Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

Coming-of-age tale of a poor orphan who climbs the social ladder and lusts after an apathetic girl.

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape.

Thought by many to be Dickens’ quintessential novel, Great Expectations follows the life of the narrator, a young orphan, Phillip Pirrip (Pip), from humble beginnings to his formation as a Victorian gentleman, overcoming challenges along the way. The novel chronicles a series of events, from mysterious past encounters to thrilling endeavours. Accompanied by a plethora of diverse and enchanting characters from the shady Convict to the outlandish Miss Havisham and egotistical Pumblechook, Pip hopes to unravel the mystery behind the generosity of an unknown benefactor. Along the way, we see Pip mature and understand truth behind his ‘great expectations’.

The novel is a Great British classic and Dickens’ beautifully crafts the development and personal growth of the central character. It is kaleidoscopic in its inclusion of wealth and poverty, good and evil, love and rejection, all of which help to convey a realistic experience of Victorian England and create a story which is not only moving but a statement on society and the true values of life. Dickens ensemble of quirky characters fill the plot with intrigue and, as intricately woven backstories are revealed layer by layer, the story is propelled forward. Dickens’ simple writing style and unsophisticated vocabulary are superb for young and old alike. The eclectic cast of characters are sure to resonate with any reader and the cleverness of the plot makes it a book that has proven itself worthy against the test of time.

What do you think is the reason behind Estella’s change of heart in the ending? Do you think the death of Miss Havisham is a significant contribution to this?

Why do you think money plays such a big part in the plot of the novel? What do you think Dickens was trying to say about money and its limitations?

Do you think that Great Expectations easily fits into one genre or do you think it is an amalgamation of genres and if so, what are they?

Do you think that the novels origins as a monthly instalment in a periodical has an effect on the story? Are there any features of the novel that lend it to being a released in this way?

Great Expectations has a large cast of characters, why do you think Dickens chose to use such an extensive number of characters? Was he making a statement?

Magwitch insists that Pip always refer to himself as ‘Pip’, why is this?

What do think is the reasoning behind Miss Havisham making Pip believe her to be his mysterious benefactor? Did she hope to accomplish something from this?

What do you interpret the significance to be of Pip and Estella walking out of the ruins of Satis House? Do you believe it to hold some symbolism?

The novel starts with a child called Pip and ends with another child called Pip, was Dickens trying to create a cyclical nature to the novel?

Miss Havisham’s fate is an unusual one, do you think that the varies associations of fire play a role in what Dickens was trying to convey? And why did Dickens choose to make Pip successful in rescuing Miss Havisham only to have her die from her injuries?


Pip learns that the mysterious benefactor is the convict (Abel Magwitch) who he first encountered in the churchyard when he was seven. Magwitch subsequently became wealthy in New South Wales, he visits Pip who refuses to take any more money from him and Pip, along with Herbert Pocket, attempts to help Magwitch flee England. Magwitch informs Pip that the other convict who he brawled in the churchyard was Compeyson, the man who deserted Miss Havisham. Pip declares his love towards Estella who shows no compassion while revealing she plans to marry Bentley Drummie. Later Pip meets Miss Havisham who shares that Estella was brought to her as an infant by Jaggers and she is now married. She gives Pip funds for Herbert Pocket’s place at the firm and asks for Pip’s forgiveness for misleading him. While Pip leaves, she accidently sets herself alight; Pip saves her but she succumbs to her injuries. Pip deduces Estella’s parentage, that she is the daughter of Magwitch and Jaggers’ servant Molly but after counselling Jaggers he is dissuaded from revealing the truth. Dolge Orlick lures Pip to a sluice house where he attempts to kill him, during the encounter Orlick admits that he was responsible for the attack on Pip’s sister, Mrs Gargery. Herbert and Startop come to Pips rescue and along with Pip go to help Magwitch escape, however, their plan is cut short when Compeyson arrives with the police to apprehend Magwitch. Magwitch attacks Compeyson in the river. Severely injured, Magwitch is arrested and Compeyson’s body is later found. Magwitch awaits trial and Herbert asks Pip to accompany him to Cairo, Egypt where he intends to work and offers a job there for Pip. Pip informs Magwitch that Estella, his daughter, is alive and well but Magwitch shortly dies. Pip falls ill but is nursed by Joe who also repays his debts. Upon Pip’s recovery, Joe flees. When Pip proposes to Biddy, however, she has since married Joe. Pip promises to repay Joe and travels to Cairo to work with Herbert. Herbert later learns that Pip funded his position at the firm. Eleven years later, Pip returns to England to see Joe and Biddy, they have a son, Pip Jr. He then returns to the ruins of Satis house where he reconciles with Estella.

  • Dickens wrote two endings to Great Expectations; the alternate ending was less positive than the published version as Pip’s final encounter with Estella is less romantic and it isn’t clear as to whether Pip and Estella have a future together or whether it is a final parting. The alternate ending does however still suggest a reconciliation between Pip and Estella as she appears to be more understanding of Pip’s past feelings. It is suggested that a friend of Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, found the original ‘depressing’ and Dickens agreed to rework the ending into a happier version.
  • Great Expectations was originally published as a serial in the periodical All the Year Round from December 1860 to August 1861.
  • Elements of the novel have been suggested to be autobiographical as Dickens drew on his experiences of love and rejection as well as his own ascent from poverty to wealth.

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