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Great Expectations

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Great Expectations
Greatexpectations vol1.jpg
Title page of Vol. 1 of first edition, July 1861
Author(s) Charles Dickens
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Weekly: 1 December 1860 – 3 August 1861
Genre(s) Realistic fiction, social criticism
Publisher Chapman & Hall
Publication date 1861 (in three volumes)
Media type Print

Great Expectations is Charles Dickens's thirteenth novel. It is the second novel, after David Copperfield, to be fully narrated in the first person. Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age novel, and the story genre is Victorian Literature. It depicts the growth and personal development of an orphan named Pip. The novel was first published in serial form in Dickens' weekly periodical All the Year Round, from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. In October 1861, Chapman and Hall published the novel in three volumes.

Great Expectations was to be twice as long, but constraints imposed by the management of All the Year Round limited the novel's length. Collected and dense, with a conciseness unusual for Dickens, the novel represents Dickens' peak and maturity as an author. According to G. K. Chesterton, Dickens penned Great Expectations in "the afternoon of [his] life and fame." It was the penultimate novel Dickens completed, preceding Our Mutual Friend.

It is set among the marshes of Kent and in London in the early to mid-1800s. From the outset, the reader is "treated" by the terrifying encounter between Pip, the protagonist, and the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch. Great Expectations is a graphic book, full of extreme imagery, poverty, prison ships, "the hulks," barriers and chains, and fights to the death. It therefore combines intrigue and unexpected twists of autobiographical detail in different tones. Regardless of its narrative technique, the novel reflects the events of the time, Dickens' concerns, and the relationship between society and man.

The novel has received mixed reviews from critics: Thomas Carlyle speaks of "All that Pip's nonsense," while George Bernard Shaw praised the novel as "All of one piece and Consistently truthfull." Dickens felt Great Expectations was his best work, calling it "a very fine idea," and was very sensitive to compliments from his friends: "Bulwer, who has been, as I think you know, extraordinarily taken by the book."

Great Expectations has a colourful cast that has remained in popular culture: the capricious Miss Havisham, the cold and beautiful Estella, Joe the kind and generous blacksmith, the dry and sycophantic Uncle Pumblechook, Mr Jaggers, Wemmick and his dual personality, and the eloquent and wise friend, Herbert Pocket. Throughout the narrative, typical Dickensian themes emerge: wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. Great Expectations has become very popular and is now taught as a classic in many English classes. It has been translated into many languages and adapted many times in film and other media.

Development history

Charles Dickens, circa 1860.

As Dickens began writing Great Expectations, he undertook a series of hugely popular and remunerative reading tours. He had separated from his wife, Catherine Dickens, and was keeping secret an affair with a much younger woman, Ellen Ternan. However, economic situations and the idea of romance dictated Great Expectations's design and implementation.


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 become familiar in Great Expectations. There is also a reference to a "knowing man," a possible sketch of Bentley Drummle. Another evokes a house full of "Toadies and Humbugs," foreshadowing the visitors to Satis House in chapter 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." 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."

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

Publication in All the Year Round

Advertisement for Great Expectations in All the Year Round.

Dickens was pleased with the idea, calling it a "such a very fine, new and grotesque idea." 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, Forester 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." 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' 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, lose 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." 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, but it became secondary to Great Expectations. Immediately, sales resumed, and critics responded positively, as exemplified by The Times' praise: "Great Expectations is not, indeed, [Dickens'] best work, but it is to be ranked among his happiest."

Dickens, whose health was not the best, felt "The planning from week to week was unimaginably difficult" but persevered. 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." Four weekly episodes were "ground off the wheel" in October, and apart from one reference to the "bondage" of his heavy task, the months passed without the anguished cries that usually accompanied the writing of his novels. He did not even use the Number Plans or Mems; 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."


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. 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. Dickens then revised Herbert Pocket's appearance, no doubt, asserts Margaret Cardwell, to look more like his son Charley. 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.

