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Great Expectations

Oprah picked Great Expectations for her Book Club in December 2010. You may read it for free here on our website.

First published between 1860-1861.

Great Expectations is a very old story, so interesting. From the cover you think "what's the point of reading this?" then when you look at the pages you think I will never finish this. Well for a matter of fact this story has words that will improve your literature skills to a very high level; it may have some high standard words but that is only to help improve your English. Great Expectations is about love, family, and rejection as Pip and Miss Havisham have both been rejected in certain ways. Pip is the main character, a boy around 13 years old, easy to fright, and goes through his life suffering lots of sadness. He is in love with a girl named Estella and wants her to find his love, but for him being shy and not showing himself to her, it makes it very hard for him.

Pip meets an escaped convict, Magwitch, and gives him food, in an encounter that is to haunt both their lives. When Pip receives riches from a mysterious benefactor he snobbishly abandons his friends for London society and his 'great expectations'. He grows through misfortune and suffering to maturity in the theme of Dicken's best-loved novels. Dickens blends gripping drama with penetrating satire to give a compelling story rich in comedy and pathos: he has also created two of his finest, most haunting characters in Pip ans Miss Havisham.--Submitted by Louis Kisitu

This is the story of Pip, an orphan boy adopted by a blacksmith’s family. Pip learns how to find happiness. He learns the meaning of friendship and the meaning of love and he becomes a better person for it.--Submitted by Anonymous

This novel is about a boy named Pip. He is an orphan who lives with his sister and his father-in-law Joe, his best friend. Joe is the local blacksmith who may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but he is kind to Pip. The story begins at a graveyard and the reader sees Pip looking at the gravestones of his mother and father. Then suddenly a convict appears and tells Pip to steal food and a file to free him. The story only gets crazier from there. After Pip gets apprenticed to Joe, a mysterious benefactor comes and gives Pip the chance to become a gentleman, which he accepts in order to impress Estella, a noble young girl.--Submitted by Anonymous

Great Expectations is one of the most important novels of its time. It follows the life of young Pip, from his awakening to life. This first chapter is worth memorizing for you or to impress your friends. Great literature! It goes on to tell the story of a young working class lad in England, who inherits a fortune from an unknown source and becomes a gentleman. In this process, he meets the beautiful Estelle and falls in love. The fact that he feels unworthy and the truth about his benefactor loom large. It is the answers to these questions that leave us thinking about this novel, these characters and what it means to have status. The great author Dickens wrote this such a long ago, yet it rings true; though I wonder how many self-made men can call themselves gentlemen?--Yours Truly, Lisa Hobbs

Great Expectations is a dramatic novel; we are prepared for this by the drama of the opening chapter. Charles Dickens uses an advanced language that plants a clear insight of the setting, the character profiles, and the novels' historic aspects. Pip, the main character of this novel is orphaned from the start. The opening chapter shows this vulnerable child visiting his family; cold and alone standing in front of the seven graves of his mum, his dad, and his five brothers. Pip's situation is desperate, like his view on life, and challenged. This creates a dramatic entrance for Magwich, the escaped convict who threatens Pip with his life for the return of three unimportant items of food, water, and a file for his irons. By the end of this chapter Pip is left fleeing for his life in dramatic blur.--Submitted by Nikki Howick

This may be one of the most impressive books I have ever read. It tells the story of a young boy who becomes a man; it shows our Pip (his name) as he truly was. I mean, the author never justified his behaviour, not even when he was weak and offensive. Pip is not a hero, he is just human being. He is not a criminal either, you can say he didn't do anything extraordinary such as save the world nor invent the light bulb. In change, he grew in compassion and gratitude. With him we learn the "worst sides of the human nature"; he loses his fortune, but at the end he accomplishes his "Great Expectations".--Submitted by Anonymous

This was for me a study book for GCE exams in about 1960. I didn't like it. Ten years later and in my own time I read it again and again and loved it. I still do. I must read it again.--Submitted by Bernard Gajewski

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Recent Forum Posts on Great Expectations

