Published in weekly installments from December 1, 1860, to August 3, 1861. “Great Expectations” is a story of a young boy growing into adulthood, who learns that his “great expectations” of wealth and power do not lead to virtue and happiness.
The book spans thirty years in the life of Phillip Pirrip, or Pip, the protagonist of the book. He is seven when the story begins, and he meets Provis, an escaped convict who will play and important role in his life. When he is twelve years old, he begins to see the world differently. He is brought into the world of wealth to entertain an eccentric old lady, Miss Havisham, where he meets her ward, Estella. Although beautiful, Estella is cruel. Never the less, Pip falls in love with her and wants to improve himself to become worthy of her.
He begins to feel himself above his family, because he expects the old woman to make him into a gentleman, and let him marry her ward. But, he finds out she only wanted to use him to give her ward lessons in how to break a man’s heart. Years before Miss Havisham had been left at the alter by her fiance. Now she spends her days waiting. She dresses in her wedding dress and sits with her cobweb-covered wedding breakfast. All the clocks in her house are stopped at the time she received the note from her fiance, ending their relationship.
Years pass with Pip working as his brother-in-law Joe’s apprentice. Then one day, he learns his fortune has turned. He is given the money to train to become a gentleman. Pip relocates to London where the next part of his life begins. He makes friends and enemies. Then when he reaches his mid 30’s, he learns that the convict he helped in the beginning of the book, paid for his raise in social class. Trying to help his benefactor leads Pip to, once again, reevaluate his life.
The story opens with a little boy sitting in a graveyard, staring at some tombstones. They are for his mother and father, and five infant boys. His name is Phillip Pirrip, but, when he first began to talk he couldn’t say, Philip Pirrip, instead he said, “Pip”. So, Pip is his name. As he is imagining his parents and baby brothers who he never knew, a gruff man comes up to him. The man is a convict. He bullies Pip into bringing him food and a file to remove his leg irons. The convict made Pip swear to come back quickly, and not to reveal him to anyone.
Pip is living with his sister and her husband in a small house in a marshy village along the River Thames, east of London. He calls his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery and his brother-in-law Joe Gargery. His sister has a cane that she calls “Tickler”, and she threatens Pip and her husband with it. Joe is a kind and gentle blacksmith. Pip tries to sneak out with some bread and butter but is caught by his sister and has to spend the evening stirring the pudding, since it’s Christmas Eve. His sister threatens to feed him tar-water. So, it’s not until the next morning that Pip can get meet the convict. Pip also brings a pork pie and some brandy. He replaced what he poured out with tar-water. Before heading out, Pip grabs Joe’s file.
The first man Pip comes upon is another escaped convict, and frightens him off. When he finds the original convict, the man is in dire straights. He’s shivering with the cold. He’s wet and hungry. At first, Pip’s kindness softens the man, but, when he mentions the other convict, he becomes violent. Pip leaves him while the man is filing off his leg irons. When Pip gets home, he is filled with guilt for helping a convict, but, he keeps his promise and doesn’t tell anyone about the man. After breakfast, he and Joe go to church. When they get home, Mrs. Joe has Christmas Dinner waiting. Pip’s wealthy Uncle Pumblechook, along with the church clerk, Mr. Wopsle, and Mr. and Mrs. Hubble have dinner with them. Pip is terrified his, theft of food will be noticed. He is almost busted when they open the brandy to discover the tar-water replacement. Just when Pip begins to really panic, he opened the door to a sergeant with a small group of soldiers behind him. The sergeant is carrying a pair of handcuffs.
When Pip gets home, he is filled with guilt for helping a convict, but, he keeps his promise and doesn’t tell anyone about the man. After breakfast, he and Joe go to church. When they get home, Mrs. Joe has Christmas Dinner waiting. Pip’s wealthy Uncle Pumblechook, along with the church clerk, Mr. Wopsle, and Mr. and Mrs. Hubble have dinner with them. Pip is terrified his theft of food will be noticed. He is almost busted when they open the brandy to discover the tar-water replacement. Just when Pip begins to really panic, he opened the door to a sergeant with a small group of soldiers behind him. The sergeant is carrying a pair of handcuffs.
The sergeant wants Pip’s brother-in-law, Joe, to repair the handcuffs. He tells Joe that they are searching the marshes for the escaped convicts. Joe and agree to help them search. Pip is concerned for “his” convict. After the handcuffs are repaired, Joe offers for some of them to help the soldiers search. Mr. Hubble and Mr. Pumblechook (Pip is never allowed to call him uncle) turn down the offer, but Mr.Wopsle goes along. Joe asks Mrs. Joe if he can take Pip along. She says yes, but if he gets his head blown off by a musket, don’t expect her to repair it.
