Great Expectations

Great Expectations was the thirteenth novel of Charles Dickens.  He began writing it in October of 1860.  Its initial publication was in All the Year Round, a weekly periodical founded and owned by Charles Dickens.

Great Expectations appeared in All the Year Round for nine monthly installments, from December of 1860 until August 1861.

Pip waits on Miss Havisham

Pip waits on Miss Havisham

Great Expectations – Dickens’s Life At The Time

  • In September of 1860 Gad’s Hill Place becomes Dickens’ permanent residence.
  • Dickens and Wilkie Collins travel to North Devon on November of 1860 to gather materials for “A Message from the Sea”.
  • Dickens begins a series of readings at St. James’s Hall in March of 1861.
  • In October of 1861 Dickens begins another series of readings.

The Ending of Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Miss Havisham with Estella and Pip

Originally Dickens planned a different ending for Great Expectations.  However, he was persuaded by his friend, Bulwer-Lytton, to change the ending to a happier one.

The original ending had Estella remarrying after the death of her first husband.  She and Pip had a brief meeting in London and then parted forever.  The rewritten ending hints at a reconciliation for Pip and Estella:

I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.

All the Year Round

Charles Dickens founded the weekly publication All the Year Round.  Its first issue was printed on April 30, 1859.  Dickens served as editor and publisher.  One feature of the publication was its serialization of novels.  The first novel serialized in All the Year Round was A Tale of Two Cities.

In October of 1860 sales of All the Year Round were dropping because the featured novel, A Day’s Ride by Charles Lever, wasn’t very popular.  Dickens was originally going to have Great Expectations published in another format, however to increase sales of All the Year Round he adapted it to the weekly format.  His plan worked and sales for the publication increased.

At the time of Dickens’s death, in 1870, circulation of the publication was 300,000.

Charles Dickens Jr. edited the magazine after his father’s death. The last issue of All the Year Round was published in March of 1895.

All the Year Round

All the Year Round – Cover of January 1891 issue

Themes of Great Expectations

Pip, like Dickens himself, dreams of becoming a gentleman.  However, during the course of the novel Pip comes to realize that there is more to life than wealth and station.

Pip is raised by his sister and her husband, Joe.  Joe is an honest, hard-working man.  As Pip ascends in society he is embarrassed by Joe and his simple ways.

Joe learning to read, image by John McLenan

Joe learning to read, image by John McLenan

Another example of this theme is Pip’s relationship with Magwitch.  Initially Pip is horrified to learn that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham, but instead Magwitch the convict.  At the end of the story Pip has different feelings toward Magwitch.  He is very fond of him and is at his side when he dies.

Abel Magwitch

Magwitch and young Pip

Magwitch himself experiences how highly society values the appearance of gentility.  Here Magwitch describes how differently he and his partner in crime, the supposed gentleman Compeyson, are treated during their trial:

“And when it come to character, warn’t it Compeyson as had been to the school, and warn’t it his schoolfellows as was in this position and in that, and warn’t it him as had been know’d by witnesses in such clubs and societies, and nowt to his disadvantage? And warn’t it me as had been tried afore, and as had been know’d up hill and down dale in Bridewells and Lock-Ups? And when it come to speech-making, warn’t it Compeyson as could speak to ’em wi’ his face dropping every now and then into his white pocket-handkercher – ah! and wi’ verses in his speech, too – and warn’t it me as could only say, ‘Gentlemen, this man at my side is a most precious rascal’? And when the verdict come, warn’t it Compeyson as was recommended to mercy on account of good character and bad company, and giving up all the information he could agen me, and warn’t it me as got never a word but Guilty? . . . “

Another theme that runs through Great Expectations, as it does through Our Mutual Friend, is the ease with which wealth can corrupt people.  Pip describes his spending habits:

We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us. We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintance were in the same condition. There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did. To the best of my belief, our case was in the last aspect a rather common one.

In the end Pip, like Estella, has undergone some serious interior transformations.  Estella states:

“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.”

More About Great Expectations

Character List for Great Expectations

Character List for Great Expectations

This list of characters from Great Expectations is presented in alphabetical order. The list includes Compeyson, Joe, Estella, Miss Havisham and more.
Great Expectations Quiz

Great Expectations Quiz

Who raised Pip? Where does Miss Havisham live? In short, just how familiar are you with Pip and his adventures? Take our quiz.