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...

In the last issue, Pip described Magwitch's escape attempt: Pip, Herbert, and Startop set out on the river, collected Magwitch at Mill Pond Bank, and continued rowing until evening. Stopping at a lonely riverside inn, they put up for the night, and were told by the Jack of the causeway that he had seen men patrolling the river in a galley. Pip saw men passing under the inn at night, in the direction of the marshes, and took the precaution of walking down the river with Magwitch in the morning, to meet Herbert and Startop in the boat some way further along. All went well until they were within sight of the foreign steamer they were to board -- but just then, a galley pulled up and hailed them.

In the galley were river policeman and a man in a cloak -- Compeyson. Magwitch lunged at Compeyson -- both went overboard -- and only Magwitch came up again, though badly injured in the head and chest from having gone under the rudder. Magwitch was taken into police custody, and Compeyson was at length retrieved from the river, recognizable only according to the contents of his pockets.

Herbert left for Egypt, asking Pip to come to work for him there at the offices of Clarriker & Co.; but Pip asked for a little time -- there were things he needed to settle. Encountering Wemmick one day, the clerk requested that Pip take a walk with him on Monday, as a favor. The walk turned out to be to church -- Pip was a guest at the wedding of Wemmick and Miss Skiffins.

Jaggers attempted to delay Magwitch's trial, but the reprieve was not granted. Magwitch was sentenced to death, and though Pip began to appeal to various authorities, Magwitch's health steadily failed. When Magwitch lay on his deathbed, Pip confided to him that his child was still living -- that she was a beautiful woman -- and that he, Pip, loved her.

In this issue...

In the final issue of Great Expectations, Pip falls ill, and is nursed back to health by Joe, who comes up to London to help him. In the midst of his illness, Pip is arrested for debt, but is too ill to attend to the matter; when he recovers, he finds that Joe has quietly paid the bill, made sure of Pip's safety, and returned to the forge. Traveling back to the forge himself, in gratitude and contrition, Pip hopes to ask Biddy to be his wife, and to begin life again on a better account. He finds, upon this return, everything changed: The news of his failed expectations having preceded him, he is met with the denunciations of Pumblechook (who still maintains that he, Pumblechook, had been Pip's earliest benefactor). But a greater change awaits Pip at the forge -- Joe and Biddy have married. Asking their forgiveness, and bidding them goodbye, Pip prepares to join Herbert in Egypt. He can, as a clerk to Clarriker & Co., work to repay Joe.

Pip eventually becomes a third partner in the Clarriker firm, his service to Herbert is at length revealed, and he lives -- a modestly successful man -- with Herbert and Clara. Many years later, returning to England, he finds that Joe and Biddy have had children -- including a little boy named Pip. Urging Pip (the elder) to marry and have children of his own, Biddy asks whether he still pines for Estella, and he says that he does not. He had heard that she was separated from Drummle, and that she has subsequently been widowed -- but that is all. After dinner, however, revisiting the grounds of Miss Havisham's old house (which has been torn down), he finds Estella inside the gate. Softened by hardship, she asks for his forgiveness, and his friendship. Taking her hand, he sees "the shadow of no parting from her."


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