Revised ending

Following comments by Edward Bulwer-Lytton that the ending was too sad, Dickens rewrote the ending. The original ending has Pip, who remains single, briefly see Estella in London; after becoming Bentley Drummle's widow, she has remarried. It appealed to Dickens due to its originality: "[the] winding up will be away from all such things as they conventionally go." Dickens revised the ending so that Pip now meets Estella in the ruins of Satis House. Dickens also changed the last sentence from "I could see the shadow of no parting from her." to "I saw no shadow of another parting from her." for the 1863 edition of the novel.

In a letter to Forster, Dickens explained his decision: "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."

As Pip uses litotes, "no shadow of another parting," it is ambiguous whether Pip and Estella marry or if Pip remains single. However, Earle Davis points out 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." Forester felt that the original ending was "more consistent" and "more natural" but noted the new ending's popularity. George Gissing called that the revision "a strange thing, indeed, to befall Dickens" and felt that Great Expectations would have been perfect had Dickens not changed the ending in deference to Bulwer-Lytton.

In contrast, John Hillis-Miller stated that Dickens' 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." 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.

George Orwell wrote, "Psychologically the latter part of Great Expectations is about the best thing Dickens ever did," but, like John Forster and several early 20th-century writers, including George Bernard Shaw, felt that the original ending was more consistent with the draft, as well as the natural working out of the tale. Modern literary criticism is split over the matter.

Publication history

In periodicals

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. Although intended for weekly publication, Great Expectations was divided into nine monthly sections, with new pagination for each. Harper's Weekly published the novel from 24 November 1860 to 5 August 1861 and All the Year Round published it from 1 December 1860 to 3 August 1861. Harper's paid £1000 for publication rights. Dickens welcomed a contract with Tauchnitz 4 January 1861 for publication in English for the European continent.


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. 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.

First edition publication schedule

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)


Publications in Harper's Weekly were accompanied by forty illustrations by John McLenan; however, this is the only Dickens' work published in All the Year Round without illustrations. In 1862, Marcus Stone, son of Dickens' 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' subsequent novel, Our Mutual Friend. Later, Henry Mathew Brock also illustrated Great Expectations and a 1935 edition of A Christmas Carol, along with other artists, such as John McLenan, F. A. Fraser, and Harry Furniss.


Robert L Patten estimates that All the Year Round sold 100,000 copies of Great Expectations each week, and Mudie, the largest circulating library, which purchased about 1,400 copies, stated that at least 30 people read each copy. Aside from the dramatic plot, the Dickensian humour also appealed to readers. Dickens wrote to Forster in October 1860 that "You will not have to complain of the want of humour as in the Tale of Two Cities," an opinion Forster supports, finding that "Dickens's humour, not less than his creative power, was at its best in this book." Moreover, according to Paul Schlicke, readers found the best of Dickens' older and newer writing styles.

Not all reviews were favorable; Margaret Oliphant's review, published May 1862 in Blackwood's Magazine, vilified the novel. Overall, Great Expectations received near universal acclaim. Critics hailed it as one of Dickens' greatest successes although often for conflicting reasons: GK Chesterton admired the novel's optimism, Edmung Wilson its pessimism. Humphry House in 1941 emphasized its social context, while in 1974, JH Buckley saw it foremost as a bildungsroman. John Hillis Miller wrote in 1958 that Pip is the archetype of all Dickensian heroes, and in 1970, QD Leavis asks "How We Must Read Great Expectations." In 1984, Peter Brook, the wake of Jacques Derrida, offered a deconstructionist reading. The most profound analyst, according to Paul Schlicke, is probably Julian Moynahan, who, in a 1964 essay surveying the hero's guilt, made Orlick "Pip's double, alter ego and dark mirror image." Schlicke also names Anny Sadrin's extensive 1988 study as the "most distinguished."

Plot summary

On Christmas Eve, around 1812, Pip, an orphan who is about six 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, passive husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. The next day, soldiers recapture the convict while he is engaged in a fight with another convict; the two are returned to the prison ships from which they escaped.

