70 pages 2 hours read

Charles Dickens

Great Expectations

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1861

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Summary and Study Guide


Great Expectations is the 13th novel written by Charles Dickens. It was originally published as a serial in Dickens’s periodical, All the Year Round, Great Expectations, and Chapman and Hall published the novelized version in October of 1861. The novel is widely considered to be a classic example of the bildungsroman, or coming-of-age genre, and it has been adapted into numerous plays, films, and television series.

Plot Summary

Great Expectations tells the story of an orphan named Philip Pirrip, or Pip. Pip lives with his tyrannical older sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, and her gentle husband, a blacksmith named Joe Gargery. Joe is Pip’s closest friend.

Pip finds many ways to improve his life. He seeks further education from Biddy, a relation of his teacher’s. And he begins visiting the home of a wealthy, eccentric old spinster named Miss Havisham. At Miss Havisham’s, Pip falls in love with her adopted daughter, the haughty and beautiful Estella. Miss Havisham encourages this infatuation, but Estella does not reciprocate.

When Pip comes of age, he begins working at the forge. There, he works with a violent man named Dolge Orlick. After an argument, Orlick attacks Pip’s sister, leaving her an invalid. Soon after, London lawyer Mr. Jaggers reveals that Pip has received a large inheritance from an anonymous benefactor, whom Pip suspects to be Miss Havisham. Pip becomes a London gentleman, studying under a tutor named Matthew Pocket. He rooms with Matthew’s son, Herbert, and the two become fast friends. Herbert reveals that a conman broke Miss Havisham’s heart, causing her eccentricities.

Pip begins to look down on his humble beginnings. He returns home after his sister’s death and realizes that he’s been neglecting Biddy and Joe. Back in London, a convict who Pip helped escape from prison at the novel’s open, returns. The convict, Abel Magwitch, reveals that he is Pip’s mysterious benefactor. Magwitch made a fortune in Australia and was so thankful to Pip for his kindness that he was determined to repay him. Magwitch is still on the run and reveals that he used to be partners with a conman named Compeyson. Pip and Herbert deduce that Compeyson is Miss Havisham’s former conman fiancé.

Pip confronts Miss Havisham about leading him on concerning Estella. He learns that Estella is engaged to marry his wealthy classmate, Bentley Drummle. Miss Havisham feels regret about raising Estella to be heartless and begs Pip for forgiveness. As Pip is leaving, Miss Havisham accidentally sets her dress on fire and is badly burned. She eventually dies from her injuries. Soon after, Orlick lures Pip to the marsh and attempts to bludgeon him with a stone hammer, but Herbert and the townspeople arrive, rescuing Pip.

To help Magwitch escape, Herbert and Pip row him down the River Thames. Compeyson and the police intercept them. As the police boat approaches, Magwitch lunges for Compeyson, and the two struggle in the river. Compeyson drowns, and the court sentences Magwitch to death. Pip loses his inheritance.

As he slips further into debt, Pip becomes very ill. Joe comes to London to nurse Pip and pay off some of his debts. Joe also brings news from home: the police arrested Orlick for robbery; Biddy has taught Joe to read; and Miss Havisham divided her will among Estella, Herbert’s father, and Pip. Pip returns home to marry Biddy, only to discover that Joe has married her. Pip decides to work with Herbert in Egypt.

After many years abroad, Pip returns to England. He visits the site of Miss Havisham’s demolished house. There, he finds a recently widowed Estella. Estella’s bitter marriage has made her a kinder person. The novel ends with Pip and Estella walking hand-in-hand. 

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