Perhaps Dickens's best-loved work, Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, a young man with few prospects for advancement until a mysterious benefactor allows him to escape the Kent marshes for a more promising life in London. Despite his good fortune, Pip is haunted by figures from his pastthe escaped convict Magwitch, the time-withered Miss Havisham, and her proud and beautiful ward, Estellaand in time uncovers not just the origins of his great expectations but the mystery of his own heart. A powerful and moving novel, Great Expectations is suffused with Dickens's memories of the past and its grip on the present, and it raises disturbing questions about the extent to which individuals affect each other's lives. This edition reprints the definitive Clarendon text. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's new introduction ranges widely across critical issues raised by the novel: its biographical genesis, ideas of origin and progress and what makes a "gentleman," memory, melodrama, and the book's critical reception. The book includes four appendices and the fullest set of critical notes in any mass-market edition.
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About the Author
Margaret Cardwell was formerly Reader in English at Queen's College, Belfast.
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is Fellow and Tutor in English, Magdalen College, Oxford University.
Date of Birth:February 7, 1812
Date of Death:June 18, 1870
Place of Birth:Portsmouth, England
Place of Death:Gad's Hill, Kent, England
Education:Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington
Read an Excerpt
My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.
I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister – Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father's, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, "Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,"
I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine – who gave up trying to get a living exceedingly early in that universal struggle – I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.
Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within as the river wound,
twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes;
and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.
"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil,
or I'll cut your throat!"
A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.
"Oh! Don't cut my throat, sir," I pleaded in terror. "Pray don't do it,
"Tell us your name!" said the man. "Quick!"
"Once more," said the man, staring at me. "Give it mouth!"
What People are Saying About This
Observe how finely the narrative is kept in one key. It begins with a mournful impessionthe foggy marshes spreading drearily by the seaward Thamesand throughout recurs this effect of cold and damp and dreariness; in that kind Dickens never did anything so good.... No story in the first person was ever better told.
Great Expectations is the first novel I read that made me wish I had written it; it is the novel that made me want to be a novelistspecifically, to move a reader as I was moved then. I believe that Great Expectations has the most wonderful and most perfectly worked-out plot for a novel in the English language; at the same time, it never deviates from its intention to move you to laugher and tears.
Reading Group Guide
Pip, a poor orphan being raised by a cruel sister, does not have much in the way of great expectations between his terrifying experience in a graveyard with a convict named Magwitch and his humiliating visits with the eccentric Miss Havisham's beautiful but manipulative niece, Estella, who torments him until he is elevated to wealth by an anonymous benefactor. Full of unforgettable characters, Great Expectations is a tale of intrigue, unattainable love, and all of the happiness money can't buy. Great Expectations has the most wonderful and most perfectly worked-out plot for a novel in the English language, according to John Irving, and J. Hillis Miller declares, Great Expectations is the most unified and concentrated expression of Dickens's abiding sense of the world, and Pip might be called the archetypal Dickens hero.
From the Trade Paperback edition.