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 actually Joe's uncle) to find a boy to play with her adopted daughter Estella. Pip begins to visit Miss Havisham and Estella, with whom he falls in love, with Miss Havisham's encouragement. Pip visits Miss Havisham multiple times, and during one of these visits, he brings Joe along. During their absence, Joe's wife is attacked by a mysterious individual and lives out the rest of her life as a mute invalid.

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

Later, when Pip is a young apprentice at Joe's blacksmith shop, a lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, approaches him and tells him he is to receive a large sum of money from an anonymous benefactor and must immediately leave for London, where he is to become a gentleman. Assuming that Miss Havisham is his benefactress, he visits her and Estella, who has returned from studying on the Continent.

Years later, Pip has reached adulthood and is now heavily in debt. Abel Magwitch, the convict he helped, who was transported to New South Wales where he eventually became wealthy, reveals himself to Pip as his benefactor. There is a warrant for Magwitch's arrest in England, and he will be hanged if he is caught. Pip and his friends Herbert Pocket and Startop hatch a plan for Magwitch to flee by boat. Pip also discovers that Estella is the daughter of Magwitch and Mr. Jaggers' housemaid, Molly, whom Jaggers defended in a murder charge and who gave up her daughter to be adopted by Miss Havisham.

Pip learns that Miss Havisham's fiancé jilted her, resulting in her strange behaviour and her desire to have revenge on the male sex by using Estella to break Pip's heart. He confronts Miss Havisham with Estella's history. In a fit of depression and remorse, Miss Havisham accidentally sets her dress on fire. Pip saves her, but she eventually dies from her injuries, lamenting her manipulation of Estella and Pip.

Magwitch makes himself known to Pip

A few days before the escape, Joe's former journeyman, Orlick, who was responsible for the attack on Mrs. Joe, attacks Pip. Herbert Pocket and his friends save Pip and prepare for the escape.

During the escape, Magwitch kills his enemy Compeyson, a con artist and Miss Havisham's fiancé. Police capture Magwitch and jail him. Pip visits a deathly ill Magwitch in jail and tells him that his daughter Estella is alive. Barely alive, Magwitch responds with a squeezing of Pip's palm and dies shortly after, before his execution. Pip is about to be arrested for unpaid debts when he falls ill. Joe comes to London and nurses Pip back to health and pays off his debts. Pip realises that in his fruitless pursuit of Estella and wealth, he has callously ignored Joe. Realising the error of his ways, Pip returns to propose to Biddy, a friend from his childhood in Kent, only to find that she and Joe have married.

Pip asks Joe for forgiveness, and Joe forgives him. As Pip has lost his fortune upon Magwitch's death, he is no longer a gentleman. Pip promises to repay Joe and goes to Egypt, where he shares lodgings with Herbert and Clara and works diligently as a clerk.

Eleven years later, Pip visits the ruins of Satis House and meets Estella, whom her dead husband, Bentley Drummle, had abused. 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 and his family

  • Philip Pirrip, nicknamed Pip, an orphan and the protagonist and narrator of Great Expectations. Throughout his childhood, Pip dreamed of becoming a blacksmith. As a result of Magwitch's anonymous patronage, Pip travels to London and becomes a gentleman. Pip assumes his benefactor is Miss Havisham, and discovering 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 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 their parents' death but constantly complains of the burden of raising Pip. 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" (as she is widely known) how noble she is to raise Pip. As the person who first connected Pip to Miss Havisham, he 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. 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 who Pip suspects is his benefactor. Miss Havisham does not deny this as it fits into her own spiteful plans that derive from her desire for revenge after being jilted at the altar several years before. She later apologises to Pip as she is overtaken by guilt. He accepts her apology, and she is badly burnt when her wedding dress, which she has never taken off since her jilting, catches fire when she sits too close to the fireplace. Pip saves her, but she later dies from her injuries.
  • Estella, Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, whom Pip pursues throughout the novel. She does not know that she is the daughter of Molly, Jaggers's housekeeper, and Abel Magwitch, Pip's convict. Estella was given up for adoption to Miss Havisham after her mother, Molly, is tried for murder. 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.
  • 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 son Herbert, who live on his estate.
  • Herbert Pocket, a member of the Pocket family, Miss Havisham's presumed heir, 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, is Pip's tutor in the "gentlemanly" arts, and shares his apartment with Pip in London, becoming Pip's fast friend.
  • Cousin Raymond, an 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. She is one of the many relatives who hang around Miss Havisham "like flies" for her wealth.
  • 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." She is another ageing relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money.