After a long search, the hunting group hears noises in the distance. A man’s voice shouting, “Murder!” and then another man’s voice shouting, “Convicts! Runaways! Guard! This way for the runaway convicts!”
When Joe, Pip, Mr. Wopsle, the sergeant and his troops reach the convicts, they are struggling with each other. Pip’s convict says that he grabbed the other man and was turning him in. He said that he could have gotten away, but wouldn’t let the other man get away, too. So, he grabbed him and was taking him back to the prison ship, “The Hulk”. He also said that he stole the file and food from the blacksmith’s shop, so as not to implicate Pip.
Fast forward one year. Pip is attending classes offered by Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt, who goes to sleep during classes. Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt also runs a kind of general shop from her room, with no idea what she has nor the prices, but, she has a little ledger that is attended by Biddy, her granddaughter, and ward. Although Mr. Wopsle’s great aunt was paid to teach him, Biddy actually did most of it. One day, as he was practicing writing at home, Joe sat down with him. He discovers Joe never learned to read and write. Pip offers to help him learn, but Joe declines the offer. He doesn’t think Mrs. Joe would approve. She likes the superiority.
While the two of them were discussing her, Mrs. Joe came barreling in. She had Uncle Pumblechook with her. She told them that Miss Havisham, who is very wealthy and is Uncle Punblechook’s landlady, asked him if he knew of a little boy who could come over and play. Thinking that the connection would be good for Pip, he offered him. So, Pip is scrubbed to within an inch of his life and taken in Uncle Pumblechook’s carriage, still wondering what he was supposed to play at.
After spending the night at his uncle’s house, Pip wakes to an early breakfast and quizzing by his uncle on his multiplication tables. Then he is taken to Miss Havisham’s manor. It is called Statis House. It means “Enough house” as in “whoever owns this house will never need anything else.” The house is quite imposing.
They are met at the gate by a pretty little girl, who disdains Mr. Pumblechook and brings Pip inside. He finds Miss Havisham to be an old lady in a faded wedding dress, sitting in a room surrounded by clocks all stopped at twenty minutes to nine. Near her were half-packed trunks of scattered clothes and the had one shoe on. The other shoe was on the table near her hand. She tells him that she is tired of grownups and wants to be entertained with watching him play. When he tells her it’s difficult to play alone, she makes the girl, Estella, who is her ward, play cards with him.
Estella is rude to him and thinks he is too common for her to spend time with. But, even with her rudeness, Pip is captivated by her beauty. Miss Havisham sees this and thinks it might prove to be entertaining, so she tells Pip he will return again in six days. Pip goes off to cry and bit because the day before he had considered himself much less ignorant than he did today, after Estella’s treatment of him. Although, he felt sorry for himself, he was mostly angry. When she notices that he had been crying, she laughs at him and shoves him out the gate.
When he arrives back home, they grill him on Miss Havisham and the manor house. He feels to tell her eccentricities would be a betrayal to her, and to Estella, so he gives only the slightest answers to the questions from Mrs. Joe and Uncle Pumblechook. He makes up a story about how kind they both were to him and that she had four dogs that fought over veal cutlets from a silver basket. He also tells them that they played with flags and swords. But, before he could make up more fantastical elements to his day, he escapes to see Joe.
When Pip sees Joe, he feels so bad about lying that he comes clean. He tells him about Estella and how bad he felt about being common. Joe admonishes him for telling lies, but tells Pip he isn’t common. He’s an “oncommon scholar”. If he wants to succeed he should stay on an honest path, and keep with his own kind. Then Joe sends Pip off to bed to think on it. But, what Pip thinks on is that the visit made him unthankful for his position and made him want to reach for a higher station. Pip decides to ask Biddy, who does most of the teaching at his school, to help him become, “uncommon”. She agrees and lends him a book to practice with at home.
On Saturday, Pip was sent by his sister to collect Joe from the pub. He finds him sitting at a table with Mr. Wopsle and a stranger. The stranger buys a round of drinks and begins to question who Pip is to Joe. Then he pulls out the file that Pip had given to the convict and stirs his drink where only Pip can see it. Before Joe and Pip leaves, the stranger gives Pip two one pound notes. Pip, wisely, gives them to his sister, as he does all the money he makes doing odd jobs around the neighborhood. Usually she keeps his money in a jar in the pantry, but this money, she feels was given to him mistakenly, so she keeps it separate under some dried rose leaves in an ornamental teapot, in case he wants the cash back. The stranger and the file haunt Pip’s dreams because he feels guilty.
