Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens first serialised in All the Year Round from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. The action of the story takes place from Christmas Eve, 1812, when the protagonist is about seven years old, to the winter of 1840.
Great Expectations is written in a semi-autobiographical style, and is the story of the orphan Pip, writing his life from his early days of childhood until adulthood. The story can also be considered semi-autobiographical of Dickens, like much of his work, drawing on his experiences of life and people.
Each installment in All the Year Round contained two chapters, and was written in a way that kept readers interested from week to week, while still satisfying their curiosity at the end of each one.
The story is divided into three phases of Pip’s life expectations. The first “expectation” is allotted 19 chapters, and the other two 20 chapters each in the 59-chapter work. In some editions, the chapter numbering reverts to Chapter One in each expectation, but the original publication and most modern editions number the chapters consecutively from one to 59. At the end of chapters 19 and 39, readers are formally notified that they have reached the conclusion of a phase of Pip’s expectations.
In the first expectation, Pip lives a humble existence with his ill-tempered older sister and her strong but gentle husband, Joe Gargery. One day Pip meets an escaped convict and brings him food to keep him alive. This convict is later caught again and sent away. Pip is satisfied with his life and his warm friends until he is hired by an embittered wealthy woman, Miss Havisham, as an occasional companion to her and her beautiful but haughty adopted daughter, Estella. From that time on, Pip aspires to leave behind his simple life and be a gentleman. After years as companion to Miss Havisham and Estella, he spends more years as an apprentice to Joe, so that he may grow up to have a future working as a blacksmith. This life is suddenly turned upside down when he is visited by a London attorney, Mr. Jaggers, who informs Pip that he is to come into the “great expectations” of handsome property and be trained to be a gentleman on the behalf of an anonymous benefactor (who he assumes to be Miss Havisham).
The second stage of Pip’s expectations has Pip in London, learning the details of being a gentleman, having tutors, fine clothing, and joining cultured society. Whereas he always engaged in honest labour when he was younger, he now is supported by a generous allowance, which he frequently lives beyond. He learns to fit in this new milieu, and experiences not only friendship but rivalry as he finds himself in the same circles as Estella, who is also pursued by many other men, especially Bentley Drummle, whom she favours. As he adopts the physical and cultural norms of his new status, he also adopts the class attitudes that go with it, and when Joe comes to visit Pip and his friend and roommate Herbert to deliver an important message, Pip is embarrassed to the point of hostility by Joe’s unlearned ways, despite his protestations of love and friendship for Joe. At the end of this stage, Pip is introduced to his anonymous benefactor, Magwitch, the escaped convict he helped long ago. This again changes his world.
The third and last stage of Pip’s expectations alters Pip’s life from the artificially supported world of his upper class strivings and introduces him to realities that he must deal with, including moral, physical and financial challenges. He learns startling truths that cast into doubt the values that he once embraced so eagerly, and finds that he cannot regain many of the important things that he had cast aside so carelessly. The current ending of the story is different from Dickens’s original intent, in which the ending matched the gloomy reverses to Pip’s fortunes that typify the last expectation. Dickens was prevailed upon to change the ending to one more acceptable to his readers’ tastes in that era, and this “new” ending was the published one and currently accepted as definitive.
Dickens has Pip as the writer and first person narrator of this account of his life’s experiences, and the entire story is understood to have been written as a retrospective, rather than as a present tense narrative or a diary or journal. Still, though Pip “knows” how all the events in the story will turn out, he uses only very subtle foreshadowing so that we learn of events only when the Pip in the story does. Pip does, however, use the perspective of the bitter lessons he’s learned to comment acidly on various actions and attitudes in his earlier life.
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The first stage of Pip’s expectations
Pip is a young orphan who is being brought up by his adult sister, Mrs. Joe, a sharp-tongued woman who is married to the simple but kind village blacksmith, Joe Gargery, who treats Pip warmly to make up for his wife’s harshness. Mrs. Joe brought Pip up “by hand”, an acceptable way to raise children back in the mid-nineteenth century.
On a Christmas Eve, Pip visits his parents’ graves in the churchyard in the marshes, and is suddenly confronted by an escaped convict. The convict orders Pip, with threats, to bring him food and a file to remove his shackles. Pip complies the next day, stealing food from the pantry and the file from Joe’s forge. Later on in the day, there is a commotion, which turns out to be the same convict Pip had helped, fighting with another convict. The two are captured, but not before the convict repays Pip in his own way by covering up for him regarding the food and file. Pumblechook, who is Joe’s uncle and was never very nice to Pip, arranges with Mrs. Joe for Pip to visit Miss Havisham, a wealthy and eccentric spinster who resides at Satis House. When Pip arrives at Satis House, he finds it to have been stopped in time; everything seems to have been kept the same way for many years, and the clocks have stopped. While there, he fulfills Miss Havisham’s “sick fancy” to see children play by playing cards with Estella, a beautiful but haughty girl adopted by Miss Havisham. His perspective on his simple but honest life is altered forever. Pip’s visits to Satis House continue for several years and he develops an unrequited love for Estella, whose wealth and grace also make him ashamed of his humble life and friends.
