Great Expectations

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| name = Great Expectations

| image          = File:Greatexpectations.png
| image_caption  = Cover of first edition volumes, July 1861 
| author         = Charles Dickens
| cover_artist   = 
| country        = Template:UK
| language       = English
| series         = Weekly:
December 1, 1860 – August 3, 1861 | genre = Fiction Social criticism | publisher = Chapman & Hall | release_date = 1861 (in three volumes) | media_type = Print Serial, Hardcover|, and Paperback | pages = 799 pp (hardback) | isbn = N/A | preceded_by = A Tale of Two Cities | followed_by = Our Mutual Friend

}} Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens. It was first published in serial form in the publication All the Year Round[1] from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. It has been adapted for stage and screen over 250 times.[2]

Great Expectations is written in the style of bildungsroman, which follows the story of a man or woman in their quest for maturity, usually starting from childhood and ending in the main character's eventual adulthood. Great Expectations is the story of the orphan Pip, writing about his life and attempting to become a gentleman along the way. The novel can also be considered semi-autobiographical of Dickens, like much of his work, drawing on his experiences of life and people.

The main plot of Great Expectations takes place between Christmas Eve 1812, when the protagonist is about seven years old (and which happens to be the year of Dickens' birth), and the winter of 1840.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

On Christmas Eve of 1812, Pip, a boy aged 7, encounters an escaped convict in the village churchyard while visiting his mother and father's graves. The convict scares Pip into stealing food for him and a file to grind away his leg shackles. He threatens Pip not to tell anyone and do as he says or his friend will cut out Pip's heart. Pip returns home, where he lives with Mrs. Joe, his older sister, and her husband Joe Gargery. His sister is very cruel and beats him and Joe regularly, while Joe is much more kind to Pip. Early the next morning, Pip steals food and drink from the Gargery pantry (including a pie for their Christmas feast) and sneaks out to the graveyard. It is the first time in Pip’s life he’s felt truly guilty. This is an important event in the book because the convict will never forget the kindness (albeit forced) that Pip showed to him. The convict, however, waits many years to fully show his gratitude.

During Christmas dinner with the minister, Mr. Wopsle, Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, and Uncle Pumblechook, Pip and Mrs. Joe's moderately wealthy uncle, no one notices the missing food or brandy until Uncle Pumblechook drinks some brandy and spits it out. Pip realizes that he filled the brandy jug not with water, but with tar water. Pip sits at the table being told how lucky he is by all the relatives and holds on to the dining table leg for dear life, scared that someone will notice the missing pie. When Mrs. Joe gets up and goes to the kitchen for the pie, Pip bolts to the door. However, his way is blocked by police officers. They ask Joe to repair their handcuffs and invite Joe, Pip and Mr. Wopsle to come with them to hunt for some escaped prisoners from the local jail. As they hunt through the marshes outside the village, they accost the two convicts while engaged in a fight. One of them is the convict helped by Pip; however, when questioned about where he got the food and file, he claims he stole the items himself in order to shield Pip. The police take the two to the Hulk, a giant prison ship, and Pip is carried home by Joe, where they finish Christmas dinner. A while after Pip’s encounter with the convict, Pip's life returns to normal. He goes to school, run by Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt, and becomes friends with Biddy, an orphan who was adopted by the Wopsles. He still feels guilty for the theft. Pip's Uncle Pumblechook gets Pip invited to the house of a rich old woman named Miss Havisham, who lives in the village in Satis House. Miss Havisham is a spinster who wears an old wedding dress with one shoe on and has all the house clocks stopped at 20 minutes to nine. She hasn't seen sunlight in years and claims to have a broken heart and just wants to see Pip play cards with Estella, a young girl she has adopted.

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

After this first meeting, Pip frequently visits Miss Havisham and Estella, for whom he harbours a feeling of obsessive attraction. He begins to tenaciously learn everything he can from Biddy in school, in an effort to impress Estella who called him a common labouring boy. One day, when Pip goes to the town pub to pick up Joe, they are approached by a messenger sent by Pip's convict. He mixes his drink with the stolen file and gives Pip two pounds before leaving. Pip visits Miss Havisham on her birthday where she shows him her wedding cake, which is being eaten by mice, and where she will be laid out when she is dead, a death she looks forward to. He also meets the Pockets.

