The Victorian Age
Queen Victoria was the ruler of England from 1837 to 1901, so it is customary to call the writings produced during this long stretch of years Victorian literature. It is commonly divided into three phases:
; The Early Victorian Period(1832-1848), a time of troubles
; The Mid-Victorian Period (1848-1870), a time of economic prosperity and
; The Last Period(1870-1901), a time characterized by decay of Victorian values. Realism: The 19th century literary movement that reacted to romanticism by insisting on a faithful, objective presentation of the details of everyday life.
; Development of Capitalist industry and its significance.
; Darwin’s theory of Evolution and its influence. (1859 On the Origin of Species)
Literature of the Age
; Unlike the previous two periods of Neo-classicism and Romanticism, there was no
dominant literary theory in Victorian literature. Several literary trends existed side by
side, they are as follows
; Chartist literature, the product of the Chartist Movement(宪章运动是19世纪30，40年代英
; The flourishing of realistic novels from Dickens to Hardy. This is considered the
greatest literary achievement of the age .
; The third is the memorable poetry of the “Big Three”--- Tennyson, Browning and
; The fourth is the appearance of the Pre-Raphaelite(前拉斐尔派:是1848年在英国兴起的美术
但是对于19世纪的英国绘画史及方向？带来了很大的影响。 ) Brotherhood, a new movement in
art and poetry shortly after 1850, led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (艺术家罗塞蒂 )
; The fifth is the emergence of the Aesthetic Movement towards the end of the
century, represented by Oscar Wilde, who advocated the theory of “art for art’s
Victorian novel :No one who has studied Victorian literature will ignore its
outstanding achievements in the novel. From the time of Charles Dickens to the final
decade when Thomas Hardy published his last novel Jude the Obscure , a long line of
novelists continued to turn out monumental masterpieces that delighted their
contemporaries and continue to delight readers today.
Charles Dickens and Great Expectations
C HARLES DICKENS was born on February 7, 1812, and spent the first nine years of his life living in the coastal regions of Kent, a county in southeast England. Dickens’s father,
John, was a kind and likable man, but he was incompetent with money and piled up tremendous debts throughout his life. When Dickens was nine, his family moved to London. When he was twelve, his father was arrested and taken to debtors’ prison.
Dickens’s mother moved his seven brothers and sisters into prison with their father, but she arranged for the young Charles to live alone outside the prison and work with other children pasting labels on bottles in a blacking warehouse (blacking was a type of manufactured soot used to make a black pigment for products such as matches or fertilizer). Dickens found the three months he spent apart from his family highly traumatic. Not only was the job itself miserable, but he considered himself too good for it, earning the contempt of the other children. After his father was released from prison, Dickens returned to school. He eventually became a law clerk, then a court reporter, and finally a novelist. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, became a huge popular success
when Dickens was only twenty-five. He published extensively and was considered a literary celebrity until his death in 1870.
Many of the events from Dickens’s early life are mirrored in Great Expectations, which,
apart from David Copperfield, is his most autobiographical novel. Pip, the novel’s
protagonist, lives in the marsh country, works at a job he hates, considers himself too good for his surroundings, and experiences material success in London at a very early age, exactly as Dickens himself did. In addition, one of the novel’s most appealing characters, Wemmick, is a law clerk, and the law, justice, and the courts are all important components of the story.
Great Expectations is set in early Victorian England, a time when great social changes were sweeping the nation. The Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had transformed the social landscape, enabling capitalists and manufacturers to amass huge fortunes. Although social class was no longer entirely dependent on the circumstances of one’s birth, the divisions between rich and poor remained nearly as wide as ever. London, a teeming mass of humanity, lit by gas lamps at night and darkened by black clouds from smokestacks during the day, formed a sharp contrast with the nation’s sparsely populated rural areas. More and more people moved from the country to the city in search of greater economic opportunity. Throughout England, the manners of the upper class were very strict and conservative: gentlemen and ladies were expected to have thorough classical educations and to behave appropriately in innumerable social situations.
