Charles DickensCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                            Charles Dickens - Wikimedia

Charles Dickens published “Great Expectations” in 1861 and it is still widely read today; in fact, it has been made into a movie seven times as well as being featured as a miniseries on television.  The latest film production was released in 2012, starring Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.


The story opens when young Pip (Toby Irvine) comes upon the fleeing prisoner Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes) while Pip is visiting a graveyard.  The prisoner asks Pip to bring him some food and a file to cut off his chains.  Pip comes back the next morning with the requested items, an act which will change the course of his life forever.  Another convict shows up also that morning, a man named Compeyson, and the two take off together, only to be captured again by the authorities.


Helena Bonham CarterCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                       Helena Bonham Carter - Wikimedia

Pip’s life so far has not been happy, having been orphaned and living with his volatile sister and her kind husband, Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng) to whom Pip hopes to be apprenticed as a blacksmith.  Pip’s uncle Pumblechook has arranged for Pip to go to the home of a wealthy recluse, Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), to play with and entertain her adopted daughter Estella (Holliday Grainger), a young beauty with whom Pip is immediately smitten.  Estella finds Pip to be coarse and uncouth, however.  Pip is, in fact, involved in a fist fight there in the yard with a pale young gentleman.  Pip continues to go to Miss Havisham’s for the next several months, noting that she continuously wears a wedding dress.  Having been jilted by her fiancé on the day of her wedding, she leads a reclusive life and is now in a wheelchair.  The wedding cake still stands on the table.  All the clocks in the house were stopped at the hour she was jilted.  It might be added here that the beauteous Helena Bonham Carter is a poor choice to play the embittered spinster.

Pip attends night school to improve himself, mostly to be regarded more highly in the eyes of Estella.  His teacher Miss Biddy is attracted to Pip, and actually comes to live with Joe Gargery and his wife who was attacked by an intruder and needs care for her mental and physical injuries.  Miss Havisham generously provides the funds for Pip to complete his blacksmith apprenticeship, which he accepts although he has come to savor the life of a gentleman which he has seen for the first time. 


Jeremy IrvineCredit: Wikimedia

                                                             Jeremy Irvine - Wikimedia

Great Expectations

Pip (now played by Jeremy Irvine, who is actually the older brother of Toby Irvine, the younger Pip) is contacted by a lawyer from London, a Mr. Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane) who tells him that he has come into a handsome fortune and has great expectations, but the benefactor wishes to remain anonymous.  Pip is overjoyed and assumes that Miss Havisham is responsible for this unexpected boon.  Jaggers tells him that he will be a gentleman and will be outfitted with the proper clothing.  Jaggers will be his guardian and will see to all the details.

Once in London, Pip (whose actual name, by the way, is Philip Pirrip) is enrolled in a Gentleman’s Club known as The Finches of the Grove, whose main purpose, it seems, is to meet and dine and drink.  He is also given lodgings at Barnard’s Inn, where he meets Herbert Pocket and realizes he is the “pale young gentleman” whom he fought at Miss Havisham’s.  They become fast friends, confiding in each other.  Pip learns that Herbert is engaged to a girl named Clara, and he tells Herbert about his adoration of Estella.

The blacksmith Joe visits Pip in London and Pip takes him to the Gentleman’s Club for dinner.  He is embarrassed at Joe’s poor table manners and upsets Joe by correcting him.  Joe leaves hurriedly but tells him that Estella will be coming to London soon for a visit.

Pip proudly takes Estella to a ball at the Gentleman’s Club and introduces her to the richest man in England, Bentley Drummle, whom Pip does not like.  He is further disturbed when Bentley dances with Estella, who seems to be quite taken with the millionaire.


Ralph FiennesCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                            Ralph Fiennes - Wikimedia

The Benefactor

When Pip goes back to his quarters that evening, he finds a man in his room.  It is none other than Abel Magwitch, who had been sent back to prison when the authorities caught up to him after his encounter with young Pip.

Pip wants to give Magwitch money and to set him up in an apartment.  Magwitch burns the money with a candle.  He tells Pip that he had done a noble thing in bringing him food and a file on that morning long ago.  He falls asleep on Pip’s bed.

Magwitch is happy to stay in Pip’s quarters.  He tells Pip that he made a fortune when he was sent to Australia with a promise to the authorities that he would never set foot in England again.  He returned secretly with the express pjrpose of seeing Pip.  Jaggers tells Pip to pass Magwitch off as his uncle and get him some new clothes and a haircut.  Jaggers states that his services are now ended, since Pip now knows the identity of his benefactor.

Pip learns from Magwitch that he had a child with a girl named Molly, who is now a maid in Jaggers’ home.  Magwitch was told that the child had died.

In meeting again with Estella, Pip learned that she has made plans to marry Bentley.  Although distraught, he told Estella of his love for her, and that she was in his every thought.

A poignant scene occurs when Pip revisits Joe back home.  The two embrace each other, knowing full well that they each live in different circumstances from each other, but the bond they have always had has never been broken.  Joe’s difficult life with his wife ended at her death, and he is now happily married to Biddy, who had helped with the invalid’s care.


Holliday GraingerCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                           Holliday Grainger - Wikimedia

Revised Ending

There is so much more to the story than can be told here.  Even the film did not capture all of the nuance that takes place in the novel.  The prolific Dickens has the power to tie up all the loose ends, sometimes in a surprising manner.  Some may not think it is a satisfactory ending.  Dickens himself revised the ending before the publication date.  Consider yourself on his wave length if you yourself have doubts about the ending.

Today’s authors still look to the classics for clues in writing novels that are accepted overwhelmingly by the public.  Dickens is one good example of creating realistic characters and a plot that takes us out of our everyday world and transports us to a time and place where we are totally engrossed in the intricacies of a gifted writer.



Great Expectations
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