|Cover page of 1st Edition, 1861|
Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Fiction, Social Life, First Person
Setting: Early 19th Century England
Great Expectations tells the story of Phillip Pirrip or in short “Pip”. The story is a first person account from Pip. Pip narrates the critical events of his life as he grows up. And how the past events shape his life.
Pip is an eight-year old orphan, living with his cruel sister and her kindly husband, Joe, the blacksmith. One day he encounters an escaped convict, who forces him to get food and a file for him, which Pip does. Next day the convict is again caught by the police, but does not reveal Pip’s secret.
Sometime later Pip is selected for “playing” in a big house owned by an eccentric old woman, Miss Havisham. Here, Pip meets her adopted daughter, Estella, who makes life miserable for Pip. But Pip falls in love with her. After a few years pass in this routine, Pip is assigned as an apprentice to Joe in the forge.
Mr. Jaggers, a lawyer from London, comes over to the village and informs Pip that he has come up with “expectations” from a secret benefactor, whose condition is that Pip goes to London and become a gentleman. Pip assumes this secret benefactor to be Miss Havisham. Pip moves to London for getting an education. There he stays with Herbert Pocket, a boy his own age and a distant relative of Miss Havisham’s.
With his “expectations” on the way, we see a transformation in Pip’s character and his attitude towards Joe. He deems that Joe is an unworthy fellow and not a gentleman. Pip begins living a life of extravagance and is in debt. All this with the aim of getting Estella to marry him, something which he feels was also Miss Havisham’s wish. However Estella doesn’t reciprocate his feelings and gets married to another.
Meanwhile Pip learns that his secret benefactor was none other than the escaped convict, Magwitch. He is initially repulsed by the revelation. Meantime he also learns that Miss Havisham, having been jilted in her younger days, was just toying with him with Estella. Slowly Pip’s attitude towards Magwitch also changes as he learns more about his life. Pip with the help of Herbert tries to take Magwitch along with him abroad, as Magwitch is still wanted for his crimes in England. However, they are caught and Magwitch is sentenced but is very ill. Pip also learns that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Pip tells Magwitch this secret before he dies. With Magwitch’s arrest, all his possessions are seized and Pip’s expectations are gone. Miss Havisham also passes away but acknowledges that she has done wrong with Pip. At Pip’s request she provides a regular sum for Herbert (who is unaware of this) to start his business.
The ordeal takes a toil on Pip and he falls ill. He is taken care of by Joe, who also pays off all his debts. Pip feels guilty about his treatment of Joe. Finally, he starts leading an honest life working as a clerk with his friend Herbert.
The book ends with Pip meeting a widowed Estella again at the Miss Havisham’s house. Estella asks for his forgiveness for the wrongs she had done. They walk out together, with Pip seeing “no shadow of another parting with her”.
Great Expectations is a story about characters and their response to sudden change in fortunes (theirs and others). It also tells the story of different social classes and how they look on each other.
It is also a coming of age tale. The reader grows up with the central character as he matures from a scared young man to an extravagant adolescent to a wiser man. He sees wealth come to him and then go away but he does become a better person in the end.
Society was quiet different then. A young boy being selected for "playing" at a spinster's home would certainly be seen with raised eyebrows now. Also many of the terms and phrases have gone onto acquire different meanings with the passage of time.
Previously on BookMarks: The Very Best of Common Man