Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - a Book Review
The Novel Great Expectations
Great Expectations is generally regarded as one of the best novels of Charles Dickens. Written in the first person with local language and grammar, Great Expectations is an account of the growth and personal development of an orphan, Philip Pirrip or simply Pip, from about the age of eight until his 30s. Using an interesting and well-constructed plot with no unnecessary details, Dickens traces the psychological and moral development of Pip to maturity from the rural marshes of Kent to London during the 19th century Victorian England period. From page one, Great Expectations is filled with interesting and unusual characters who will captivate your interest.
Biography of Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens as a writer and social critic is one of the world's greatest novelists.
Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. He was the second of eight children. John and Elizabeth Dickens were his parents. The Dickens family was poor, and in 1816 they moved to Kent. Later, the family moved to a poor neighborhood in London in 1822.
After Charles Dickens' father was sent to prison for debt, Dickens went to work at a boot-blacking factory near the River Thames to help support the family. Charles Dickens was 12 at that time.
After John Dickens received an inheritance, Charles briefly went back to school, but at the age of 15, he was out of school again working as an office boy.
A few years later, Dickens worked as a freelance reporter for law courts, and then for a London newspaper.
His writing career then began with Sketches of Boz. During the period 1833-34, Dickens also published his first novel, Oliver Twist, a story about an orphan living in the streets.
In 1836 Charles Dickens married M. Colleen Hogarth and had 10 children.
After traveling to the United States and later publishing A Christmas Carol in 1843, Dickens published David Copperfield during the period 1849-50, and A Tale of Two Cities in 1859.
During 1860-61, Charles Dickens published Great Expectations which some critics claim is his best novel.
In the later years of his life, Dickens divorced and remarried a younger woman before dying of a stroke on June 9, 1870
This biographical data is taken from Wikipedia.
Setting and Characters of Great Expectations
Great Expectations is set among the marshes in Kent and the city of London in the early to mid-1800s of Victorian England.
The main characters in this novel are related to Philip Pirrip, Miss Havisham, and other acquaintances.
As the story begins, Philip Pirrip or "Pip" is an eight or nine-year-old orphan living with his sister and brother-in-law. The brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, is a good-natured kind blacksmith married to Pip's much older sister who is hot-tempered and cruel to Pip. Another major character is Mr. Pumblechook, Joe Gargery's uncle, who is a pompous corn merchant.
Miss Havisham who Pip gets to know is an eccentric, wealthy spinster jilted by her fiancée on the wedding day. She has a beautiful adopted daughter, Estella, slightly older than Pip. Miss Havisham has a cousin, Matthew Pocket, who tutors young gentlemen in London. One of his sons, Herbert Pocket, becomes a good friend and roommate of Pip.
Characters related to other acquaintances include the convict, Abel Magwitch; Mr. Jaggers, a London lawyer; John Wemmick, Jagger's clerk; and Biddy, Pip's former tutor who comes to care for Mrs. Joe, Pip's sister after she is seriously injured.
Significant minor characters in the novel include: Mr. Wopsle, clerk of a church in Pip's village; Compeyson, a convict and professional swindler; Arthur Havisham, the half-brother of Miss Havisham; Orlick, a journeyman blacksmith who works for Joe Gargery; and Bentley Drummle, an uncouth, rich, brute of a man.
Plot Summary for Great Expectations
As the novel begins, it is Christmas Eve in probably the year 1812. Orphan Pip is visiting the graves of his parents in a Kent village churchyard. Pip suddenly encounters an escaped convict later known as Abel Magwitch who scares Pip into stealing food and a file for the convict.
On Christmas Day, soldiers capture the escaped convict while he is fighting with another convict (Compeyson) on the marshes outside of the village. Both convicts are returned to a prison ship.
A few weeks later, the wealthy spinster Miss Havisham asks Pip's Uncle Pumblechook to get Pip to visit her residence at Satis House in the village to play. When Pip gets to Satis House, he meets Havisham's adopted daughter, Estella, and falls in love with her.
Sometime later, Miss Havisham gives money for Pip to be bound as an apprentice blacksmith working for Pip's brother-in-law, Joe Gargery.
A few months pass, and one day when Joe and Pip are not at home, Pip's sister is attacked and beaten senseless. She lives but evidently has suffered a severe stroke. A young lady, Biddy who is Pip's former tutor, comes to live with Joe and Pip and take care of Mrs. Joe.
Four years after the apprenticeship, a lawyer from London, Mr. Jaggers, arrives and announces that Pip has great expectations from an anonymous benefactor. The benefactor has funds in Jagger's possession for training Pip to be a gentleman in London.
Thinking that Miss Havisham is the benefactor, Pip goes to live with Herbert Pocket at Barnard's Inn in London. He then commutes to Hammersmith to be educated by Herbert's father, Matthew Pocket, who is related to Miss Havisham.
As Pip and Herbert build up debts living together lavishly, Mrs. Joe dies and Pip's disbursement from the benefactor is set at 500 pounds annually after Pip reaches 21.
A short while later, Estella comes to live in London.
Strange unexpected events then begin to occur after Pip reaches his twenty-third birthday leading to the climax of the book.
Themes of Great Expectations
The major themes in Great Expectations include:
1. Wealth and Poverty
Pip and the immediate family of his sister and brother-in-law live in poverty compared to the wealth of Miss Havisham and that of Pip's benefactor.
2. Love and Rejection
Throughout the novel, Pip has an unconditional love for Estella. Estella, however, is very cold to Pip and doesn't accept his love.
3. Good over Evil
In the book, good wins out over evil. This is reflected in the actions of the protagonists, Pip, Joe Gargery, and Abel Magwitch against the antagonists of Bentley Drummle, Orlick, and Compeyson.
4. Empire and Ambition
One of the themes of Great Expectations is the desire of Pip, Herbert Pocket, and Abel Magwitch to make a fortune abroad.
5. Social Class and Social Exclusion
Pip learns that as a young man of great expectations, he is readily accepted by high society but shunned when he is living in poverty.
6. Moral Development
Pip is transformed from being a selfish, proud, and ungrateful young man into a kind, generous, and humble person when older.
Throughout the book, Pip hopes to seek fulfillment in love, wealth, social status, and finally a return to his roots.
Evaluation of Great Expectations
In my opinion, Great Expectations is an excellent book with mostly good points and only a few deficiencies.
The plot of the novel is extremely interesting and exciting. It moves quickly with no twists or unnecessary happenings.
Some of the imagery in this book includes light contrasted to darkness, crime and fighting, food, and fighting.
Great Expectations is written in the first person with local language and grammar much like Mark Twain's novels.
The themes of moral development, hope, and good over evil will leave the reader with good feelings.
I found hardly any deficiencies in Great Expectations. When Mr, Wopsle went to work in London as an actor, I think Dickens spent too much unnecessary time talking about the theater. I also was a little disappointed in the ending because it is very vague and leaves the reader guessing.
Charles Dickens Novels
Which is your favorite Charles Dickens novel?
Great Expectations is the first novel of Dickens that I have read. It is certainly interesting and exciting with a plot which will captivate you throughout the book. The imagery in the book is outstanding, and all readers will be able to identify with the major themes. I strongly recommend that everyone read Great Expectations.
© 2015 Paul Richard Kuehn