By Charles Dickens 1812-1870

First published:1860-1861
Time of plot: Nineteenth Century
Locale: England
Keywords: Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, Victorian England, Victorian Britain
Suggested Reading Before You Begin: PR4581 .A25  Introduction to Dickens pp. 157-163


Biography Characters
Book Criticisms Historical Events
Plot Summary Journal Articles
Internet Sites Themes


Charles Dickens was born in 1812 to John and Elizabeth Barrow Dickens in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. He was the second of eight children. His father moved the family frequently between London and Chatham and was often in debt. John Dickens was imprisoned at Marshalsea Debtor's Prison for several months in 1824, and twelve-year-old Charles was forced to drop out of school and go to work in a shoe-dye, or blacking, factory labeling bottles. This experience of living alone in London in poverty, though only a few months in length, provided material for many of his writings and profoundly affected his outlook on life. On his father's release from prison, he returned to school until he was fifteen years old. His formal education at this time was over, but he continued to expand his knowledge by spending a great deal of time reading in the library of the British Museum in London. He began his career as a writer and journalist in 1833 by writing articles on London life for magazines under the pseudonym Boz. In 1836, the year of his marriage to Catherine Hogarth, these articles were collected in a book entitled Sketches by Boz. With this publication came the first taste of fame, and he embarked on a successful writing career that covered nearly thirty years. Charles Dickens was fortunate to achieve renown and critical praise during his lifetime as well as afterwards for his literary works. He is widely considered one of the greatest novelists in the English language, and Great Expectations is regarded as one of his finest novels.

REF PN 41.D5 
Vols. 21, 55, 70, 159, 166
Dictionary of Literary Biography DLB is a multi-volume work which provides detailed biographical sketches of the authors'
literary writings as well as general critical commentary. It is a most useful collection.
REF PN523.M29 
Vol. 2
Magill's Survey of World Literature Discussion of Charles Dickens' contributions and achievements in literature.
REF PR 19.D73 The Oxford Companion to English Literature One page summary of the author's life and literary significance
REF PR 106.S7 Vol. 1 Reference Guide to English Literature Overview of the author's works and writing style


Pip - An orphan whom fortune moves from a low social class to a higher one.

Joe Gargery - Pip's brother-in-law who shows love and kindness toward Pip.

Miss Havisham - An embittered, eccentric old woman determined to avenge her wedding day desertion by her betrothed.

Estella - Miss Havisham's beautiful ward and tool for extracting her revenge on men.

Herbert Pocket - A relative of Miss Havisham and Pip's room mate in London.

Mr. Jagger - The London solicitor who is the go-between Pip and his anonymous benefactor.

Abel Magwitch (Mr. Provis) - The crude and coarse convict whom Pip aids.

Compeyson - The villain of the novel. The suitor who deserted Miss Havisham and who vows to destroy Mr. Provis.


Pip is an orphan being raised by his unsympathetic sister and her kindly husband, Joe Gargery. One day, while wandering alone in the marsh country, Pip is accosted by a wild-looking stranger  who demands that Pip bring him food and a file to cut off his leg iron. A frightened Pip complies. Whist game. Illustration from the book.The stranger is later arrested but promises to repay Pip for his kindness.Afterwards, Pip is sent every day to the home of Miss Havisham, a strange, eccentric old lady embittered by her desertion on her wedding day by her betrothed. The instrument for her revenge is to be her beautiful ward Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella despite her coldness and disdain toward him. When the London solicitor Jaggers offers Pip the opportunity to go to London to become a gentleman, Pip assumes that his benefactor is Miss Havisham wishing to make him acceptable to marry Estella. Later, after he becomes a gentleman in London society, he finds that the person who has provided him with his opportunities is none other than the convict he had helped years before. Miss Havisham wishes only to punish men by teaching Estella to hurt any man who loves her. Pip is disgusted by the convict who has provided him with his place in life. Estella marries a friend of Pip's, Bentley Drummle. An accidental fire kills Miss Havisham and badly damages her house. Joe, the kindly brother-in-law, nurses Pip through a serious illness. As events unfold Pip learns to value the people of whom he has been ashamed, the convict, Mr.Provis, and Joe. After eleven years Pip revisits the site of Miss Havisham's home.  There he is reunited with Estella, who is now a widow and has become a more caring person.  They leave the place of their childhood walking hand in hand.