Miss Havisham’s payment for Pip ultimately comes in the form of monetary compensation for his years of service as Joe’s apprentice. Pip appears destined to become a blacksmith, but he cannot forget about Estella, even with the advice of his female friend, Biddy.
While an apprentice, Joe’s cruel and hateful journeyman Dolge Orlick fights Joe after making a comment about Mrs. Joe. Not long after, Mrs. Joe is attacked from behind by an unknown assailant, whom Pip believes to be Orlick. Mrs. Joe never fully recovers, so Biddy becomes her nurse.
The pivotal turning point in Pip’s life comes in his fourth year of apprenticeship, when a well-known London attorney by the name of Jaggers informs them that Pip has been endowed with “great expectations” —- he will be provided with the necessary fortune and upbringing to make himself a gentleman. While Mr. Jaggers specifically states Pip’s benefactor will not be revealed to him yet, Pip believes Miss Havisham is behind this, which is further strengthened by the discovery that Jaggers is Miss Havisham’s lawyer and that his tutor will be Mr. Matthew Pocket, a relative of Miss Havisham.
The first part of the novel ends with Pip’s leaving behind his family, friends, and humble life as he is transported by coach to London and another life.
The second stage of Pip’s expectations
On his arrival in London, Pip’s initial impression of London is that it is unattractive and dirty. Nonetheless, his great expectations lie before him, and he is informed by Jaggers and his clerk, Wemmick, of his new living quarters. When Pip reaches his house, he meets his roommate, Herbert Pocket, a member of Miss Havisham’s extended family. Herbert was also one of many acquaintances Miss Havisham chose to be in the company of Estella, although she did not favour him. Miss Havisham detests the Pockets as she believes they only pay tribute to her because they expect to inherit her money when she dies, though this is untrue of Herbert’s father.
Pip and Herbert quickly become close friends, and Herbert teaches him the ways of polite company, including dining etiquette. Pip confides to Herbert his love for Estella, but Herbert warns him that Estella was adopted and raised by Miss Havisham to “wreak revenge on all the male sex” after Miss Havisham’s fiancé jilted her on their wedding day, the event that also caused Miss Havisham to stop time at Satis House. Pip, however, does not heed Herbert’s warning.
During Pip’s training to be a gentleman, he becomes more deeply involved with his acquaintances, gaining a perspective on their personal lives. He dines with Herbert’s large and disorganized family, including Matthew Pocket, Pip’s tutor and the person who warned Miss Havisham about her lover; he was disowned by her thereafter. Pocket’s other students include Startop, whose mother’s pampering led to him being physically frail, and Bentley Drummle, a contentious and thuggish “blockhead,” who is dubbed “the Spider” by Jaggers.
Pip also spends time with Wemmick, Jaggers’s clerk, and learns Wemmick has an entirely different personal life from his strict business life. Outside work, he lives in a cottage with many whimsical features. In the cottage resides Wemmick’s deaf and elderly father, referred to as the “Aged Parent”, or simply “the Aged”, whom he treats compassionately and amusingly. Pip next has dinner with Jaggers, who, in contrast to Wemmick, deals with his personal life as seriously and tightly as his public life.
On a Monday, Pip receives a letter from Biddy. The letter informs Pip that Joe wishes to visit him in London tomorrow; Biddy says she hopes Pip will accept Joe as an important visitor, even though he is now a gentleman. Despite this reminder, Pip reacts to this news with displeasure, and dreads that the common, unrefined Joe will be seen as associated with him.
The social disparity between the two former companions is further emphasized when Joe, uncomfortable in the luxury of Pip’s place, frequently addresses him as “Sir,” not “Pip.” Joe informs Pip that Miss Havisham asked him to tell Pip, “Estella has come home and would be glad to see him.” His first instinct in his realization is he humiliated Joe and he must stay at Joe’s home, but he goes, making excuses to himself why he must stay at the inn instead.
When Pip reaches Satis House, he finds to his surprise that Orlick is now Miss Havisham’s porter for protection. Pip locates Miss Havisham in the same, dilapidated room and sees Estella for the first time in many years, who has grown up into a beautiful and elegant lady. Her beauty and self-possession cause him to feel inadequate in her presence again. Estella shows little memory of Pip as a child, cautioning him she has no heart that can be touched by emotions, which Pip refuses to believe.