From Pip's youth

  • The Convict, an escapee from a prison ship, whom Pip treats kindly, and who turns out to be his benefactor. His real name is Abel Magwitch but uses the aliases Provis and Mr Campbell to protect his identity. Pip also pretends Magwitch is his uncle so that no one recognises 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 his enemy discovers him in London.
  • 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 village. He later gives up the church work and moves to London to pursue his ambition to be an actor, even though he is not good.
    • Mr Waldengarver, the stage name that Wopsle adopts as an actor in London.
  • Biddy, 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 acts as Estella's foil. Pip ignores her affections for him as he fruitlessly pursues Estella. After he realises 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 she did not return his affections.

Mr Jaggers and his circle

  • 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, The Aged, 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.


  • Compeyson (surname), a convict and Magwitch's enemy. A professional swindler, he had been Miss Havisham's intended husband, who was in league with Arthur Havisham to defraud Miss Havisham of her fortune. He pursues Abel Magwitch when he learns that he is in London and drowns when, grappling with Magwitch, he falls into the Thames. In some editions of the book, he is called "Compey."
  • "Dolge" Orlick, journeyman blacksmith at Joe Gargery's forge. Strong, rude and sullen, he is as churlish as Joe is gentle and kind. He ends up in a fist fight with Joe over Mrs Gargery's taunting, and Joe easily defeats him. This sets in motion an escalating chain of events that leads him to secretly injure Mrs Gargery and try to kill Pip. The police discover and arrest him.
  • 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 else. He is a rival to Pip for Estella's attentions and marries her. It is said he abuses Estella. Drummle would later be mentioned to have died from an accident following his mistreatment of a horse.

Other characters

  • Clara Barley, a very poor girl living with her father who is suffering from gout. She marries Herbert Pocket near the novel's end. She dislikes Pip before meeting him because she knows he negatively influences Herbert's spending habits, but she eventually warms to him.
  • 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 effect Magwitch's escape.


Great Expectations' only literary predecessor is another Dickens' bildungsroman, David Copperfield. The two books 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. Dickens was conscious of this similarity and, before undertaking his new manuscript, reread David Copperfield to avoid repetition.

The two books both detail homecoming. Although David Copperfield is based on much of Dickens personal experiences, Great Expectations, the first of his books to portray a young boy of humble station, provides, according to Paul Schlicke, "the more spiritual and intimate autobiography." 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, and the countryside bordering Chatham and Rochester, no place name is mentioned, nor a specific time period, which is indicated by, among other elements, older coaches, the title "His Majesty" in reference to George III, and the old London Bridge prior to the 1824-1831 reconstruction.

The theme of homecoming reflects events in Dickens' 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 far-away 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 quarreled with Bradbury and Evans, who had published his novels for fifteen years. In early September 1860, in a field behind Gad's Hill, Dickens made a great bonfire of almost his entire correspondence—only those letters on business matters were spared. He stopped publishing the weekly Household Words at the summit of its popularity and replaced it with All the Year Round.

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."

Margaret Cardwell draws attention to Chops the Dwarf from Dickens' 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. In another vein, Harry Stone thinks that Gothic and magical aspects of Great Expectations were partly inspired by Charles Mathews 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.

Beyond its biographical and literary aspects, Great Expectations appears, according to Robin Gilmour, as "a representative fable of the age." Dickens is 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.

Style and theme

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 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.

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 in fact a convict. Pip has an internal struggle with his conscience throughout the book. Great Expectations explores the different social classes of the Georgian era. Throughout the book, Pip becomes involved with a broad range of classes, from criminals like Magwitch to the extremely rich like Miss Havisham. Pip has great ambition, as demonstrated constantly in the book.

