Great Expectations is Charles Dickens's thirteenth novel. It is his second novel, after David Copperfield, to be fully narrated in
the first person. Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, or a
coming-of-age novel, and it is a classic work of Victorian literature. It depicts the growth and personal development of an orphan named Pip.
Great Expectations has a colourful cast that has remained in popular culture: the capricious Miss Havisham, the cold and beautiful Estella, Joe the kind and generous blacksmith, the dry and sycophantic Uncle Pumblechook, Mr Jaggers, Wemmick and his dual personality, and the eloquent and wise friend, Herbert Pocket. Throughout the narrative, typical Dickensian themes emerge: wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil
Pip and his family
; Philip Pirrip, nicknamed Pip, an orphan and the
protagonist and narrator of Great Expectations.
Throughout his childhood, Pip dreamed of becoming a
blacksmith. As a result of Magwitch's anonymous
patronage, Pip travels to London and becomes a gentleman.
Pip assumes his benefactor is Miss Havisham, and discovering that his true benefactor is a convict shocks him.
; Joe Gargery, Pip's brother-in-law, and his first father figure. He is a blacksmith who is always kind to Pip and the only person with whom Pip is always honest. Joe is very disappointed when Pip decided to leave his home and travel to London to become a gentleman rather than be a blacksmith.
; Mrs. Joe Gargery, Pip's hot-tempered adult sister, who raises him after their parents' death but constantly complains of the burden of raising Pip. Orlick, her husband's journeyman, attacks her, and she is left disabled until her death.
; Mr. Pumblechook, Joe Gargery's uncle, an officious
bachelor and corn merchant. While holding Pip in disdain, he tells "Mrs. Joe" (as she is widely known) how noble she is to raise Pip. As the person who first connected Pip to Miss Havisham, he claims to have been the original architect of Pip's precious fortune. Pip despises Mr. Pumblechook as Mr. Pumblechook constantly makes himself out to be better than he really is. When Pip finally
stands up to him, Mr. Pumblechook turns those listening to
the conversation against Pip.
Miss Havisham and her family (The Pockets or The Toadies
; Miss Havisham, wealthy spinster who takes Pip on as a
companion and who Pip suspects is his benefactor. Miss
Havisham does not deny this as it fits into her own spiteful
plans that derive from her desire for revenge after being
jilted at the altar several years before. She later apologises
to Pip as she is overtaken by guilt. He accepts her apology,
and she is badly burnt when her wedding dress, which she
has never taken off since her jilting, catches fire when she
sits too close to the fireplace. Pip saves her, but she later
dies from her injuries.
; Estella, Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, whom Pip
pursues throughout the novel. She does not know that she
is the daughter of Molly, Jaggers's housekeeper, and Abel
Magwitch, Pip's convict. Estella was given up for adoption
to Miss Havisham after her mother, Molly, is tried for
murder. Estella represents the life of wealth and culture for
which Pip strives. Since Miss Havisham ruined Estella's
ability to love, Estella cannot return Pip's passion. She
warns Pip of this repeatedly, but he will not or cannot
; Matthew Pocket, Miss Havisham's cousin. He is the
patriarch of the Pocket family, but unlike her other
relatives, he is not greedy for Havisham's wealth. Matthew
Pocket tutors young gentlemen, such as Bentley Drummle,
Startop, Pip, and his son Herbert, who live on his estate. ; Herbert Pocket, a member of the Pocket family, Miss
Havisham's presumed heir, whom Pip first meets as a "pale
young gentleman" who challenges Pip to a fist fight at
Miss Havisham's house when both are children. He is the
son of Matthew Pocket, is Pip's tutor in the "gentlemanly"
arts, and shares his apartment with Pip in London,
becoming Pip's fast friend.
; Cousin Raymond, an ageing relative of Miss Havisham
who is only interested in her money. He is married to
; Georgiana, an ageing relative of Miss Havisham who is
only interested in her money. She is one of the many
relatives who hang around Miss Havisham "like flies" for
; Sarah Pocket, "a dry, brown corrugated old woman, with a small face that might have been made out of walnut shells, and a large mouth like a cat's without the whiskers." She is another ageing relative of Miss Havisham who is only interested in her money.
From Pip's youth
; The Convict, an escapee from a prison ship, whom Pip treats kindly, and who turns out to be his benefactor. His real name is Abel Magwitch but uses the aliases Provis and Mr Campbell to protect his identity. Pip also pretends Magwitch is his uncle so that no one recognises him as a convict sent to Australia years before.
o Abel Magwitch, the convict's given name, who is
also Pip's benefactor.
o Provis, a name that Abel Magwitch uses when he
returns to London, to conceal his identity. Pip also
says that "Provis" is his uncle visiting from out of
o Mr Campbell, a name that Abel Magwitch uses
after his enemy discovers him in London.
