" edition was published in 1862, the Library Edition in 1864, and the Charles Dickens edition in 1868. To this list, Paul Schlicke adds "two meticulous scholarly editions", one Claredon Press published in 1993 with an introduction by Margaret Cardwell and another with an introduction by Edgar Rosenberg, published by Norton in 1999.[32] The novel was published with one ending, visible in the four on line editions listed in the External links at the end of this article. In some 20th century editions, the novel ends as originally published in 1867, and in an afterword, the ending Dickens did not publish, along with a brief story of how a friend persuaded him to a happier ending for Pip, is presented to the reader (for example, 1987 audio edition by Recorded Books[41]).


Dickens and Wills co-owned All the Year Round, one 75%, the other 25%. Since Dickens was his own publisher, he did not require a contract for his own works.[39] Although intended for weekly publication, Great Expectations was divided into nine monthly sections, with new pagination for each.[32] Harper's Weekly published the novel from 24 November 1860 to 5 August 1861 in the US and All the Year Round published it from 1 December 1860 to 3 August 1861 in the UK. Harper's paid £1,000 for publication rights. Dickens welcomed a contract with Tauchnitz 4 January 1861 for publication in English for the European continent.

In periodicals

Publication history

Modern literary criticism is split over the matter. [38]

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