Once alone with Miss Havisham, Miss Havisham asks Pip if he admires Estella. After Pip remarks that all who see her must admire her, Miss Havisham fiercely admonishes him to love her, even if she breaks his heart. In the passion of this outburst, Miss Havisham declares she raised Estella to be loved and reiterates in a vehement fashion Pip must love her. This causes Pip to observe that if words of hatred had been substituted for “love”, it would have sounded like a curse.
After Pip returns to London, he tells Jaggers of his suspicions toward Orlick. Jaggers resolves immediately to fire Orlick, brushing aside Pip’s objections: Pip does not want Orlick to know of his hostility towards him.
Sometime later, Pip receives a letter from Estella bearing the news that she will arrive in London in two days and that it has been settled that Pip will meet her there. On the day of Estella’s arrival, Pip meets Estella’s coach, and finds her more delicately beautiful than ever before. She is shocked to find him there, but attempts to hide it, as she finds herself unsettlingly pleased by his appearance. She tells Pip that she is to go to Richmond Surrey by carriage and that Pip is to escort her and pay for all expenses out of her purse. She also states, “We have no choice, you and I, but to obey our instructions. We are not free to follow our own devices, you and I.” On hearing this, Pip hopes there is an inner meaning to those words.
Estella lives with a lady at Richmond, who introduces her to society. She speaks of the Pockets and her amusement that they have been stoked into hating Pip, whom they see as their rival. She assures Pip that no harm can come to him from this animosity but that she is delighted such mean people are made unhappy and she is beholden to Pip for causing this displeasure. She offers Pip her hand upon it, and when Pip kisses it, she scorns this romantic gesture. Pip asks her if he might kiss her again if he affirms that he did this in only a friendly way. Estella complies, but glides away as soon as he touches her cheek. When Pip and Estella part, Pip ponders on how happy he believes he would be if he were to live with her and on how she always makes him miserable in her company.
Later on, Pip unexpectedly receives word that his sister has died, leading him to realize that he had thought little of his previous home lately, further fuelling his anger against Orlick, whom he suspects to be the cause of her suffering and now her death.
Pip returns home to attend the funeral and comfort Joe. He has a walk with Biddy in which he promises to visit Joe more often. Biddy expresses doubt at this, which Pip replies with righteous indignation, but he avoids her for the rest of the day, subconsciously realizing that she is correct in her doubt.
When Pip turns 21 years old, he visits Jaggers for further information on his expected fortune and hopefully the identity of his benefactor. Jaggers tells him he will have an annual allowance of 500 pounds until his benefactor is made known to him, but refuses to tell him when his benefactor will be revealed to him. He also tells Pip that when his benefactor is revealed, Jaggers’ business will end, and he need not be informed about it.
With extra money in his pocket, Pip decides to secretly help Herbert secure a job, Herbert having come of age earlier but having nothing to show for it and being still unsure of his future. Pip discusses this with Wemmick, who arranges for Pip to influence a firm in hiring Herbert. Herbert’s elation at discovering this is so profound Pip is moved to tears of happiness that his expectations had finally done good for someone else.
Meanwhile, Pip continues to pursue Estella who continually places him “on terms of familiarity without placing [him] on terms of favour.” Estella uses Pip’s presence to tease her admirers to jealousy, and their attentions in turn inspire Pip to jealousy and constant misery. Despite this, and Estella’s indirect warnings for him to give up on her, Pip continues to imagine himself as married to her and writes off her warnings as bitterness against Miss Havisham’s intent for them to be paired together. He further convinces himself Miss Havisham will only use Estella to torment her other suitors until she officially becomes his.
On a visit with Estella to see Miss Havisham, Pip witnesses the first time he has ever seen Estella in opposition to Miss Havisham. While Estella is sitting beside her with Miss Havisham clutching her hand, she gradually disengages herself from her grip, moving away. Miss Havisham reacts angrily: “What! are you tired of me?” Estella’s mild response only enrages Miss Havisham more, and her adopted daughter’s cool composure induces Miss Havisham to accuse her of having no heart. Estella replies she is only what Miss Havisham made her; when Miss Havisham says she wants love from her daughter, Estella says she cannot return what she has never gotten, leading Miss Havisham to cry out to Pip, “Did I not give her love?” After that confrontation, Estella and Miss Havisham show no further hint of the argument, although Pip notes that from then on, Miss Havisham seemed to regard her with a little fear.
Pip discovers Bentley Drummle is also courting Estella when he proposes a toast to her at a meeting of “The Finches of the Grove,” an organization Pip and Herbert joined. When Pip confronts Drummle, accusing him of associating himself with a lady he barely knows, the other Finches agree if Drummle can provide evidence of his acquaintance with Estella, Pip must apologise to him. When Drummle shows up the next day with a letter from Estella confirming she had the honour of dancing with him many times, Pip is forced to make the proposed apology.