Pip works with Joe for a few years in the forge, doing work that he hates. In an agreement with Joe, he visits Miss Havisham only on his birthday, when he receives a half-holiday. He and Joe work with a journeyman named Orlick. When he returns home, he discovers that Mrs. Joe had been attacked. She becomes a horribly brain-damaged invalid. Pip feels guilty again when the police believe escaped criminals attacked Mrs. Joe. The detectives from London are inexperienced and do not discover anything. Mrs. Joe spends her days calling for Orlick and draws a capital "T" on a slate. Biddy thinks that the "T" represents a hammer and that Orlick is the attacker. When Orlick arrives, Mrs. Joe tries to please him and shows him the slate. Biddy moves in with the Gargerys and Pip confides in her about his feelings for Estella. When Pip and Joe are listening to Mr. Wopsle read a murder trial from a newspaper, a London lawyer, Jaggers, approaches Pip, revealing very startling news: Pip has inherited a large sum of money from an anonymous benefactor. The conditions of the receipt of said money require him to leave for London immediately, buy some clothes and become a gentleman.

Pip behaves badly in society (mostly over jealousy of Estella) and squanders his allowance, running into debt. He is rescued on his 21st birthday, when he is notified by Jaggars that he is awarded 500 pounds and an increased steady allowance, until such a time as his benefactor will appear.

Magwitch makes himself known to Pip

Pip originally believes Miss Havisham is his benefactress (and so the reader is led to believe, as well) for several years as he begins to learn to be a gentleman, helped by the now grown Herbert Pockets, who is assigned as his companion. During this time, Mrs. Joe dies. However, in one of Dickens' patented plot twists, Pip's benefactor turns out to be instead Magwitch, the convict whom Pip helped, who had been transported to New South Wales, where he had eventually prospered and become wealthy.

Magwitch left all his money to Pip in gratitude for that kindness and also because Pip reminded him of his own child, whom he thinks is dead. The revelation of his true benefactor crushes Pip. He's ashamed of Magwitch's criminal past, however, Magwitch now expects to spend the rest of his life living with Pip. Pip, very reluctantly, lets Magwitch stay with him. There is a warrant out for Magwitch's arrest in England and he'll be hanged if he's caught. Eventually, because Magwitch is on the run from the law, a plan is hatched by Herbert and Pip which involves fleeing the country by boat.

During these events, it is revealed to Pip that Estella is the daughter of Jaggar's housemaid, Molly, whom he defended in a murder charge and who gave up her daughter to be adopted by another of his clients, Miss Haversham, in return for his service in allowing her to be acquitted of the charge. Pip later realizes Magwitch is Estella's father.

Pip has an encounter with Orlick, who admits he was the one who attacked Pip's sister.

Meanwhile, Estella has married Bentley Drummle, a marriage that will be an unhappy one. Before Pip flees with Magwitch, he makes one last visit to Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham realizes that she created a monster out of Estella, who broke Pip's heart, and asks him for forgiveness. Pip confronts Miss Havisham with Estella's history and present circumstance in an unhappy marriage, blaming Miss Havisham for teaching Estella to be cold and unloving. In the heat of the confrontation, Miss Havisham stands too close to the fire and lights her dress on fire. Pip heroically saves her, but she later dies from her burn injuries.

Pip, Herbert and another friend, Startop, make a gallant attempt to help Magwitch escape, but instead he is captured and sent to jail. Pip is devoted to Magwitch by now and recognizes in him a good and noble man. Pip tries to have Magwitch released but Magwitch dies shortly before his execution. Under English law Magwitch's wealth forfeits to the Crown, thus extinguishing Pip's "Great Expectations".

