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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


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.

Best TV or film adaption?

I finished watching the 1981 BBC twelve part (or is it thirteen) series yesterday on YouTube. The production values weren't brilliant, but it was reasonably faithful to the book. Some of the meetings and events are compressed or occur in the wrong place or out of order, no doubt due to time and budget constraints. A lot of Dickens' lines survive though. I thought Joan Hickson was great as Miss Havisham, Stratford Johns was just as good as Magwich, and Derek Francis good as Jaggers. I thought Phillip Joseph was excellent as Joe Gargery, although he did not look much older than Pip. The actors who played Orlick and Bentley Drummle were appropriately unpleasant. I thought Sarah-Jane Varley's performance as Estella was odd. She seemed rather glassy. Maybe she was trying to portray her as clinically depressed. Actually, Patsy Kensit who played young Estella also seemed rather sullen and depressed, not something I got from the book. A lot of the cast seemed a bit too old, particularly Pip, Herbert and Biddy. They're supposed to be teenagers when Pip leaves for London, but they all look in their mid to late twenties. Even Jaggers and Miss Havisham seem a bit older than they should be. The only one who is too young is Joe. Except for being a tad too old, I thought Gerry Sandquist, who played Pip, was pretty good. However he wasn't quite a good enough actor to deliver some of those speeches well enough. The series is slightly plodding, but each episode is only 25 mins, which is about as much as I can take at a time anyway. I may give the 1946 David Lean version a go. The clips I've seen on YouTube look excellent. John Mills and Alec Guiness were way too old to play Pip and Herbert, but I suppose I will have to crank up the suspension on my disbelief. The recent BBC adaption with Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham looks like an utter abortion from the clips I've seen. Totally miscast with all Dickens' lines replaced by inferior ones. BBC drama output is useless these days. I have some reservations about the new film that's coming out this year, although it does have the lovely Holliday Grainger as Estella.


One thing that surprised me a bit in Great Expectations were the descriptions of the weddings. Apart from the one that did not happen, which caused all the problems, and the other disastrous wedding that took place off screen, there were two others: those between Mr Wemmick and Miss Skiffins, and Joe and Biddy. They seemed to be so low key. Mr Wemmick does not even tell Pip he's taking him to his wedding. He just leads him to a church. Apart from the Aged P, there do not seem to be many guests. Then they head off to an inn for a wedding breakfast. At the end of the book, Pip goes back home intending to propose to Biddy, only to discover the school and the forge are shut because Biddy and Joe are at the church getting married. Again, apparently very few guests. They did not even tell Pip. These days when the average wedding seems to cost £10,000 that seems very strange. These weddings seem more like Las Vegas weddings, or registry weddings between middle-aged couples on their second or third time around. I seem to remember that divorce was virtually impossible back then. It took an act of parliament and could only be granted for a limited number of reasons: infidelity, cruelty or dissertion, I think. I am not sure, but I don't think you were allowed to re-marry once you did divorce. You could escape a bad marriage if your spouse died, and that happened often enough, but otherwise you were stuck with your choice. In addition, sex outside marriage was frowned upon. No doubt it went on, but if you were a single man and you made a girl pregnant, you were expected to marry her. Marriage was far more economically and socially important to women then. I would have thought for all these reasons weddings would be even more socially important occasions than they are now. Even the wedding between Estella and Bentley Drummle seems to have taken place quite quickly once the proposal was accepted and I don't suppose there were very many guests (I wonder what the atmosphere was like at that one).

Miss Havisham's payment of £25 to Joe

One of the things I wondered about in the earlier chapters was why did Miss Havisham request to see Joe about Pip's apprenticeship? Surely, I thought, it was none of her business. Pip and Joe come to Satis House and there is an embarrassing episode where Joe cannot bring himself to speak directly to Miss Havisham. No doubt if Pip's sister or Pumblechook had been allowed to come, they would have taken charge. Pip may have been almost as embarrassed by them, but he does not like either of them so at least he would not have felt guilty and ashamed about it. Anyway, after that, Miss Havisham tells him that Pip has earned a premium and counts out £25. £25 was a lot of money back then, especially as, so far as I can make out, Pip only went there on alternate afternoons for ten months. (I am rather confused about exactly how long Pip used to visit Miss Havisham as a child because the time periods and the ages do not seem to add up. The BBC Great Expectations timeline says he went there for seven years, but I cannot find in the book where is says that and it does not seem right.) I think the £25 was supposedly to pay for Pip's indentures, which he needed to become an apprentice. However, according to this link, Joe would only have needed to pay about £5. I always had the impression that Miss Havisham quickly came to like Pip. It sounds like she wanted to compensate him well for inflicting Estella on him, as well as for being such a good guinea pig.

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Charles Dickens