Pained Estella would choose a boorish suitor over him, Pip admonishes Estella at a dance for giving special attention to Drummle. When Estella replies she cannot help if so many men are attracted to her, Pip complains she treats him with an affection she never shows to him. Estella’s unexpected response is an angry look and the retributal, “Do you want me then […] to deceive and entrap you?” She then states Pip is the only person with whom she has been completely honest. Having devoted his chapter to Estella, Pip now turns to focus on the event that would destroy all his assumptions and planning of his future. The critical event takes place on a day of heavy rain and storms, when a grey-haired stranger comes into his house late in the night, who greets him cordially with both arms outstretched. When Pip questions him, the stranger reveals he is none other than the convict he had helped when he was a child. The convict had never forgotten Pip’s generosity that day and was the benefactor behind his plan to make him into a gentleman.
This revelation shocks Pip, who feels not gratitude, but disgust and repulsion at the fact all his wealth had come from a criminal. Even as a stunned Pip tries to collect his thoughts, the convict further informs him he must be hidden in Pip’s home because he violated his terms of exile to Australia to see his “London Gentleman,” and he would be hanged if caught in England.
Pip allows the convict to stay for the night but stays up to ponder on this sudden turn of events. As he thinks, the enormity of wrecked fantasies come home for him: Miss Havisham, not his benefactor as he had assumed, had no purpose for him, other than another object for Estella to toy with and make the people around her miserable. The thing that sticks in his mind the most is on how his great expectations led him to desert Joe.
The third stage of Pip’s expectations: Dealing with reality and its consequences
Pip was a young boy and having absorbed the first shock of the convict’s coming, Pip considers what he must do to deal with the convict’s presence, considering the dangers they both are facing. He and Herbert no longer have a servant, but they have a nosy cleaning lady and her niece, so Pip resolves to tell whoever visits his “uncle” had arrived unexpectedly from the country.
Since the storm caused a blackout, Pip feels his way down the stairs to find the night watchman and have him get a lantern. In doing so, he stumbles over someone crouching in a corner, who silently steals away. Pip runs for the watchman, but they find no-one there on their return. Pip asks the watchman who came through the gate during the night, and the watchman mentions the visitor who asked for Pip; i.e., the convict, who Pip says is his uncle. Then the watchman asks whether Pip also saw “the person with him,” who stayed close by the convict, stopping when he did, and following when he moved on; this discovery makes Pip even more fearful.
Back in his apartment, Pip and the convict have a conversation, where the convict reveals his assumed name in London is Provis, but his real name is Abel Magwitch, who was brought up to be a “warmint.” Magwitch tells Pip he was tried in London, and it was Jaggers who was his attorney. He is not especially afraid of discovery, even though being caught would mean death, because many years had passed since he was last seen in England. Because of this, he tells Pip he has come back for good; he has already evaded many traps before and will only concern himself when faced with immediate danger.
Despite the fact Magwitch put his life in great peril to reach Pip and he greatly admires him, Pip can only feel loathing towards him. After five days, Herbert returns and is informed of the situation by Pip. Herbert appears to share the same repugnance against their visitor, and while talking alone, Pip declares he cannot accept any more of Magwitch’s riches, even though he is deeply in debt. Herbert, however, warns him simply disowning his great expectations would likely drive Magwitch to great desperation after devoting his entire life and safety to his welfare. They finally agree the only possible course of action is for Pip to get Magwitch out of England by going with him.
When Magwitch wakes up, Pip says to him he wants to know about his life story and also about the other convict he had fought with before capture. After reminding Herbert he is under oath not to repeat any of it, Magwitch complies. He says all that happened to him for a while was he was in and out of jail several times. Just about every punishment was inflicted upon him, save for hanging: being locked up, pushed around, put in stocks, and whipped.
He knows his name is Abel Magwitch, but cannot recall how he knows. He has no idea where he was born, and his first memories were of stealing turnips for a living and being abandoned by a tinker. He also cannot recall anyone in his youth who was not frightened of him as a declared hardened criminal, and either avoided or fought him. He begged and stole and sometimes worked when someone would give him some work. More than 20 years earlier, he fell in with a con man named Compeyson, the other convict he was fighting on the marshes in Pip’s childhood. Unlike him, Compeyson was a smooth talker who could pass off as a gentleman.
At the time Magwitch met Compeyson, Compeyson had another confederate named Arthur who was deathly ill. Arthur and Compeyson “had been in a bad thing with a rich lady (who turns out to be miss Havisham) some years afore, and they’d made a pot of money by it.” Now, Arthur was dying and going insane too, although Compeyson showed little concern. Arthur dies after hallucinating his late wife taking him to the afterlife.