; Mr and Mrs Hubble, simple folk who think they are
more important than they really are. They live in Pip's
; Mr Wopsle, the clerk of the church in Pip's village. He
later gives up the church work and moves to London to
pursue his ambition to be an actor, even though he is not
o Mr Waldengarver, the stage name that Wopsle
adopts as an actor in London.
; Biddy, Wopsle's second cousin; she runs an evening
school from her home in Pip's village and becomes Pip's
teacher. A kind and intelligent but poor young woman, she
is, like Pip and Estella, an orphan. She acts as Estella's foil.
Pip ignores her affections for him as he fruitlessly pursues
Estella. After he realises the error of his life choices, he
returns to claim Biddy as his bride, only to find out she has
married Joe Gargery. Biddy and Joe later have two
children, one named after Pip whom Estella mistakes as
Pip's child in the original ending. Orlick was attracted to
her, but she did not return his affections.
Mr Jaggers and his circle
; Mr Jaggers, prominent London lawyer who represents the
interests of diverse clients, both criminal and civil. He
represents Pip's benefactor and Miss Havisham as well. By
the end of the story, his law practice links many of the
; John Wemmick, Jaggers's clerk, called "Mr. Wemmick"
and "Wemmick" except by his father, who is referred to as
"The Aged Parent", "The Aged P.", or simply "The Aged."
Wemmick is Pip's chief go-between with Jaggers and
looks after Pip in London. Mr. Wemmick lives with his
father, The Aged, in John's "castle," which is a small
replica of a castle complete with a drawbridge and moat, in
; Molly, Mr Jaggers's maidservant whom Jaggers saved
from the gallows for murder. She is revealed to be
Magwitch's estranged wife and Estella's mother.
; Compeyson (surname), a convict and Magwitch's enemy.
A professional swindler, he had been Miss Havisham's
intended husband, who was in league with Arthur
Havisham to defraud Miss Havisham of her fortune. He
pursues Abel Magwitch when he learns that he is in London and drowns when, grappling with Magwitch, he falls into the Thames. In some editions of the book, he is called "Compey."
; "Dolge" Orlick, journeyman blacksmith at Joe Gargery's
forge. Strong, rude and sullen, he is as churlish as Joe is gentle and kind. He ends up in a fist fight with Joe over Mrs Gargery's taunting, and Joe easily defeats him. This sets in motion an escalating chain of events that leads him to secretly injure Mrs Gargery and try to kill Pip. The police discover and arrest him.
; Bentley Drummle, a coarse, unintelligent young man
whose only saving graces are that he is to succeed to a title and his family is wealthy. Pip meets him at Mr Pocket's house, as Drummle is also to be trained in gentlemanly skills. Drummle is hostile to Pip and everyone else. He is a rival to Pip for Estella's attentions and marries her. It is said he abuses Estella. Drummle would later be mentioned to have died from an accident following his mistreatment of a horse.
; Clara Barley, a very poor girl living with her father who
is suffering from gout. She marries Herbert Pocket near
the novel's end. She dislikes Pip before meeting him
because she knows he negatively influences Herbert's
spending habits, but she eventually warms to him.
; Miss Skiffins occasionally visits Wemmick's house and
wears green gloves. She changes those green gloves for
white ones when she marries Wemmick.
; Startop, like Bentley Drummle, is Pip's fellow student, but
unlike Drummle, he is kind. He assists Pip and Herbert in
their efforts to effect Magwitch's escape.
Great Expectations' only literary predecessor is another
Dickens' bildungsroman, David Copperfield. The two books
trace the psychological and moral development of a young boy to maturity, his transition from a rural environment to the London metropolis, the vicissitudes of his emotional development, and the exhibition of his hopes and youthful dreams and their metamorphosis through a rich and complex
first person narrative. Dickens was conscious of this
similarity and, before undertaking his new manuscript, reread
David Copperfield to avoid repetition.
The two books both detail homecoming. Although David
Copperfield is based on much of Dickens personal experiences, Great Expectations provides, according to Paul Schlicke, "the
more spiritual and intimate autobiography." Even though
several elements hint at the setting: Miss Havisham, partly inspired by a Parisian duchess, whose residence was always closed and in darkness, surrounded by "a dead green vegetable
sea," recalling Satis House, and the countryside bordering
[N 4]Chatham and Rochester, no place name is mentioned, nor a
specific time period, which is indicated by, among other elements, older coaches, the title "His Majesty" in reference to George III, and the old London Bridge prior to the 1824–1831
The theme of homecoming reflects events in Dickens' life, several years prior to the publication of Great Expectations. In
1856, he bought Gad's Hill Place in Higham, Kent, which he had
dreamed of living in as a child, and moved there from far-away London two years later. In 1858, in a painful divorce, he separated from Catherine Dickens, his wife of twenty-three