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Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and EthicsGreat Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics


Great Expectations (1860-1)


Written by the English novelist, Charles Dickens (1812-70), pictured right.

First published in a weekly periodical (December 1860 - August 1861).


Fun factsGreat Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

  • The 1946 film of the book starred John Mills as Pip.
  • The 2012 film starred Ralph Fiennes (as Magwitch) and Helena Bonham-Carter (Miss Havisham) - the poster is pictured right below.
  • A 2011 BBC TV adaptation starred Ray Winstone as Magwitch, pictured right.
  • Widely considered to be Dickens' best book (although he preferred David Copperfield). 

 Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

Key characters

Pip, a poor orphan boy who becomes a gentleman.

Joe, his adopted father.

Miss Havisham, an old woman.

Estella, her adopted daughter.

Abel Magwitch, convict.

 Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

The story

Pip, a young orphan aged 8 or 9, lives with his unpleasant sister and her blacksmith husband, Joe, on the Kent marshes in southern England.

There he meets an escaped convict who forces him to bring him a file to saw off his leg irons. But he also kindly gives him some food before he is re-captured.

Pip is very happy and particularly loves kind Joe. He goes to school, where he is taught by a local girl, Biddy.

He is invited to the house of Miss Havisham, an old, embittered woman

She sits in a faded wedding dress with other old wedding things around her without any daylight, because her fiancée failed to turn up for the wedding.

Pip meets her adopted daughter, Estella, beautiful but insulting and snobbish. Miss Havisham pays Joe to take Pip on as an apprentice blacksmith.

Pip’s sister (and Joe's wife) is attacked and injured so badly she can no longer speak.

A lawyer, Mr Jaggers, then arrives from London who tells Pip he is to inherit money from a secret benefactor and must go to London to train and educate himself as a gentleman, leaving Joe and Biddy behind.Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

He is educated by Matthew Pocket, a relative of Miss Havisham, becoming great friends with his son, Herbert, with whom he shares rooms (pictured right together in the 1946 film - Herbert, left, is Alec Guinness).

Pip’s extravagance, and helping Herbert with his career, gets him into debt. He is guilty about leaving Joe, whom he only sees at his sister’s funeral and once in London.

He believes that Miss Havisham is financing his education so that he can marry Estella, even when Estella says she has no feelings for him on a trip to London.

Having returned illegally from Australia, the convict reveals himself to Pip (now aged 23) as Abel Magwitch and his secret benefactor.

This destroys Pip’s dream that he was destined to marry Estella. He discovers that Magwitch's enemy, ex-partner in crime and fellow convict, is Compeyson, who jilted Miss Havisham.

Pip then learns that Estella is to marry a cruel bully, Bentley Drummle, and her father is Magwitch. Jaggers saved her mother from hanging .

After deeply regretting her bitterness towards men and discouragement of Pip and Estella’s marriage, Miss Havisham helps Pip to finance Herbert in business. But she dies from burns in a fire after begging Pip's forgiveness for keeping him apart from Estella.

Pip is lured to the marshes by Joe's assistant Orlick who nearly kills him after admitting he attacked Pip’s sister (who has now died).Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes, pictured right, in the 2012 film) is caught by the police and sentenced to death after being betrayed by Compeyson who drowns. He dies before his execution. But Pip is able to tell him he has a beautiful daughter and he, Pip, loves her.

Pip has a long illness but is nursed back to health by Joe. Pip decides to go home and marry Biddy but discovers she has married Joe instead. He then works for Herbert abroad for 11 years and pays off his debts.

On his return, he finds Estella, now a kind widow, in the grounds of Miss Havisham’s house. Pip feels sure they will never part again.


Lessons for success, happiness and ethics

 Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

1. Be true to yourself and your principles

Pip (John Mills, pictured right in the 1946 film) learns to be a gentleman but forgets what he treasured in his happy childhood with Joe:

  • simple living (his extravagance leads to debts).
  • kindness (see point 2).
  • humility (see point 3).

Estella also realizes the importance of these virtues after her disastrous marriage.

The book shows how Pip discovers that wanting what you are is much more important than what you think you should be.


2. Kindness is king

Joe helps Pip in good times and bad (like when he was ill), even after being neglected by him. His kindness encourages others to be kind to him, particularly Pip and Biddy.

Pip is also rewarded by Magwitch for helping him as an escaped prisoner.

 Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

3. Humility

Pip and Estella (pictured right together in the 1946 film) learn that arrogant superiority leads to unhappiness. She thinks she is too good for Pip, who is most miserable when, as a gentleman, he snobbishly:

  • considers himself above the life of a poor blacksmith.
  • doesn’t see Joe or Biddy on his visits to Miss Havisham and Estella.

The truth about his benefactor (the convict, Magwitch) gives him humility, reminding him of the happiness he has lost.


4. Have worthwhile but realistic aims

Pip is right to have “great expectations” for his life, working to educate himself.

But he unrealistically thinks that Estella wants to marry him, so forgetting his family.

His discontent begins when he believes Estella’s assertion that he is “common” and not worthy of her.


5. Don’t believe everything people tell you

Pip believes Magwitch, when he tells him a man will tear out his liver while he sleeps, if he doesn’t help him!

 Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

6. Forgive and forget

Miss Havisham’s life is destroyed by bitterness, unable to:

  • forgive her cruel fiancée.
  • build a new life with someone else.

She finally becomes distraught with guilt, realizing how her vengeance against men has destroyed Estella and her relationship with Pip.

Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) and Estella (Valerie Hobson) are pictured right above in the 1946 film.



7. Lifelong learning

Miss Havisham finally realizes her mistakes (see point 6)Great Expectations - Success, Happiness and Ethics

Pip is also happiest when he learns from Joe the importance of

  • love.
  • humility.
  • integrity (see point 8).

 Miss Havisham (Gill Anderson) and Pip (Oscar Kennedy) are pictured right in the 2012 BBC production.


8. Looks and money aren’t everything

Estella’s beauty blinds Pip to her faults. He must accept them if he is to be happy with her.

Miss Havisham’s wealth and Pip’s money from Magwitch don’t make them happy.

The happiest people are the poorest and nicest : Joe and Biddy.


9. You need friends

Pip gets much needed help from his friends: Joe, Biddy and Herbert.


10. You need to receive love to give it

Estella says she can’t love, because she was never given it by Miss Havisham or her parents.


Key quotes on learning

Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence, Mr Jaggers


Key quotes on stress and pain

Life is made of ever so many partings welded together, Joe

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, Estella


Key quote on ethics

There's one thing you may be sure of...namely that lies is lies, Joe (to Pip)


Key quote on death

Live well and die happy, Joe (to Pip)


Key quote on family 

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home, Pip


Key quote on justice

There is nothing so finely perceived, and so finely felt, as injustice, Pip


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com


A big thank you to...

The BBC for the pictures. 


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