The next time he arrives at Satis House, Pip is quickly shown in to a drawing room by Estella. She leaves him by a window, where he sees three women and a man waiting to see Miss Havisham. He immediately takes them for “toadies and humbugs”. They are Camilla, Mercy, Sarah and Raymond Pockets. After Estella fetches him to take to Miss Havisham they pass by a dark, mysterious man in the stairway. When they reach Miss Havisham, Estella leaves and Pip spends some time talking with her. She shows him a cobweb covered wedding cake and they walk around the room, then she tells him to call Estella, but, when he does, the others join her.
They proceed to flatter Miss Havisham. She doesn’t like any of them, and tells Pip they are all there because it’s her birthday. Then she has him play with Estella again. Afterwards he takes a walk in the garden where he meets a pale young man. The man gets him to fight with him. After Pip won the fight, Estella let him kiss her on the cheek.
For the next few months, Pip visits every week. He pushes Miss Havisham around in a wheel chair and thinks that he is making a good impression. He expects her to raise his status and give him a enough money to become a gentleman. What he doesn’t notice is that Miss Havisham is using the time to get Estella to torment him. Believing he will be rising in station, he begins to feel above his family and is embarrassed by how common Joe is. He spends his time speaking to Biddy and trying to gain knowledge and polish his manners. But, one day, Miss Havisham notices he is growing taller and therefore not a child anymore. She pays for him to apprentice to Joe, therefore killing his dreams of becoming a gentleman and angering his sister, who also harbored hopes.
Years pass as Pip continues to grow up and works as Joe’s blacksmith apprentice. Although, he is disheartened over his lot in life, and yearns for his visits to Statis House, he tries to not let his discontent show. Pip had learned all Biddy had to teach him and had to teach Joe. His reasoning was he wanted Joe to be worthy of Pip’s acquaintance, and not be the brunt of Estella’s teasing.
As the days added up, Pip began to ask Joe for a half holiday so he could visit Miss Havisham. His excuse was that he wanted to thank her. Unfortunately, Pip asked Joe about it when his helper, Dolge Orlick was nearby. He was a rough, unpleasant man, who liked to torment young Pip, but not where Joe could call him on it. He was slothful and lazy. So, when he heard that Pip ask for a half day, he demanded one, too.
Mrs. Joe was standing outside the shop when she heard Joe agree to giving both of them a half day off. She was livid. She and Orlick exchanged words, which drew Joe to step in to defend her honor. Joe won the fight, took Mrs. Joe into the house, after she fainted, and then came back to clean up the mess with Orlick. They shared a bucket of beer, and seemed to be on good terms.
When Pip goes to the gate of Statis House, it is opened by Sarah Pocket. Miss Havisham tells him, with a malicious laugh, that Estella is abroad learning to be a lady. When he returns home, he finds out that his sister was attacked by the leg iron of a convict. She is left a half with invalid. Pip suspects Orlick, or, since the leg irons used in the attack were the same ones the convict had filed off, he thought it might be the stranger who showed him the file. But, unaccountably, his sister made a sign to see Orlick every day, and wanted to ensure they were on friendly terms. Biddy became Mrs. Joe’s caretaker, and was the only one who came close to understanding her. Mrs. Joe had lost her rampaging temper and spent her time just trying to control her limbs.
Pip fell into a regular routine of apprenticeship. Every year, on his birthday, he would visit Miss Havisham. They would talk for a few minutes, and she would give him a guinea. She would also tell him about the brilliant life Estella was living. This made Pip to keep trying harder to improve himself. Pip starts to see that Biddy is becoming a pretty young woman and a very quick learner. He remarks on her ability to learn everything he learns and then some. Pip tells her he is in love with Estella, and she tells him that Orlick is pursuing her. In his fourth year of apprenticeship. Pip learns from a lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, that someone has decided to educate him as a gentleman. His benefactor wants him raised as a young man with “Great Expectations”.
After a tearful goodbye from Biddy and Joe, Pip goes to stay with Uncle Pumblechook temporarily, scorning his village, because of his new found wealth. It takes him five hours by coach to reach London, which he finds to be ugly. The streets are crooked and dirty. While waiting to see his guardian, Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer, he meets Jaggers’ clerk, John Wemmick, who arranges Pip’s finances and finds him accommodations with Matthew Pocket’s son, Herbert, who he fought with long ago, at Miss Havisham’s birthday party. From Herbert Pip learns the story of Miss Havisham’s past.