After an extended period of sickness during which he is looked after by Joe, he returns to good health and returns home to ask Biddy for forgiveness and for her love. However, when he arrives, he finds that it is Biddy and Joe's wedding day. Thankful for not mentioning his interest in Biddy to Joe while he was sick, Pip congratulates the happy couple. Afterwards, Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. After eleven relatively successful years abroad, Pip goes back to visit Joe and the rest of his family out in the marshes. Finally, Pip makes one last visit to the ruins of Miss Havisham's house, where he finds Estella wandering. Her marriage is over, and she seems to have children and wants Pip to accept her as a friend. In the book Dickens says "There was no shadow of them parting" which is led the public to believe that Estella and Pip ended up together. 'After over 50 chapters of Pip longing for her, they ended up together in the end of the book' is the basic logical explanation for why people believe the book was ended as them being "more than friends"

Original ending[edit]

Pip meets Estella on the streets. Her abusive husband Drummle has died and she has remarried to a doctor. Estella and Pip exchange brief pleasantries and Pip states that while he could not have her in the end, he was at least glad to know she was a different person now, changed from the coldhearted girl Miss Havisham had reared her to be. The novel ends with Pip saying he could see that "suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be."

The revised, widely published ending follows the paragraph " 'My dear Biddy, I have forgotten nothing in my life that ever had a foremost place there, and little that ever had any place there. But that poor dream, as I once used to call it, has all gone by Biddy, all gone by!' " and begins "Nevertheless, I knew while I said those words..."

The full text of the original ending is: "It was two years more before I saw herself. I had heard of her as leading a most unhappy life, and as being separated from her husband, who had used her with great cruelty, and who had become quite renowned as a compound of pride, brutality, and meanness. I had heard of the death of her husband from an accident consequent on ill-treating a horse, and of her being married again to a Shropshire doctor who, against his interest, had once very manfully interposed on an occasion when he was in professional attendance upon Mr. Drummle, and had witnessed some outrageous treatment of her. I had heard that the Shropshire doctor was not rich, and that they lived on her own personal fortune. I was in England again - in London, and walking along Piccadilly with little Pip - when a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a , for in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be."

The story ends in the year 1841.

Note: The full text above is from New American Classics edition published by New American Library, copyright 1963.

Revised ending[edit]

Pip and Estella meet again at the ruins of Satis House:

As principal of this proud institution, I am happy to say that most students would feel privilged to enter the hallowed halls of St.C High. I've spent the last 7 yeas of my life here giving 64% effort to make this school the best that it can be. Whether its grab assing with members of the athletic teams, trying to be funny, or roaming around acting tough, I do what I can.

Main characters in Great Expectations[edit]

Pip and his family[edit]

  • Philip Pirrip, nicknamed Pip, an orphan and the protagonist of Great Expectations. Throughout his childhood, Pip thought that he was going to be trained as a blacksmith, but with Magwitch's anonymous patronage, Pip travels to London and becomes a gentleman.
  • 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 was very disappointed when Pip decided to leave his home and travel to London to become a gentleman rather than be a blacksmith.
  • Mrs. Joe Gargery, Pip's hot-tempered adult sister, who raises him after the death of their parents but complains constantly of the burden Pip is to her. 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 holding Pip in disdain, he tells Mrs. Joe how noble she is to raise Pip. As the person who first connected Pip to Miss Havisham, he even claims to have been the original architect of Pip's precious fortune. Pip despises Mr. Pumblechook as Mr. Pumblechook constantly makes himself out to be better than he really is. He is a cunning impostor. When Pip finally stands up to him, Mr. Pumblechook turns those listening to the conversation against Pip and his usefulness at succession.

Miss Havisham and her family[edit]