In form, Great Expectations fits a pattern popular in nineteenth-century European fiction: the bildungsroman, or novel depicting growth and personal development, generally a transition from boyhood to manhood such as that experienced by Pip.
P IP, A YOUNG ORPHAN living with his sister and her husband in the marshes of Kent, sits in a cemetery one evening looking at his parents’ tombstones. Suddenly, an escaped
convict springs up from behind a tombstone, grabs Pip, and orders him to bring him food and a file for his leg irons. Pip obeys, but the fearsome convict is soon captured anyway. The convict protects Pip by claiming to have stolen the items himself.
One day Pip is taken by his Uncle Pumblechook to play at Satis House, the home of the wealthy dowager Miss Havisham, who is extremely eccentric: she wears an old wedding dress everywhere she goes and keeps all the clocks in her house stopped at the same time. During his visit, he meets a beautiful young girl named Estella, who treats him coldly and contemptuously. Nevertheless, he falls in love with her and dreams of becoming a wealthy gentleman so that he might be worthy of her. He even hopes that Miss Havisham intends to make him a gentleman and marry him to Estella, but his hopes are dashed when, after months of regular visits to Satis House, Miss Havisham decides to help him become a common laborer in his family’s business.
With Miss Havisham’s guidance, Pip is apprenticed to his brother-in-law, Joe, who is the
village blacksmith. Pip works in the forge unhappily, struggling to better his education with the help of the plain, kind Biddy and encountering Joe’s malicious day laborer, Orlick. One night, after an altercation with Orlick, Pip’s sister, known as Mrs. Joe, is
viciously attacked and becomes a mute invalid. From her signals, Pip suspects that Orlick was responsible for the attack.
One day a lawyer named Jaggers appears with strange news: a secret benefactor has given Pip a large fortune, and Pip must come to London immediately to begin his education as a gentleman. Pip happily assumes that his previous hopes have come true—that Miss
Havisham is his secret benefactor and that the old woman intends for him to marry Estella.
In London, Pip befriends a young gentleman named Herbert Pocket and Jaggers’s law
clerk, Wemmick. He expresses disdain for his former friends and loved ones, especially Joe, but he continues to pine after Estella. He furthers his education by studying with the tutor Matthew Pocket, Herbert’s father. Herbert himself helps Pip learn how to act like a gentleman. When Pip turns twenty-one and begins to receive an income from his fortune, he will secretly help Herbert buy his way into the business he has chosen for himself. But for now, Herbert and Pip lead a fairly undisciplined life in London, enjoying themselves and running up debts. Orlick reappears in Pip’s life, employed as Miss Havisham’s porter, but is promptly fired by Jaggers after Pip reveals Orlick’s unsavory past. Mrs. Joe dies, and Pip goes home for the funeral, feeling tremendous grief and remorse. Several years go by, until one night a familiar figure barges into Pip’s room—the convict, Magwitch,
who stuns Pip by announcing that he, not Miss Havisham, is the source of Pip’s fortune.
He tells Pip that he was so moved by Pip’s boyhood kindness that he dedicated his life to making Pip a gentleman, and he made a fortune in Australia for that very purpose. Pip is appalled, but he feels morally bound to help Magwitch escape London, as the convict is pursued both by the police and by Compeyson, his former partner in crime. A complicated mystery begins to fall into place when Pip discovers that Compeyson was the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar and that Estella is Magwitch’s daughter.
Miss Havisham has raised her to break men’s hearts, as revenge for the pain her own
broken heart caused her. Pip was merely a boy for the young Estella to practice on; Miss Havisham delighted in Estella’s ability to toy with his affections.
As the weeks pass, Pip sees the good in Magwitch and begins to care for him deeply. Before Magwitch’s escape attempt, Estella marries an upper-class lout named Bentley
Drummle. Pip makes a visit to Satis House, where Miss Havisham begs his forgiveness for the way she has treated him in the past, and he forgives her. Later that day, when she bends over the fireplace, her clothing catches fire and she goes up in flames. She survives but becomes an invalid. In her final days, she will continue to repent for her misdeeds and to plead for Pip’s forgiveness.
