Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project

Discovering Dickens

Community Reading Project

Charles Dickens

Great Expectations

Historical Context



<i>Great Expectations</i>

Notes on the Novel
• Maps and Illustrations
• Key to Allusions
• Glossary of Historical Things and Conditions

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Previously, in Great Expectations...

There were a number of developments in the last issue. Pip's circumstances, without the benefit of Magwitch's money, became involved, and creditors began to press him. However, Miss Havisham advanced the 900l. wanting to complete Pip's service to Herbert. She asked whether he hated her, and he assured her that, although he was "far from happy," he had "other causes of disquiet" than any she knew of. Grateful for his kindness, Miss Havisham explained that when she had adopted Estella, through the agency of her attorney, she had intended to save the girl from a fate like her own. Yet as Estella grew older and more lovely, a mania for vengeance overcame her. Repentant now, Miss Havisham asked whether she could do any service for Pip himself -- but he declined. Thinking that he was unlikely to come again, Pip took a turn around the premises; yet when he looked in on Miss Havisham before leaving, he saw her dress catch fire at the hearth. Rushing in, he saved her from the flames. His hands were badly burned in the process.

Also in the last issue, the plot surrounding Magwitch thickened: Going to the play one night to see Wopsle, Pip learned (in conversation with Wopsle afterwards) that a familiar man had been sitting behind Pip in the audience. Wopsle swore that it had been the younger of the convicts they had overtaken on the marshes when Pip was a child -- Compeyson! Also, having dined one evening with Jaggers and Wemmick, Pip asked Wemmick for the story of Jaggers' peculiar housekeeper. Wemmick told Pip what he knew of it: The woman had been a tramping woman, accused of strangling another woman out of jealousy. It was also thought that she had murdered her child, but she was not tried on that account. Jaggers had defended her; she was acquitted, and she had gone into his service immediately afterwards. The whereabouts of her child -- said to have been a little girl -- were not known. Not much later, however, Herbert related an account of similar events to Pip, this time from Magwitch: Magwitch had had a wife, and a child of whom he was very fond; but the woman had been tried for strangling another woman in a barn, and -- on the night the strangling occurred -- had come to Magwitch and sworn that she would destroy their child. Magwitch had always believed that she had; but Pip, putting Wemmick's story together with Herbert's, realized that the child must be Estella. Magwitch is Estella's father!


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