  • Miss Havisham, wealthy spinster who takes Pip on as a companion and whom Pip suspects is his benefactor. Miss Havisham does not discourage this as it fits into her own spiteful plans. She later apologizes to him as she's overtaken by guilt. He accepts her apology and she is badly burnt when her dress catches aflame from a spark which leapt from the fire. Pip saves her, but she later dies from her injuries.
  • Estella (Havisham), Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, whom Pip pursues romantically throughout the novel. She is secretly the daughter of Molly, Jaggers' housekeeper, and Abel Magwitch, Pip's convict, but was given up to Miss Havisham after a murder trial. Estella represents the life of wealth and culture for which Pip strives. Since her ability to love has been ruined by Miss Havisham, she is unable to return Pip's passion. She warns Pip of this repeatedly, but he is unwilling or unable to believe her.
  • Arthur (Havisham), Miss Havisham's half-brother, who felt he was shortchanged in his inheritance by their father's preference for his daughter. He joined with Compeyson in the scheme to cheat Miss Havisham of large sums of money by gaining Miss Havisham's trust through promise of marriage to Compeyson. Arthur is haunted by the memory of the scheme and sickens and dies in a delirium, imagining that the still-living Miss Havisham is in his room, coming to kill him. Arthur has died before the beginning of the novel and gambled heavily, being drunk quite often.
  • Matthew Pocket, a cousin of Miss Havisham's. He is the patriarch of the Pocket family, but unlike others of her relatives he is not greedy for Havisham's wealth. Matthew Pocket has a family of nine children, two nurses, a housekeeper, a cook, and a pretty but useless wife (named Belinda). He also tutors young gentlemen, such as Bentley Drummle, Startop, Pip, and his own son Herbert, who live on his estate.
  • Herbert Pocket, a member of the Pocket family, Miss Havisham's presumed heirs, whom Pip first meets as a "pale young gentleman" who challenges Pip to a fist fight at Miss Havisham's house when both are children. He is the son of Matthew Pocket, Pip's tutor in the "gentlemanly" arts, and shares his apartment with Pip in London, becoming Pip's fast friend who is there to share Pip's happiness as well as his troubles. He has a secret relationship with a woman called Clara. Herbert keeps it secret because he knows his mother would say she is below his "station." She's actually a sweet, fairy-like girl who takes care of her dying drunk of a father.
  • Camilla, an ageing, talkative relative of Miss Havisham who does not care much for Miss Havisham and only wants her money. She is one of the many relatives who hang around Miss Havisham "like flies" for her wealth.
  • Cousin Raymond, another ageing relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money. He is married to Camilla.
  • Georgiana, an ageing relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money.
  • Sarah Pocket, "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." Another aging relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money.

Characters from Pip's youth[edit]

  • The Convict, an escapee from a prison ship, whom Pip treats kindly, and who turns out to be his benefactor, at which time his real name is revealed to be Abel Magwitch, but who is also known as Provis and Mr. Campbell in parts of the story to protect his identity. Pip also covers him as his uncle in order that no one recognizes him as a convict sent to Australia years before.
    • Abel Magwitch, the convict's given name, who is also Pip's benefactor.
    • Provis, a name that Abel Magwitch uses when he returns to London, to conceal his identity. Pip also says that "Provis" is his uncle visiting from out of town.
    • Mr. Campbell, a name that Abel Magwitch uses after he is discovered in London by his enemy.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, simple folk who think they are more important than they really are. They live in Pip's village.
  • Mr. Wopsle, the clerk of the church in Pip's town. He later gives up the church work and moves to London to pursue his ambition to be an actor, even though he is not very good.
    • Mr. Waldengarver, the stage name that Mr. Wopsle adopts as an actor in London.
  • Biddy, Mr. Wopsle's second cousin; she runs an evening school from her home in Pip's village and becomes Pip's teacher. A kind and intelligent but poor young woman, she is, like Pip and Estella, an orphan. She is the opposite of Estella. Pip ignores her obvious love for him as he fruitlessly pursues Estella. After he realizes the error of his life choices, he returns to claim Biddy as his bride, only to find out she has married Joe Gargery. Biddy and Joe later have two children, one named after Pip whom Estella mistakes as Pip's child in the original ending. Orlick was attracted to her, but his affection was unreciprocated.
  • Clara Barley, wife to Herbert Pocket. A very poor girl that lives with her father who is suffering from gout. She dislikes Pip the first time she meets him because he influences Herbert's spending, but she eventually warms up to him.

The lawyer and his circle[edit]

  • Mr. Jaggers, prominent London lawyer who represents the interests of diverse clients, both criminal and civil. He represents Pip's benefactor and is Miss Havisham's lawyer as well. By the end of the story, his law practice is the common element that brushes many of the characters.
  • John Wemmick, Jaggers's clerk, only called "Mr. Wemmick" and "Wemmick" except by his father, who himself is referred to as "The Aged Parent", "The Aged P.", or simply "The Aged." Wemmick is Pip's chief go-between with Jaggers and generally looks after Pip in London.
  • Molly, Mr. Jaggers's maidservant whom Jaggers saved from the gallows for murder. She is revealed to be the former lover of Magwitch, and Estella's real mother.