The time comes for Pip and his friends to spirit Magwitch away from London. Just before the escape attempt, Pip is called to a shadowy meeting in the marshes, where he encounters the vengeful, evil Orlick. Orlick is on the verge of killing Pip when Herbert arrives with a group of friends and saves Pip’s life. Pip and Herbert hurry back to effect Magwitch’s escape. They try to sneak Magwitch down the river on a rowboat, but they
are discovered by the police, who Compeyson tipped off. Magwitch and Compeyson fight in the river, and Compeyson is drowned. Magwitch is sentenced to death, and Pip loses his fortune. Magwitch feels that his sentence is God’s forgiveness and dies at peace. Pip
falls ill; Joe comes to London to care for him, and they are reconciled. Joe gives him the news from home: Orlick, after robbing Pumblechook, is now in jail; Miss Havisham has died and left most of her fortune to the Pockets; Biddy has taught Joe how to read and write. After Joe leaves, Pip decides to rush home after him and marry Biddy, but when he arrives there he discovers that she and Joe have already married.
Pip decides to go abroad with Herbert to work in the mercantile trade. Returning many years later, he encounters Estella in the ruined garden at Satis House. Drummle, her husband, treated her badly, but he is now dead. Pip finds that Estella’s coldness and cruelty have been replaced by a sad kindness, and the two leave the garden hand in hand, Pip believing that they will never part again. (NOTE: Dickens’s original ending to Great
Expectations differed from the one described in this summary. The final Summary and Analysis section of this SparkNote provides a description of the first ending and explains why Dickens rewrote it.)
; Pip: the character and narrator
; Joe and Mrs. Joe
; Miss Havisham and her foster child Estella(daughter of Magwitch)
; Orlick: evil person
; Magwitch : the convict
; Herbert Pocket : pip’s friend
; Jagger: lawyer
; Wemmick: pip’s friend and the law clerk of Jagger
; compeyson:who jilted Miss Havisham and the former partner
; Biddy : plain girl who married Joe after he lost his wife.
; Bentley Drummle: an upper-class lout, Estella’s husband
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Ambition and Self-Improvement
The moral theme of Great Expectations is quite simple: affection, loyalty, and conscience
are more important than social advancement, wealth, and class. Dickens establishes the theme and shows Pip learning this lesson, largely by exploring ideas of ambition and self-improvement—ideas that quickly become both the thematic center of the novel and the psychological mechanism that encourages much of Pip’s development. At heart, Pip is
an idealist; whenever he can conceive of something that is better than what he already has, he immediately desires to obtain the improvement. When he sees Satis House, he longs to be a wealthy gentleman; when he thinks of his moral shortcomings, he longs to be good; when he realizes that he cannot read, he longs to learn how. Pip’s desire for self-improvement is the main source of the novel’s title: because he believes in the possibility of advancement in life, he has “great expectations” about his future.
Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens explores the class system of Victorian England,
ranging from the most wretched criminals (Magwitch) to the poor peasants of the marsh country (Joe and Biddy) to the middle class (Pumblechook) to the very rich (Miss Havisham). The theme of social class is central to the novel’s plot and to the ultimate moral theme of the book—Pip’s realization that wealth and class are less important than
affection, loyalty, and inner worth. Pip achieves this realization when he is finally able to understand that, despite the esteem in which he holds Estella, one’s social status is in no way connected to one’s real character. Drummle, for instance, is an upper-class lout,
while Magwitch, a persecuted convict, has a deep inner worth.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the novel’s treatment of social class is that the class system it portrays is based on the post-Industrial Revolution model of Victorian England. Dickens generally ignores the nobility and the hereditary aristocracy in favor of characters whose fortunes have been earned through commerce. Even Miss Havisham’s family fortune was made through the brewery that is still connected to her
manor. In this way, by connecting the theme of social class to the idea of work and self-advancement, Dickens subtly reinforces the novel’s overarching theme of ambition and self-improvement.