She was the spoiled daughter of a wealthy brewer. A dishonest half brother, Arthur, was in conspiracy with her fiance, Compeyson, who never showed up on their wedding morning, but, instead sent a letter of regret. That is when she stopped all her clocks and decided to leave everything in her house the way it was that day for the rest of her life. She is old and fragile, continuing to wear her withered bridal dress. She has decided to get revenge on all men with Estella, teaching her to use her beauty to make men desire her, then torment them.
In the topsy-turvy Pocket household, Pip studies with two boys, the pleasant Startop and the belligerent Bentley Drummle. He spends his evenings in Wemmick’s loving home. Although, Wemmick has a wry humor at work, his personality changes dramatically when he enters his home that he shares with an aged parent. Some nights he is in Jagger’s cold businesslike residence, where he notices that Jagger’s maid, Molly, has scarred wrists and a peculiar manner. Joe, who is uncomfortable with Pip in his elevated position, arrives with news that Estella wishes to see him.
On the coach from London, convicts are being transported and Pip recognizes the stranger from the pub, who is telling his mate about the file and the two pound notes. Pip is anxious to conceal his own identity. At Miss Havisham’s, Pip finds Orlick working as a porter. Estella says she has no tenderness in her heart, yet Miss Havisham with her twisted view of love wants Pip to love Estella. Back in London, Pip tells Jaggers (who is also Miss Havisham’s lawyer) that Orlick is not to be trusted, so Jaggers decides to pay off Orlick.
Since Herbert and Pip are such close friends, they exchange confidences. Herbert reveals that he is in love with Clara Barley, and Pip reveals his love for Estella. One night they spend an amusing evening at the theater, where they watch Mr. Wopsle perform Hamlet, badly. The two become deeply in debt after wasting money in a useless social club for young gentlemen, The Finches of the Grove. Pip returns home after learning of his sister’s death. He finds Joe being bossed around by the funeral director. Pip is sad to leave Joe on this day and promises to come home often.
At age 21, Pip enjoys the life of a gentlemen-in-the-making and begins to manage his annual allowance of 500 pounds. Wanting secretly to help Herbert in business, he get Wemmick to locate a merchant who will set Herbert up in a trading firm. Pip is furious to learn that Bentley Drummle is courting Estella. And then, one stormy night, when Pip is 23, his convict reappears. He is known as Provis, though his name is Abel Magwitch. He announces that he is Pip’s benefactor. He has been serving his prison sentence in Australia, where he made his fortune in sheep ranching. But, now he has returned to England, illegally, to check out his investment.
At first, Pip is horrified that he left the honest home of Joe to be supported by a convict. But, then he begins to recognize Provis’s years of sacrifice and decides to help him escape from England. As Pip and Herbert listen to Provis’s tales of crime, they realize that the second convict years ago was Compeyson. He is in London and wishes to expose Provis, who would be executed if caught. So Pip and Herbert disguise Provis and hide him with Clara Barley.
Before leaving the country with Provis, Pip visits Estella. There he learns she is planning to marry Bentley Drummle. During a second dinner with Jaggers, Pip notices that Molly’s and Estella’s are shaped in the same way. Wemmick tells him later that Molly had been tried for murder long ago, and Jaggers got her acquitted. He removed her infant daughter, and then employed her as a maid.
When Pip returns to Statis House, Miss Havisham signs over 900 pounds so he can continue to support Herbert, who along with Matthew, has been her only unselfish relative. She begs Pip’s forgiveness, then says she knows nothing about Estella’s background. She only knows hat she asked Jaggers to bring her a baby she could love. Certain the Molly is Estella’s mother, Pip leaves Miss Havisham seated beside the fire and wanders around the house. Shortly afterward, he goes back to check on her only to find her dress has caught fire. Pip burns himself badly while rescuing her.
While Herbert is tending to Pip’s burns, he gives him information, as told by Provis, that leads Pip to conclude that Provis is Estella’s father. The day is set for Provis to be rowed down the Thames where he is scheduled to board a steamer leaving the country. A threatening letter arrives, requesting that Pip go alone to the old lime kiln near the forge for information about Provis. He goes, and finds a drunken, vengeful Orlick has set this trap and plans to kill him for making him lose his job with Miss Havisham and coming between him and the woman he desired. Orlick reveals that he was the one who killed Mrs. Joe, and that he has been spying on Pip. Now he is working with Compeyson. Luckily, Herbert found the note and arrives in time, with help, to save Pip, but Orlick gets away. They return to London, to continue with Provis’ escape.
But, they are stopped by the authorities, who have Compeyson with them. Provis and Compeyson both dive into the Thames for a final battle. Only Provis comes up. He is imprisoned, but, Pip stays loyal to him. The government seizes all of Provis’ wealth, including what he gave Pip.