Film, TV, and theatrical adaptations

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

  • 1917 – a silent film, starring Jack Pickford, directed by Robert G. Vignola.
  • 1922 – a silent film, made in Denmark, starring Martin Herzberg, directed by A.W. Sandberg.
  • 1934 – Great Expectations film starring Phillips Holmes and Jane Wyatt, directed by Stuart Walker.
  • 1946 – Great Expectations, the most celebrated film version, starring John Mills as Pip, Bernard Miles as Joe, Alec Guinness as Herbert, Finlay Currie as Magwitch, Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham, Anthony Wager as Young Pip, Jean Simmons as Young Estella and Valerie Hobson as the adult Estella, directed by David Lean. It came fifth in a 1999 BFI poll of the top 100 British films.
  • 1954 – a two-part television version starring Roddy McDowall as Pip and Estelle Winwood as Miss Havisham. It aired as an episode of the show Robert Montgomery Presents.
  • 1959 – a BBC television version starring Dinsdale Landen as Pip, Helen Lindsay as Estella and Derek Benfield as Landlord.
  • 1967 – a television serial starring Gary Bond and Francesca Annis.
  • 1974 – Great Expectations – a film starring Michael York as Pip and Simon Gipps-Kent as Young Pip, Sarah Miles and James Mason, directed by Joseph Hardy.
  • 1981 – Great Expectations – a BBC serial starring Stratford Johns, Gerry Sunquist, Joan Hickson, Patsy Kensit and Sarah-Jane Varley. Produced by Barry Letts, and directed by Julian Amyes.
  • 1983 – an animated children's version, starring Phillip Hinton, Liz Horne, Robin Stewart, and Bill Kerr.
  • 1989 – Great Expectations, a film starring Anthony Hopkins as Magwitch and Jean Simmons as Miss Havisham, directed by Kevin Connor.
  • 1998 – Great Expectations, a film starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. This adaptation is set in contemporary New York, and renames Pip to Finn and Miss Havisham to Nora Dinsmoor. The film's score was composed by Scotsman Patrick Doyle, a regular collaborator of Kenneth Branagh.
  • 1999 – Great Expectations a film starring Ioan Gruffudd as Pip, Justine Waddell as Estella, and Charlotte Rampling as Miss Havisham ( Masterpiece Theatre—TV)
  • 2000 – Pip A South Park episode that parodies and retells the Charles Dickens novel, and stars the South Park character Pip.
  • 2011 – Great Expectations, a three-part BBC serial. Starring Ray Winstone as Magwitch, Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham and Douglas Booth as Pip.
  • 2012 – Great Expectations, a film directed by Mike Newell, starring Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, and Jeremy Irvine as Pip.

Stage versions have included:

  • 1939 – London stage adaptation made by Alec Guinness, which was to influence David Lean's 1946 film, in which both Guinness himself and Martita Hunt reprised their stage roles.
  • 1975 – Stage Musical (London West End). Music by Cyril Ornadel, starring Sir John Mills. Ivor Novello Award for Best British Musical.
  • 1995 – Stage adaptation of Great Expectations at Dublin's Gate Theatre by Hugh Leonard.
  • 2013 – West End adaptation written by Jo Clifford and directed by Graham McLaren.



  • Charles Dickens (1993), Great Expectations, Ware, Herfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, ISBN  1-85326-004-5 , an unsigned and unpaginated introduction
  • Charles Dickens (1993), Great Expectations, Oxford: Clarendon Press, ISBN  978-0-19-818591-8 , introduction and notes by Margaret Cardwell
  • Charles Dickens (1996), Great Expectations, London: Penguin Classics, ISBN  0-141-43956-4 , introduction by David Trotter, notes by Charlotte Mitchell

French translations

  • Charles Dickens (1896), Les Grandes Espérances (in French) 2, Translated by Charles Bernard-Derosne, Paris: Hachette 
  • Charles Dickens (1954), De Grandes espérances, La Pléiade (in French), Translated by Lucien Guitard, Pierre Leyris, André Parreaux, Madeleine Rossel (published with Souvenirs intimes de David Copperfield), Paris: Gallimard, ISBN  9782070101672 
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