Roberta Writes – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: book overview part 2

I recently re-read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, a book I read and loved as a pre-teen. This is part 2 of my overview of this famous novel. You can read part 1 here: https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/2022/07/19/roberta-writes-great-expectations-by-charles-dickens-book-overview-part-1/

We left Pip in London, living between the homes of his tutor, Matthew Pocket, and Matthew’s son, Herbert Pocket, who is initially his mentor on becoming a gentleman and later becomes Pip’s best friend. Pip’s initiation by Herbert into the manners and behaviours of a gentleman are depicted in the scene below:

Caption from this snippet on YT: Based on “The Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. I think this scene alone encompasses how most of us nowadays imagine middle-class Victorian London. The conversation goes on, but I wanted to share the smallest and, in my opinion, most representative moment.

Pip becomes extravagant and self-absorbed as a result of his new found wealth, and leads his friend, Herbert, along the same path getting them both into debt.

Miss Havisham summonses Pip to her home and he discovers that Estella has returned from abroad and is moving to London to live with a suitable older woman and her daughter and be launched into society. The underlying understanding is that Estella is now going to carry out Miss Havisham’s revenge plan and break as many male hearts as possible.

Pip is tasked with meeting Estella at the train station and taking her to her new home. The complex love/hate relationship between Pip and Estella continues, with Pip firmly believing Estella is destined to be his wife. Estella starts a flirtation with Drummle, Pip’s nemesis, and it causes tension between the two men, but Pip tolerates it because of his belief that Miss Havisham first wants Estella to break hearts and fulfil her ambition of revenge on men as a larger unknown mass, before Pip and Estelle can be married and find personal happiness.

Pip comes of age (21 years old) and has a meeting with Mr. Jaggers, his guardian and his benefactors lawyer, about his ‘great expectations’. He leaves Mr. Jagger’s office with a sum of GBP 500 on which he most live until his benefactor is revealed to him. Pip is ashamed that he’s led Herbert into an idle life of extravagance and decides to invest a chunk of this money into helping Herbert find a ‘business opportunity’. He does this with the help of Mr. Jagger’s assistance, Mr. Wemmick, but without Herbert’s knowledge.

Herbert grasps the opportunity and works hard to improve himself while Pip continues with his life of idleness and luxury.

One windy, cold night when Herbert is away for work purposes, Magwitch arrives at Pip’s lodging and Pip finally comes to realise that Magwitch is his benefactor and not Miss Havisham.

This clip from the original movie is not exactly how I imagined the initial meeting between Pip and Magwitch taking place based on my reading of the book. I think Pip handled it better in the book than the depiction in this scene, but here it is anyway:

Pip is devastated because he believes this will make him unacceptable as a marriage partner for Estella, but he soon learns she has decided to marry Drummle.

Magwitch, as a convict deported for life, has risked his life returning to England. The sentence if Magwitch is caught is death by hanging. Pip and Herbert work together to make a plan to save Magwitch and get him out of England. They are of the opinion that Magwitch’s arch enemy, Compeyson, is aware he is back in England and is assisting the police in an attempt to have him arrested.

The great plan is eventually put into operation, but it goes wrong and Magwitch is instrumental in the drowning of Compeyson and is arrested and put in jail. He was injured during the altercation with Compeyson and is dying. Magwitch undergoes a new trial and is given the death sentence.

In the meantime, Pip has worked out that Mr. Jagger’s servant is Estelle’s mother and Magwitch is her father. Just before Magwitch dies, Pip tells him that his daughter is alive and a beautiful lady and that he – Pip – loves her. This is a pivotal moment in the book as by showing kindness to Magwitch, a criminal, and calling his daughter a lady despite being the daughter of a convict, he illustrates that he no longer thinks of social position in a black and white way.

All of Magwitch’s property is forfeited to the state so Pip is left penniless. He becomes very ill after Magwitch dies and only escapes arrest for debts because of his ill health. Joe comes to London to nurse Pip and he recovers. The whole experience teaches Pip the value of his relationships with Joe and Biddy and Pip’s internal conflict is resolved by his giving up his social aspirations to reunite with the people who have helped and cared for him.

Pip goes abroad to work with Herbert and learns to live on his income.

Next week, I’ll discuss the ending of this book as it is a little controversial. Dickens rewrote the ending and both are known. Many critics believe the original ending was the better one.

A few interesting quotes from the second half of Great Expectations:

“Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since – on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to displace with your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil. But, in this separation I associate you only with the good, and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may. O God bless you, God forgive you!”

“So, I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.”

“Do you want to be a gentleman, to spite her or to gain her over? Because, if it is to spite her, I should think – but you know best – that might be better and more independently done by caring nothing for her words. And if it is to gain her over, I should think – but you know best – she was not worth gaining over.”

“My name is on the first leaf. If you can ever write under my name, “I
forgive her,” though ever so long after my broken heart is dust pray do
it!”

“O Miss Havisham,” said I, “I can do it now. There have been sore
mistakes; and my life has been a blind and thankless one; and I want
forgiveness and direction far too much, to be bitter with you.”

As a general update on my writing, I have a short story called The Nutcracker included in a WordCrafter Press anthology called Refracted Reflections which is now available for pre-order: https://writingtoberead.com/2022/07/23/refracted-reflections-now-available-for-pre-order/

52 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: book overview part 2

  1. That’s a great approach, and a wonderful book. In 1977, I attended a one-man play, “Diversions & Delights” where Vincent Price portrayed Oscar Wilde. It was fascinating. I felt like I had met the real Mr. Wilde. I reread The Picture of Dorian Gray right after that.

    Liked by 1 person

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