Magwitch realises he should have taken warning from the example of Arthur about Compeyson’s perfidy but did not and was betrayed as a result. The two had several misdemeanour brushes with the law, but after four or five years were brought up on a felony charge of passing stolen notes. Compeyson set up Magwitch to take the greater part of blame by telling him they would put up separate defences. As a result, at trial, Compeyson passed off as the dignified gentleman, while Magwitch had to sell his belongings to hire Jaggers. Magwitch received a fourteen-year sentence while Compeyson was given half of the time.
They were put in the same prison-ship, but Magwitch could not get at him. At one point he did get ahold of Compeyson but was immediately seen and placed in the “black-hole” of the ship, from which he promptly escaped and made his way to shore, where he was hiding among the graves when he encountered the then-seven-year-old Pip. Young Pip’s mention to Magwitch of the other person he encountered on the marshes made Magwitch realise Compeyson was there, too, apparently driven to escape by his terror of Magwitch. Magwitch attacked and beat Compeyson until he was stopped by the arrival of the soldiers. Compeyson was again given a light punishment for his escape, but Magwitch was retried and sent for life imprisonment, though he later was released on condition of never returning to England.
Pip asks if Compeyson is dead, and Magwitch replies he has never heard from him since. When Magwitch’s story is finished, Herbert, who has been writing in the cover of a book, softly pushes the book over to Pip, who reads Herbert’s words: “Young Havisham’s name was Arthur. Compeyson is the man who professed to be Miss Havisham’s lover.”
Pondering on this, Pip’s mind turns to Estella. He decides not to tell Magwitch about Estella but he must see both her and Miss Havisham the next day before going abroad with Magwitch. Upon reaching Richmond, however, he learns Estella has already gone to Satis House. This disturbs him, as Estella has never returned to Satis House without Pip as her companion.
Arriving at Satis House, Pip finds Miss Havisham with Estella, who is quietly knitting. Pip tells Havisham he has found out who his benefactor was, but he can reveal no more, since it is not his secret, but another’s. He says he now understands he was brought to Satis House as a child on Miss Havisham’s whim, as no more than a kind of paid servant. Miss Havisham nods her assent; then Pip brings up Jaggers, his guardian, and Havisham’s mutual attorney, but Havisham cuts him off, saying the coincidence has no greater meaning.
Miss Havisham also agrees she took advantage of the fact the Pocket family thought Pip was their rival for Miss Havisham’s money, and she took pleasure in letting them think so. Pip hastens to let Havisham know he had become close to one part of the Pocket family, Herbert and his father Matthew, and she has wronged them, as they are “generous, upright, open, and incapable of anything designing or mean.” Pip contrasts them with the other Pockets, a point that Havisham seems to appreciate. Havisham then asks Pip what he wants for part of the family. Pip first states he only wants her to treat them differently than the others, then goes on to request further monetary compensation for Herbert’s welfare.
After settling these matters, Pip turns to Estella, confessing his love for her ever since he met her as a child. Estella shakes her head to this, to which Pip states Miss Havisham would have realized the cruelty of her encouragement of his futile hopes for her if she had not been so fixated on her own troubles.
Miss Havisham reacts to this by placing her hand on her heart, but Estella is unmoved, saying he can stir no emotions in her heart. She asks him if he has not, to which Pip miserably replies, “Yes.” He explains he pursued her against her warnings because he could not believe such a beautiful and young person could be so irrevocably cold.
The conversation then turns to Bentley Drummle, and Estella acknowledges he is to dine with her today. Pip protests Estella could never love him, much less marry him. Estella then devastates him with the declaration she will in fact be married to him. An anguished Pip buries his face into his hands; when he looks up again, he notices the colour has drained out of Havisham’s face.
Pip vainly tries to persuade Estella to choose a more worthy man than Drummle, but Estella, only amazed at his earnestness, restates her decision to marry Drummle. She offers her hand in friendship to Pip, saying he will move on with this, but a heartbroken Pip declares he could never forget her, as he has never got her out of his thoughts since childhood.
In his despair and defeat, Pip decides he cannot go back to the inn to see a triumphant Drummle, and instead sets out to walk the entire distance back to London. It is past midnight when he arrives there. A guard at the Temple, after hearing his name for identification, gives him a note from Wemmick reading, “DON’T GO HOME”.
Leaving the gate immediately, Pip heads to Covent Garden where he spends a restless night in a sooty and dusty room. Early the next morning, he travels to the Castle, Wemmick’s home, and finds him in a cheerful mood. Wemmick, communicating indirectly to him by hints and indirect statements because he is in his personal space now, informs Pip he has overheard talk that suggests rumours have arisen about the convict’s whereabouts and Pip’s quarters are being watched. Pip asks Wemmick if he knows of Compeyson and if he is alive, and Wemmick affirms both facts.