Class Bias Hatred and revenge
Love Loyalty
Mixture of comedy and tragedy Personal growth and change
Place of women in Victorian England Selfishness
Snobbery Unearned wealth and its consequences

Library Catalog

To find books on  Great Expectations, consult the LIBRARY CATALOG. Type in Great Expectations as the Subject keyword. Or try to find the Norton Critical Edition by typing in the title box, Norton Critical Edition Mayor of Casterbridge. Most literature is located in the P section, so you may wish to browse in the stacks in that general area. Remember, most academic libraries will have their literature in the P section.



REF PN 761.N5 Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism NCLC contains excerpts from critical essays in books and journals. Use these volumes to 1) select a topic or theme 2) find the full article or essay in the library, and 3) locate other articles and books from the "Further Reading" section.
REF PN3451.C7 Vol. 2 Critical Survey of Long Fiction A survey of Dickens' writing style and characterization
REF PR 106.S7  
Vol. 3
Reference Guide to English Literature A critical analysis of the plot of Great Expectations.
REF PR 4579.D49 Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction A set of bound volumes of essays on Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers. These books are indexed on MLA.
Also check at the Circulation Desk in the library for books on the novel and the author which your teacher may have put on reserve.


  In 1861 Great Britain was the most powerful nation on earth. Her territories stretched around the world, and her navy ruled the seas. Raw materials furnished by the colonies fueled the factories of the Industrial Revolution. The thriving economy gave rise to a wealthy middle class that rivaled the old aristocracy in money and power.   However, the Industrial Revolution also spawned great poverty, The working conditions in the factories were deplorable. Child labor was rampant. The slums of London bred crime and disease. Only men of property had the vote so the poor were excluded from the political system. Women had few rights and about their only option in life was marriage. It was in this under side of society and the injustices of life in Victorian Britain that Charles Dickens found the material for his novels.


DA 533.A55 Victorian People and Ideas A book written to make Victorian literature more intelligible and pertinent to a reader.
DA 533.P74 Victoria's Heyday  A beautifully illustrated book on Victorian England.
REF DA 550.E53 The Encyclopedia of the Victorian World A guide to the people, places, events, and every day life of the Victorian era.
PR 872.M2 Victorian Life and Victorian Fiction Highly recommended for background information. Includes specific references to Great Expectations. Use the index.
PR 878.D65 K36 Victorian Families in Fact and Fiction Use for descriptions of family life during the time Dickens was writing.


Remember, interlibrary loan is available from other NHMCCD colleges are outside the system.  Allow time for this free service.  Forms for articles from NHMCCD colleges are available at the reference desk.   Try the following databases from home. A current library card is required for login  Get Card

MLA Bibliography
This is the most important database for your research.  Use it to find essays in books and articles in journals.  This is not a full-text database, but many of the journals will be available in the NHMCCD.

Literature Resource Center
Find articles, work overviews, and critical essays from this electronic database from Gale.

This huge database  is not exclusively a literary database, but a number of literary journals are indexed and some are available full text.  Evaluate what you find to be certain the journal is scholarly.  Ask your instructor or the librarians if you're not sure. 


David Perdue's Charles Dickens Pages
An award winning site "dedicated to bringing the genius of Dickens to a new generation of readers."

The Dickens Project University of California
A scholarly consortium devoted to the promotion of the study of Dickens and his works.

Films Made from Great Expectations
Information on six films made from this novel, beginning in 1934. There will also be a Masterpiece Theater production on PBS in May, 1999.

Charles Dickens
A biography of Charles Dickens which relates his life to his novels.

Great Expectations
A complete copy of the book online.

Great Expectations Overview
Links to articles and information on Great Expectations in categories such as "Political Context," "Victorianism," "Structure," and "Themes."

London in the 19th Century
Maps, major events, government, prisons a lot of information about London when Charles Dickens lived there.

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Copyright 1999 []
Written by: Updated: Jun. 13, 2002 cbg