Great Expectations is one of the most famous and much-loved novels by the great master of Victorian prose, Charles Dickens. Like all of his great novels, Great Expectations has Dickens's brilliant use of character and plot-along with an incredible sensibility and sympathy for the way that the British class system was constructed in the nineteenth century.
Great Expectations Overview
The novel centers around a poor young man by the name of Pip, who is given the chance to make himself a gentleman by a mysterious benefactor. Great Expectations offers a fascinating view of the differences between classes during the Victorian era, as well as a great sense of comedy and pathos.
The novel opens in an exciting vein. Pip is a young orphan who lives with his sister and her husband (Joe). When he is still a young boy, news arrives that a man has escaped from the local prison. Then, one day when he is crossing the moors near his house, Pip comes across the convict in hiding (Magwitch). Upon threat of his life, Pip brings food and tools to Magwitch, until Magwitch is recaptured.
Pip continues to grow up, and one day is taken by an uncle to play at a rich woman's house. This woman is the fabulous Miss Haversham who had been hurt terribly when she had been left at the altar and, though she is an old woman, still wears a tatty old wedding dress. Pip almost meets a young girl who, though she kisses him, treats him with contempt. Pip, despite the girl's cold treatment of him, falls in love with her and desperately wants to be a man of means so that he might be worthy to marry her.
Then, Jaggers (a lawyer) arrives to tell him that a mysterious benefactor has offered to pay for Pip to be made into a gentleman. Pip goes to London and soon is considered a man of great possibilities (and is, therefore, embarrassed by his roots and his former relations).
A Young Gentleman in Great Expectations
Pip lives a young swell's life-enjoying his youth. He comes to believe that it was Miss Haversham who is providing him with the money-to prepare him for marrying Estella. But then, Magwitch barges into his room, revealing that he is a mysterious benefactor (he escaped from prison and went to Australia, where he made a fortune).
Now, Magwitch is back in London, and Pip helps him to escape once again. In the meantime, Pip helps Miss Haversham comes to terms with the loss of her husband (she is caught up in a fire and eventually dies). Estella marries a country bumpkin with money (even though there is no love in the relationship, and he will treat her with cruelty).
Despite Pip's best efforts-Magwitch is once more caught, and Pip can no longer live as a young gentleman. He and his friend leave the country and make their money by hard work. In the final chapter (one that Dickens rewrote), Pip returns to England and meets Estella in a graveyard. Her husband had died, and the book hints at a happy future for the two of them.
Class, Money & Corruption in Great Expectations
Great Expectations depicts the differences between the classes, and how money can corrupt. The novel makes clear that money cannot buy love, nor does it guarantee happiness. One of the happiest-and most morally correct-people in the novel is Joe, Pip's sister's husband. And, Miss Havisham is one of the richest (as well as the most unhappy and loneliest).
Pip believes that if he can be a gentleman, he will have everything he wants from the world. His world collapses and he realizes that all his money has been based on Magwitch's dishonest earnings. And, Pip finally understands the true value of life.
Great Expectations features some of Dickens's greatest characters and one of his trademark convoluted plots. The novel is a fantastic read and a wonderful morality tale. Full of romance, courageousness, and hope-Great Expectations is a brilliant evocation of a time and place. Here's a view of the English class system that is both critical and realistic.