Estella's Feelings for Pip

Hi! I'm writing an essay on Estella's character development, and I want to know what other people think about an interaction between Estella and Pip. Towards the end of Chapter 44 (XLIV), Pip and Estella share the following exchange: I know,” said I, in answer to that action; “I know. I have no hope that I shall ever call you mine, Estella. I am ignorant what may become of me very soon, how poor I may be, or where I may go. Still, I love you. I have loved you ever since I first saw you in this house.” Looking at me perfectly unmoved and with her fingers busy, she shook her head again. “It would have been cruel in Miss Havisham, horribly cruel, to practise on the susceptibility of a poor boy, and to torture me through all these years with a vain hope and an idle pursuit, if she had reflected on the gravity of what she did. But I think she did not. I think that in the endurance of her own trial, she forgot mine, Estella.” I saw Miss Havisham put her hand to her heart and hold it there, as she sat looking by turns at Estella and at me. “It seems,” said Estella, very calmly, “that there are sentiments, fancies—I don’t know how to call them—which I am not able to comprehend. When you say you love me, I know what you mean, as a form of words; but nothing more. You address nothing in my breast, you touch nothing there. I don’t care for what you say at all. I have tried to warn you of this; now, have I not?” I said in a miserable manner, “Yes.” “Yes. But you would not be warned, for you thought I did not mean it. Now, did you not think so?” “I thought and hoped you could not mean it. You, so young, untried, and beautiful, Estella! Surely it is not in Nature.” “It is in my nature,” she returned. And then she added, with a stress upon the words, “It is in the nature formed within me. I make a great difference between you and all other people when I say so much. I can do no more.” ... “On whom should I fling myself away?” she retorted, with a smile. “Should I fling myself away upon the man who would the soonest feel (if people do feel such things) that I took nothing to him? There! It is done. I shall do well enough, and so will my husband. As to leading me into what you call this fatal step, Miss Havisham would have had me wait, and not marry yet; but I am tired of the life I have led, which has very few charms for me, and I am willing enough to change it. Say no more. We shall never understand each other.” “Such a mean brute, such a stupid brute!” I urged in despair. “Don’t be afraid of my being a blessing to him,” said Estella; “I shall not be that. Come! Here is my hand. Do we part on this, you visionary boy—or man?” “O Estella!” I answered, as my bitter tears fell fast on her hand, do what I would to restrain them; “even if I remained in England and could hold my head up with the rest, how could I see you Drummle’s wife?” “Nonsense,” she returned, “nonsense. This will pass in no time.” “Never, Estella!” “You will get me out of your thoughts in a week.” I know Estella is a cold character and doesn't love Pip, but does this passage show she cares for him? Particularly in "'Nonsense,' she returned... in a week'", I think she does feel a little bad for Pip, and is almost trying to convince herself that Pip doesn't love her. Even more so in when she gives him her hand, Estella acts like she does care for Pip, just not romantically. I'm not entirely sure if that's what Dickens intended for the takeaway to be, though, so I'd like to know what anyone else thinks! Also excuse my possibly confusing sentence structure; I'm writing an essay, and my brain is fried. Thank you!!

A bit of confusion

I've just started reading Great Expectations, and so far am enjoying it. However, there is a particular sentence I'm having a terrible amount of trouble deciphering. Here's the particular passage, with the particular offending part underlined: "There was a fiction that Mr. Wopsle "examined" the scholars once a quarter. What he did on those occasions was to turn up his cuffs, stick up his hair, and give us Mark Antony's oration over the body of Caesar. This was always followed by Collins's Ode on the Passions, wherein I particularly venerated Mr. Wopsle as Fear, whistling to keep his courage up. It was not with me then, as it was in later life, when I fell into the society of the Passions, and compared them with Collins and Wopsle, rather to the disadvantage of both gentlemen." What exactly was not "with him"?

Finished reading it

Hello everyone! 5 days ago I finished reading 'Great Expectations'. It was excellent. I liked the plot, the way it is written, the descriptions of the characters; in a word, I liked everything about it. One of the characters I really liked was Herbert. I liked it when he called Pip 'Handel,' besides he was very kind-hearted. What do you think of him? Do you like him?


Hello everyone!! I'm reading 'Great Expectations', and I found the word 'warmint'. I was wondering if you could help me with its meaning. Does it mean 'varmint'? Help, please! :)

Miss Havisham's Self-Deceit

I was just wondering in what ways has Miss Havisham deceived herself about how she has chosen to live her life?

An article into which Joe's destiny led him.

In the following sentence in chapter 4 of Great Expectations, Dickens wrote : "Mrs. Joe was prodigiously busy in getting the house ready for the festivities of the day, and Joe had been put upon the kitchen door-step to keep him out of the dust-pan—an article into which his destiny always led him, sooner or later, when my sister was vigorously reaping the floors of her establishment." Please explain what Dickens implied when he said the dust-pan was an article into which Joe's destiny always led him.

Some explanations needed.

