One of Charles Dickens’s most fascinating novels, Great Expectations follows the orphan Pip as he leaves behind a childhood of misery and poverty after an anonymous benefactor offers him a chance at the life of a gentleman.
From young Pip’s first terrifying encounter with the convict Magwitch in the gloom of a graveyard to the splendidly morbid set pieces in Miss Havisham’s mansion to the magnificently realized boat chase down the Thames, the novel is filled with the transcendent excitement that Dickens could so abundantly provide. Written in 1860 at the height of his maturity, it also reveals the novelist’s bittersweet understanding of the extent to which our deepest moral dilemmas are born of our own obsessions and illusions.
About the Author
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was born in Portsmouth, England, and spent most of his life in London. When he was twelve, his father was sent to debtor’s prison and he was forced to work in a boot polish factory, an experience that marked him for life. He became a passionate advocate of social reform and the most popular writer of the Victorian era.
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, sir."
"Tell us your name!" said the man. "Quick!"
"Once more," said the man, staring at me. "Give it mouth!"
Table of ContentsIntroduction Acknowledgements A Note on the Text Charles Dickens: A Brief Chronology
- Volume I
- Volume II
- Volume III
Appendices: Contemporary Documents
Appendix A. The Composition of the Novel
- Dickens’s Working Memoranda
- Dickens’s Letters
Appendix B. Contemporary Responses to the Novel
- Athenaeum (13 July 1861)
- Examiner (20 July 1861)
- Saturday Review (20 July 1861)
- Atlantic Monday (September 1861)
- The Times (17 October 1861)
- British Quarterly Review (January 1862)
- Rambler (January 1862)
- Blackwood’s Magazine (May 1862)
- Temple Bar (September 1862)
Appendix C. On Class and Language
- Charles Dickens, “Hard Experiences in Boyhood” in John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (1872-74)
- Charles Dickens, “Travelling Abroad” The Uncommercial Traveller (1861)
- Alexis deTocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856)
- Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, “Gentlemen” Cornhill Magazine (1862)
- William Sewell, “Gentlemanly Manners” Sermons to Boys at Radley School (1854-69)
- John Ruskin, “Of Vulgarity,” Modern Painters (1860)
- J.H. Newman, “Liberal Knowledge Viewed in Relation to Religion,” The Scope and Nature of University Education (1859)
- Thomas Carlyle, “Labour,” Past and Present (1843)
- Samuel Smiles, “Character: The True Gentleman,” Self Help (1859)
- Mrs. Craik, John Halifax, Gentleman (1856)
- Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857)
- Reports on the State of Popular Education in England (1861)
Appendix D. On Crime & Punishment
- Mrs. Trimmer, The Charity School Spelling Book (1818)
- Charles Dickens, “Criminal Courts,” Sketches by Boz (1839)
- Charles Dickens, “A Visit to Newgate,” Sketches by Boz (1839)
- Report from the Select Committee on Transportation (1838)
- Henry Savery, Quintus Servinton (1830-31)
- Marcus Clarke, His Natural Life (1870-72)
- “The Autobiography of a Convict,” The Voices of Our Exiles (1854)
- John Binny, “Thieves and Swindlers,” in London Labour and the London Poor (1861)
- Thomas Carlyle, Model Prisons (1850)
- Thomas Beard, “A Dialogue Concerning Convicts,” All the Year Round (1861)
- Charles Dickens, “The Ruffian,” The Uncommercial Traveller (1868)
Maps and Illustrations Showing Settings
Map A: Estuaries of the Thames and Medway Map B: City of London Map C: Pip’s London Illustration A. Smithfield Market Illustration B. Barnard’s Inn Illustration C. The River Front at Hammersmith Illustration D. Covent Garden Market Illustration E. The Royal Exchange Illustration F. The Temple Stairs Illustration G. London Bridge Illustration H. Billingsgate Market
What People are Saying About This
"Dickens's figures belong to poetry, like figures of Dante or Shakespeare, in that a single phrase, either by them or about them, may be enough to set them wholely before us." T.S. Eliot
"All his characters are my personal friendsI am constantly comparing them with living persons, and living persons with them." Tolstoy
"Psychologically the latter part of Great Expectations is about the best thing Dickens ever did." George Orwell