Wemmick also tells Pip he sought out and found Herbert, and informed him if he knew of suspicious people hanging around his chambers, he should get anybody out of the way, meaning Magwitch must be moved, but it is not yet safe to ship him from England. Herbert decided to move Magwitch to the home of his fiancée, Clara Barley, at Mill Pond Bank.
After spending the rest of the day at Wemmick’s home, Pip goes to the Barleys’ residence, where he finds Magwitch comfortably residing. He asks Magwitch if he trusts Jaggers’s judgement, and Magwitch says he does. Pip goes on to tell him of the danger he is in, and he will stay here until he can be safely moved from England by boat. Magwitch is pleased at this proposal, and Pip takes his leave.
Pip returns to the Temple, where he obtains a boat to practice rowing on the Thames in the following days to prepare to remove Magwitch when the time is right. Pip practices hard and often, sometimes alone and sometimes with Herbert. He becomes a familiar presence rowing on the Thames, which is his intention, so his comings and goings on the boat will not arouse suspicion. Though weeks pass with no hint of trouble, Pip lives in constant fear the convict’s pursuers may appear at any time.
Nothing is heard from Wemmick for some time. Pip’s financial affairs are deteriorating and he feels he cannot take any more of Magwitch’s money, returning the cash-filled pocketbook he had given him for safekeeping. Another of Pip’s fears is Estella has already married, and he avoids newspapers lest he read something to confirm that fear.
One cold February evening, after a day of rowing, Pip decides to stop at a chophouse for dinner. There he unexpectedly encounters Mr. Wopsle, who Pip heard had given up his pursuit in theatre, now performing comic pantomime. To Pip’s surprise, he sees Mr. Wopsle glaring in his direction with a look as though he had unconfirmed suspicions of him. As Pip leaves the performance, he finds Mr. Wopsle waiting for him. He tells Pip he saw him, but also saw someone else. Becoming alarmed, Pip presses Mr. Wopsle to explain, and Mr. Wopsle replies he saw a figure sitting behind Pip “like a ghost”, and he was certain it was someone he had seen on Christmas Day long ago, when Pip was a child. He asserts he feels the person was one of the two fighting prisoners on the marshes, “the one who had been mauled.” Pip realizes with terror the person who had been behind him was Compeyson, Magwitch’s enemy.
About a week after his encounter with Mr. Wopsle, Pip runs into Jaggers after another day of rowing, who invites him to dine at his home with Wemmick. There, Pip is given a note from Miss Havisham stating she wishes to see him on a matter of business, meaning the gift for Herbert.
Jaggers comments “the Spider,” or Drummle, has won, which confirms his status as Estella’s husband. Pip is then distracted by the arrival of Molly, Jaggers’s maidservant, who he sees make “a certain action of her fingers as she spoke that arrested my attention.” The action strongly resembles the motions Pip saw of Estella’s knitting. He scrutinises Molly’s looks and becomes convinced she is Estella’s mother.
Pip and Wemmick leave Jaggers’s dinner early, and as they walk, the “right” Wemmick emerges. Pip asks Wemmick if he knows anything of Molly’s history. Wemmick obliges, explaining that some years ago, Molly was tried for murder, with Jaggers as her attorney. Evidence made it clear the murderer had been an exceptionally strong woman who had strangled another woman in a passionate fight.
While all available evidence pointed to Molly as the murderer, Jaggers acquitted her by claiming a woman as small as Molly could never overpower another so much larger. He dressed Molly so as to make her appear more delicate than she really was, and explained the lacerations on the back of her hands as the result of being scratched by brambles.
Jaggers also challenged the prosecution’s classification of the murder as one of jealousy, and Molly had destroyed her child to exact revenge upon the man who had wronged her; he demands on why Molly is not being tried for the murder of her child, and the jury is forced to concede and acquit Molly.
Pip asks Wemmick if he knew the gender of Molly’s child, and Wemmick replies, “Said to have been a girl.”
After this discovery, Pip goes to Satis House once more to talk with Miss Havisham. Sensing the house is disquietingly empty now Estella is gone, Pip finds Miss Havisham in a distracted state. After Miss Havisham gets from him the exact amount of money to write to Herbert, she asks him about Estella. Pip restates his feelings for Estella, and is surprised when Miss Havisham crawls to him on her knees, lamenting, “What have I done!” Miss Havisham says Pip’s confession of love to Estella and Estella’s coldness at this made her realise the folly of raising her to have a heart of ice. She insists when she first received Estella as a baby, she only planned to protect her from the misery she had suffered from being jilted, but when Estella grew up to be beautiful, her intentions changed to using her as a tool to take out her revenge on men. Pip asks her if she knows where Estella came from, but Miss Havisham says she knows nothing about this, other than Jaggers giving her custody of the baby.