Pip's antagonists[edit]

  • Compeyson (surname), another convict, and enemy to Magwitch. A professional swindler, he had been Miss Havisham's intended husband, who was in league with Arthur to defraud Miss Havisham of her fortune. He pursues Abel Magwitch when he learns that he is in London and eventually dies.
  • "Dolge" Orlick, journeyman blacksmith at Joe Gargery's forge. Strong, rude and sullen, he is as churlish as Joe is gentle and kind. His resentments cause him to take actions which threaten his desires in life but for which he blames others. He ends up in a fist fight with Joe over Mrs. Joe's taunting and is easily beaten. This set in motion an escalating chain of events that lead him to secretly injure Mrs. Joe grievously and eventually make an attempt on Pip's life. He had once attempted to murder Pip, but was discovered and arrested.
  • Bentley Drummle, a coarse unintelligent young man whose only saving graces are that he is to succeed to a title and his family is wealthy. Pip meets him at Mr. Pocket's house, as Drummle is also to be trained in gentlemanly skills. Drummle is hostile to Pip and everyone. He is a rival to Pip for Estella's attentions and marries her. It is said he ill-treats Estella and took much from her. Drummle would later be mentioned to have died from an accident following his mistreatment of a horse. "The Spider" is Mr. Jaggers' nickname for him.

Style and themes[edit]

Great Expectations is written in first person and uses language and grammar that has, since the publication of Great Expectations, fallen out of common use. The title Great Expectations refers to the 'Great Expectations' Pip has of coming into his benefactor's property upon his disclosure to him and achieving his intended role as a gentleman at that time. Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, a novel depicting growth and personal development, in this case, of Pip.

The main themes of Great Expectations are those of 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 in even greater effect when Pip discovers that his benefactor is in fact a convict. Pip has an internal struggle with his conscience throughout the book. Great Expectations explores the different social classes of Victorian England. Throughout the book, Pip becomes involved with all of them, from criminals like Magwitch to the extremely rich like Miss Havisham. Pip has great ambition, as demonstrated constantly in the book. If Pip did not have ambition, he would have never gone to London, he would have stayed as a lowly blacksmith.

Film, TV, and theatrical adaptations[edit]

Like many other Dickens novels, Great Expectations has been filmed several times, including:

Cultural references and spin-offs[edit]

  • Great Expectations, the Untold Story (1986), starring John Stanton, directed by Tim Burstall is a spin-off movie depicting the adventures of Magwitch in Australia.
  • In explaining the character Pip Pirrup, the creators of South Park made a parody episode, "Pip". It initially followed the plot, but spun off on a tangent (one involving robot monkeys) that made Miss Havisham more villainous (by way of a brain-switching device) as a parody of the fact that Dickens had changed the ending to fit the fads at the time.
  • Peter Carey's Jack Maggs is a re-imagining of Magwitch's return to England, with the addition, among other things, of a fictionalised Charles Dickens character and plot-line.
  • Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip is set in Bougainville where, during a time of civil unrest, a white man uses Great Expectations as the basis for his lessons to the local children.
  • The plot and characters of Great Expectations feature heavily in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. Miss Havisham is Thursday's friend and mentor, and Fforde draws from the manuscript to further along the story and give a glimpse of what goes on inside the world of Great Expectations when no one is reading it.
  • The house in Sunset Blvd is referred to as being similar to Ms. Havisham's.
  • Great Expectations is the name of the first track off The Gaslight Anthem's album The '59 Sound, and the lyrics reference Estella.
  • This was recently re-written by Louis Skipper as Pip and the Zombies[1].

See also[edit]

Everything Portal
Everything Portal


  1. How Great Expectations
  2. Great Expectations Critical Overview
  3. Meckier, Jerome Dating the Action in Great Expectations: A New Chronology.

External links[edit]


Online editions
Study guide