Before Provis dies in a prison hospital, he learns that his daughter, Estella, is still alive and Pip loves her. It comforts him. Pip becomes gravely ill, and is nursed back to health by Joe, who tells him that Biddy taught him how to read and write. Joe tells him that Miss Havisham died, distributing her wealth evenly with her family. Orlick tried to rob Mr. Pumblechook, was captured and jailed. Before leaving London, Joe arranges to pay off all Pip’s debts. Pip decides he will go home to see Joe and ask Biddy to marry him, but finds she and Joe are already married. So, he leaves to take Herbert up on his offer to join him in his business, which is abroad.
After 11 years, Pip returns to find that Estella has been widowed and that Joe and Biddy are happy with two small children. Feeling nostalgic, Pip takes a walk around the remains of Statis House. There, he finds a wiser Estella, whose life of suffering with the boorish Drummle has taught her to appreciate Pip. As they leave they are holding hands.
Phillip Pirrip (Pip) – the protagonist and voice of the story. He begins as an orphan living with his sister, who is abusive and her husband who is kind. He has a strong conscience and deep beliefs in right and wrong. When he is introduced to a more genteel society he begins to reach for loftier goals. He becomes ashamed of his family and friends. His personality swings back and forth between realizing the purity of working a day’s work and going home to a cozy home, and wanting to hobnob with the rich and powerful. By the end of the book, he has come to realize that money can’t buy happiness, and even the beautiful are capable of cruelties.
Joe Gargery – Pip’s hardworking and gentle brother-in-law. Although, not book smart, he is very wise. He is a blacksmith and therefore, very strong. Honest, forgiving, faithful, generous, and unaffected. He is a gentleman by nature, as opposed to the gentleman Pip becomes that was made with money, and misses the deep seated sense of honor, Joe comes by naturally.
Mrs. Joe – Pip’s sister. She is about twenty years older than Pip, and is not happy about having to raise him. She is never happy, wishing for a more genteel life with a tradesman for a husband, instead of a rough blacksmith. After she is attacked, she becomes a fearful invalid.
Biddy – the young woman who is the assistant to Pip’s teacher while he is a child. She is naturally intelligent, soaking up all the knowledge she comes into contact with. She teaches Joe to read and write, and tends to Mrs. Joe when she is hurt, until the woman dies.
Miss Havisham – an eccentric old lady who lives in a huge home called Statis Manor. Years earlier she was left at the alter by her fiance, and now teaches her ward, Estella, to be cruel to men as a revenge. She spends every day sitting in a chair dressed in her faded wedding dress, at the table of the cobweb covered wedding breakfast. She has all the clocks stopped at the time she received the note when her fiance ended things.
Estella – her name means “star”. Given up by her convict parents, she is adopted by Miss Havisham. She is taught to be cold and heartless. To never fall in love. Instead she is to use her beauty to captivate men and then hurt them. She is brutally honest. In the end, she realizes all the lessons she was taught warped her world view and ended in unhappiness. The reader is given to believe she will finally find happiness with Pip.
Provis – his real name is Abel Magwitch, but he is called Provis. (which would refer to fate) Dickens chose the name Abel because he makes his fortune as a shepherd in Australia. When the story begins, he is an escaped convict, but gives up his freedom in order to stop another convict from escaping. Then he is transported to Australia. Since Pip was kind to him as a child, Provis takes it upon himself to pay for Pip to become a gentleman. When he comes back to England to discover the outcome of his investment, he meets Pip and helps him to finish growing up. Before he dies, Provis discovers he is the father of Estella.
Charles Dickens Biography
Charles Dickens (1812-70) was born in Portsmouth, England. He is one of the most popular writers in the history of literature.
Dickens was pulled from school at a young age when his father was put in prison for debts. He was forced to take a job in a blacking warehouse, which influenced his writing later in life. When his father left prison, Dickens returned to school, but was mostly self-taught.
After finishing school, he became a legal clerk then went on to work as a reporter in the courts and parliament. In 1833 he began to publish humorous descriptive sketches of daily life in London under the pseudonym, Boz. The series of articles, accompanied by artistic sketches became very popular and led to his publication of “The Pickwick Papers”.
It also led to a new way of writing in London; the serial story. Dickens maintained his fame with a series of popular novels, editing magazines, and charitable work pressing for social reforms. He also managed a theatrical company who performed for Queen Victoria, and did public readings of his works.
But, success in business did not mean success in his home life. After an affair with a young actress and citing incompatibility with his wife, they separated in 1858 even though the marriage had produced 10 children. He suffered a fatal stroke on June 9, 1870, and was buried in Westminster Abbey five days later.