In chapter 3 of Great Expectations, when Pip wondered that the convict didn't hear the cannon the previous night. The convict said: “Why, see now!” said he. “When a man's alone on these flats, with a light head and a light stomach, perishing of cold and want, he hears nothin' all night, but guns firing, and voices calling. Hears? He sees the soldiers, with their red coats lighted up by the torches carried afore, closing in round him. Hears his number called, hears himself challenged, hears the rattle of the muskets, hears the orders ‘Make ready! Present! Cover him steady, men!’ and is laid hands on—and there's nothin'! Why, if I see one pursuing party last night—coming up in order, Damn 'em, with their tramp, tramp—I see a hundred. And as to firing! Why, I see the mist shake with the cannon, arter it was broad day—But this man;” he had said all the rest as if he had forgotten my being there; “did you notice anything in him?” I don't quite understand what the convict tried to tell Pip. Did he just imagine what another convict might have heard and seen? Did he himself see the pursuing soldiers and hear the cannon? What did he mean when he said ".. and is laid hands on—and there's nothin'! Why, if I see one pursuing party last night—coming up in order, Damn 'em, with their tramp, tramp—I see a hundred. And as to firing! Why, I see the mist shake with the cannon, arter it was broad day---" ? Please explain.

New perspective on Great Expectations

In 1858 Dickens wrote six letters (five unpublished) to Patrick-Allan Fraser of Arbroath who wished to gift Hawkesbury Hall near Coventry to Dickens' Guild of Literature and Art. As writer-in-residence at Hospitalfield, I've just read the letters and have reflected on how Pip's Great Expectations may have been inspired (in part) by the author's, as the book was conceived around this time, though not written until 'All the Year Round' needed an injection of quality writing in 1860/61. Anyway, to read more about the research, the link is though you'll have to add the w bits as well. Let me know if it's of interest! Duncan McLaren

Do character ages and timelines match?

Do the ages and timelines of the characters in this book add up? In the first chapter, Pip seems about eight years old. Then, according to the book, he first visits Miss Havisham a year later. Here he meets Estella, who Pip thinks is about his own age, although she seems older. The way she talks about the brewery and what 'satis' means makes her sound older than nine. Pip seems somewhat older too. For example, he uses the word melancholy instead of sad. I would say they were both at least eleven. In most films and TV series, the young Estella looks about thirteen. Reading the book I imagined her being prepubescent, although Pip does say that one of the reasons she appeared older was that she was a girl. I am sure the book says he only visited the house for about ten months before he was apprenticed to Joe. Apprenticeships usually started at about age fourteen, so some more years seem to have disappeared from Pip's childhood. Pip learns of his Great Expectations four years later, when he would be eighteen. This just about gives Magwitch time to be transported to Australia, serve his seven years forced labour and to start making lots of money. I also wondered about the ages of the older characters. Magwitch was described as about sixty when he comes back to see Pip, and he is still quite an active man. That makes him about forty-five when he first terrorises Pip in the graveyard, which is plausible. He would have been thirty-seven when he fathered Estella with Molly, which is plausible too. I am pretty sure he said Compeyson was described as being a younger man than Magwitch. Compeyson was supposed to marry Miss Havisham, so presumably they are about the same age. If anything, Miss Havisham would probably be a bit younger. If Compeyson is five years younger than Magwitch, and Miss Havisham is one year younger than Compeyson, that makes her fifty-four when things come to a head, and only thirty-nine when she first meets Pip. That seems far too young. When Pip first meets her, she already seems like an old crone; she leans on his shoulder to exercise around her dining room. However, she does not seem to have aged any fifteen years later. In addition, Herbert tells Pip that Compeyson jilted Miss Havisham twenty-five years before they were born, which would make that forty-three years previously. If Miss Havisham was twenty when she was jilted, that would make her between fifty-three and fifty-six when she first met Pip, and sixty-eight when she died. Jaggers usually appears quite old in the TV and film adaptions, but his defence of Molly was the case that made his name as a lawyer. Say he was twenty-five at the time. That would make him forty when he meets Pip in the Jolly Bargemen and forty-five when everything goes badly wrong.

Physical abuse

Do you think there is a disturbing message in GE that domestic abuse made Estella a better person? Evidently, Estella was damaged by Miss Havisham, but that was by psychological abuse, not physical. Miss Havisham would never allow anyone else to chastise Estella; hence her impertinence to adults like Mr Pumblechook and Miss Camilla. Pip's male role model as a child was Joe. Joe never retaliates against his wife's beatings.Therefore Pip learns not retaliate when he is abused, either by his sister or Estella. Pip does not believe even Bentley Drummle would be scoundrel enough to beat his wife, when Jaggers suggests it. Evidently, Estella's experience of Pip was not good preparation for a life with Drummle. In the last chapter, Estella says she has been bent and broken, but hopefully into better shape. That is not a very edifying message.

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Charles Dickens