Pip leaves Miss Havisham still crying, “What have I done!” and takes a brief tour of the garden he first met Estella in. When he returns to peek in her room, he witnesses her trailing wedding gown catching fire from the fireplace, and quickly smothers out the fire by using the tablecloth from a nearby table. Miss Havisham survives, but from then only stares into space, muttering about her regret and grief. Pip shows his forgiveness by a kiss.
The day finally arrives to escort Magwitch from England, and Pip and Herbert set their plan in motion. They begin by rowing him off the coast, heading towards a steamer which will pick up Magwitch. Along the way, however, they come upon another ship who had been seeking them out. Magwitch recognises a person on the ship as none other than Compeyson, and initiates a vicious fight with him, in vain of Pip’s attempts to hold him back.
The day after, Pip learns Magwitch is being held in jail. Jaggers informs him he will most likely have to give up his fortune and his great expectations. Pip is willing to do so, as his feelings for Magwitch have mellowed considerably, seeing the convicts compassion for him, and visits him in jail frequently. Magwitch, however, is declining in health; just before he dies, Pip reveals to him his daughter who he thought was dead is in fact alive and he is in love with her. With a final squeeze of his hand, Magwitch passes away peacefully.
After this incident, Pip becomes bedridden with a serious fever. When he comes to, he sees Joe sitting by his side, who had come to London and took care of him since he heard news of his illness. Pip gradually gets stronger with the assistance of Joe, and begins to think of other things now his business with Estella and Magwitch has been resolved. When he has fully recovered, he makes plans to propose to Biddy as part of his recompense for neglecting her and Joe back at home. Before he goes, he discovers Joe has paid off all of his debts and left.
Pip returns to his hometown, only to learn from Biddy, just before he proposes to her, that she and Joe have just been married. Pip congratulates them both, resigning himself to the fact his latest plan had been as futile and illusionary as all the previous rest. Since he no longer has his great expectations, he decides to take on a modest but honest job with Herbert.
Many years later, Pip also meets the son of Joe and Biddy, who bears a striking resemblance to him as a child, and becomes a sort of guardian to him. Biddy also asks him if he really has gotten over Estella; Pip replies he has, although his reply is more affirmative and final in the original ending .
Charles Dickens wrote two different endings for Great Expectations. In the original ending, Pip meets Estella on the streets finding she is then remarried to a doctor after the death of her abusive husband Drummle. Estella and Pip exchange brief pleasantries, after which Pip states while he could not have her in the end, he was at least glad to know she was a different person now, somewhat changed from the cold-hearted girl Miss Havisham had reared her to be.
As this ending was much criticized even by some famous fellow authors and his publisher as being too sad for readers, Dickens wrote a second ending currently considered as the definitive one, more hopeful but also more ambiguous than the original, in which Pip and Estella have a spiritual and emotional reconciliation. The second ending echoes strongly the theme of closure found in much of the novel; Pip and Estella’s relationship at the end is marked by some sadness and some joy, and although Estella still indicates she does not believe she and Pip will be together, Pip perceives she will stay with him and this is just the end of the beginning for them.
The majority of books being published currently contain the second ending, or both, with the Dickens’ original with its own explanation.
Themes and analysis
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Gratitude, suffering, and social mobility comprise the main themes in the novel. Pip does not show gratitude towards the gentle Joe Gargery. Suffering is depicted by Miss Havisham and Pip, who suffer equally. Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day and tricked out of part of her money while Pip suffered by never gaining Estella’s love. Dickens used Pip to bring attention to the increasing social stratification in Victorian London. Pip constantly attempts to impress Estella by moving up the social ladder, yet it only leads to his demise.
More complex explorations of the text reveal themes and symbols such as parenthood (There are very few positive mother-like characters in the story) and the impressions that one generation’s actions may have on subsequent generations, especially in regard to bitter feelings, resentment, and revenge. Later, the major adult characters who had tried to seek revenge through others or have had serious problems in their youth later regretted their actions and wanted to make amends, suggesting that the events in a person’s life may be consuming to the point of destruction, and that once an action is taken it cannot be taken back (and thus it is important to think on our actions very carefully). Another prominent theme is imprisonment. This is shown profusely in the sections with the Hulks and Newgate Prison.
Main characters in Great Expectations
Pip, the protagonist, and his family
Philip Pirrip, nicknamed Pip, an orphan, and the protagonist. Pip is destined to be trained as a blacksmith, a lowly but skilled and honest trade, but strives to rise above his class after meeting Estella Havisham.
Handel, Herbert Pocket’s nickname for Pip (he is given this name from The Harmonious Blacksmith, a piece by Handel) which he uses to address Pip from their first formal meeting.
Joe Gargery, Pip’s brother-in-law, and his first father figure. Joe represents the poor but honest life that Pip rejects.
Mrs. Joe Gargery, Pip’s hot-tempered adult sister, who brings him up by hand after the death of their parents, but complains constantly of the burden Pip is to her. Orlick attacks her, and she is left disabled for the rest of her life, until Pip receives a letter saying she is dead. Late in the book, Pumblechook reveals that her true first name is Georgiana M’Ria.
Mr. Pumblechook, Joe’s uncle, an officious bachelor who tells Mrs. Joe how noble she is to bring Pip up by hand and holds Pip in disdain. As the person who first connected Pip to Miss Havisham, he even claims to have been the original architect of Pip’s good fortune. Pip despises Mr. Pumblechook as Mr. Pumblechook constantly makes himself out to be better than he really is. He is a cunning imposter. When Pip finally stands up to him, Mr. Pumblechook turns those listening to the conversation against Pip.
Miss Havisham and her family
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. He accepts her apology and she gets badly burnt in a fire caused when her dress catches fire from a spark which leaped from the fire. Pip saves her, but she later dies from natural causes and from injuries from the fire.
Estella (Havisham), Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter, whom Pip pursues romantically throughout the novel. Estella represents the life of wealth and culture that Pip strives for. Since her ability to love any man (or anyone for that matter) 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 is only described to Pip by Magwitch.
Matthew Pocket, a cousin of Miss Havisham’s. He is the patriarch of the Pocket family but he is not one of her relatives who are greedy for Havisham’s wealth. Matthew Pocket has a family of nine children, two nurses, 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 but 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, another aging relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money.
Sarah Pocket is an aging relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money.
Characters from Pip’s youth
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.
Provis – a name that Abel Magwitch uses when he returns to London, to conceal his identity.
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, granddaughter of Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt; the latter runs an evening school in her home in Pip’s village and Biddy becomes Pip’s teacher. A kind and intelligent but poor young woman, like Pip and Estella, is an orphan, who is the opposite of Estella. Pip ignores Biddy’s 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 which Estella mistakes as Pip’s child in the “original ending.”
Clara, wife to Herbert Pocket. A very poor girl that lives with her father who has some strange sickness. She dislikes Pip the first time she meets him because he influences Herbert’s spending, but she eventually warms up to him.
The attorney and his circle
Mr. Jaggers, prominent London attorney who represents the interests of diverse clients, both criminal and civil. He represents Pip’s benefactor and is Miss Havisham’s attorney as well. By the end of the story, his law practice is the common element that brushes many of the characters.
Mr. 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 the natural mother of Estella.
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 fistfight 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.
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.
“The Spider”, Mr. Jaggers’s nickname for Bently Drummle.
Significant places in Great Expectations
The physical setting
Rochester, Kent and surrounding countryside, locale of Pip’s childhood home
London and environs in the early 19th century, primary location of the events of Pip’s adult life
Real places referred to
The hill, wetlands on the banks of the River Thames estuary in Kent near to Pip’s boyhood home and town.
The Hulks, Prison ships anchored off the marshes holding prisoners who are to be transported to Australia as punishment.
Little Britain, old London neighbourhood of narrow streets and location of Mr. Jaggers’s offices.
Barnard’s Inn: one of the minor Inns of Court, referred to in the text as “the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner as a club for tom cats”, attached to Gray’s Inn where Dickens had worked as a clerk.
Newgate Prison, ancient prison near Mr. Jaggers’s office, where criminals are imprisoned and executed. Also a location where debtors, such as Dickens’ father, were imprisoned.
The Temple, location of houses where Pip and Herbert live after they leave Barnard’s Inn, and where Pip meets his benefactor. According to the text, “Our chambers were in Garden-court, down by the river.” Garden Court still exists, nearby Temple tube station.
The church in the opening scenes, on the [Isle of Grain], to the north of Rochester
Fictional places in Kent
The Forge, the workplace and home of Pip and his family, in Grain, to the North of [Rochester]. In the forge itself his substitute father Joe Gargery works as a master blacksmith. Pip later works there as his apprentice.
Satis House, as in Latin “satis” meaning enough. Also known as Manor House, Miss Havisham’s ruined mansion where she lives with her adopted daughter Estella, and where Pip serves for months as her periodic companion. The house is based on a real manor house off [Rochester High] Street, later owned by [Rod Hull]
The Three Jolly Bargemen, the public house and general meeting place of Pip’s home town.
The Blue Boar, inn/hotel in Kent, Pip stays here rather than staying with Joe and Biddy when he visits his home town. The descriptions match the Bull Inn on Rochester High St. There is also a Blue Boar Lane in the area.