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About the Book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
An unforgettable tale of fate and a chance encounter between two strangers that radically and arbitrarily alters the lives of everyone around them.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations begins on Christmas Eve, 1812, when a 7-year-old orphan named Pip has a terrifying encounter with an escaped convict in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes, and it ends with a grown-up Pip in a familiar garden in the winter of 1840. Over the course of nearly three decades, we follow as a series of events—a summons to meet the bitter, decaying Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor—seem to conspire to change Pip's life forever.

Pip eagerly abandons his humble origins to begin a new life as a gentleman—a task that carries the many twists, turns and cliffhangers that Charles Dickens is known for.

Originally published a few chapters at a time in a magazine, each installment in this suspenseful novel adds another layer to Pip's education about love and the world around him and depicts the adversity he faces as he discovers the true nature of his "great expectations."


Great Layers of Great Expectations

Narrated by a middle-aged Pip, Great Expectations can be read on many levels—as a morality play of a young boy's coming of age and his unexpected rise from the lower to the leisure class, or as an ironic commentary and social critique on how money affects everyone around it. It can also be enjoyed as a suspense-filled mystery complete with secrets, shady characters, thieves and murderers of all shapes and sizes.

Considered by many critics to be Charles Dickens' most psychologically acute self-portrait, Great Expectations is without a doubt one of Dickens's most fully realized literary creations.


Spoiler alert: Keep reading if you want to learn more about the parallels between Dickens' and Pip's lives
 
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    Charles Dickens' Biography
    From an anonymous magazine writer to one of the most well-known English authors of all time, Charles Dickens' life was a tale of rags to riches, pauper to literary prince. His works, including Great Expectations and his most autobiographical novel, David Copperfield, draw upon several situations, experiences and people he came into contact with throughout his life, serving as tiny glimpses into Dickens' deeply personal world.
    Charles Dickens


    Drawing Upon the "Worst of Times"

    Charles Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England, the second of eight children. As a child, Dickens spent a lot of time reading while his father worked a low-level government job—and frequently spent beyond his means. Unable to pay his debts, Dickens' father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor's prison in London, which later became the focus of Dickens' serial novel Little Dorrit.

    With his father imprisoned, Dickens was forced to leave school at the age of 12 and take a job at Warren's Blacking, a shoe-polish factory, to provide for his family. However, the working conditions there were both cruel and intense, forever influencing Dickens' desire for socio-economic reform and serving as recurring themes in his fiction and essays featuring the lives of the working class and the poor.

    Dickens was eventually removed from the factory after his father's release from the debtor's prison and attended Wellington House Academy. He left the school at age 15 to work as a clerk at a law firm before becoming a freelance reporter for legal proceedings. The years he spent observing the legal system gave him contempt for the law and politics, which his books like Bleak House echo.

    In 1830, when he was just 18, Dickens met his first love, Maria Beadnell, thought to be the inspiration for the character Dora in David Copperfield and the character Estella in Great Expectations. However, her parents disapproved of Dickens' family and prospects and the relationship ended in heartbreak, as Maria was sent away to school in Paris.


    A Writer Is Born

    At the age of 21, Dickens published his first story anonymously in Monthly Magazine under the pseudonym "Boz," a nicknamed he called his brother. He continued working as a political journalist, covering debates and election campaigns in Britain, and published his first collection of pieces, Sketches by Boz, in 1836. That same year, Dickens also received a contract to write his first novel, a series of 20 monthly installments called The Pickwick Papers, and became editor of Bentley's Miscellany.

    The Pickwick Papers launched a new era in publishing. The concept of publishing a novel in installments was new at the time, and Dickens often wrote the episodes as they were being published instead of writing a novel in its entirety. From the beginning, readers held on to his cliffhangers, waiting for the next installment as much to see what happened next to the characters as to see what Dickens would write about social reform. The Pickwick Papers was so popular that circulation of the newspaper increased from 14,000 to 40,000 during the story's run.

    By the mid 1830s, Dickens had married and was enjoying success as a novelist as he continued to publish more works, including Oliver Twist (1837–9), Nicholas Nickleby (1838–9) (later dramatized on the London stage), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–41) and Barnaby Rudge (1841).


    Learn about Dickens' most famous works, popularity and dying wish
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      Charles Dickens: A Life Excerpt
      Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist Jane Smiley is an essayist, scholar and fan of legendary writer, Charles Dickens. In 2002, Smiley wrote Charles Dickens: A Life, a contemporary biography and analysis of how Charles Dickens' life influenced his characters and literary works. Read a special excerpt from the beginning of her book and begin to see Dickens in a new light.
      Jane Smiley's biography of Charles Dickens
      Chapter 1


      Charles Dickens was a public man and a famous man, and he assumed both of these slightly different roles in his early twenties. His first sketch, "A Dinner at Poplar Walk," was published in the Monthly Magazine in December 1833. Dickens, born on February 7, 1812, was only twenty-one, but because of his work as a parliamentary reporter (he had taught himself shorthand and was able to take down speeches word for word), he was already familiar with seeing his name in print. Nevertheless, he related later that "I walked down to Westminster Hall, and turned into it for half an hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride, that they could not bear the street, and were not fit to be seen there." Further sketches published in monthly and weekly magazines over the following months attracted considerable notice, and when Sketches by Boz appeared in volume form in February and December 1836, they were well reviewed. What everyone, including Dickens himself, considered especially remarkable was their breadth of scope, and in particular the variety of lower-class characters and scenes depicted, perhaps a first in English literature. One reviewer called them "a perfect picture of the morals, manners, and habits of a great portion of English Society."

      At only twenty-four, Dickens found himself in an advantageous authorial position—he was invited to contribute the text for a series of sporting engravings to be published by the firm of Chapman and Hall. They offered Dickens £14 per month (it is impossible to know exactly what this would be equivalent to in modern dollars, but it is useful to multiply any Dickensian sum by 35, which would make his fee about $500). The artist, Robert Seymour, was successful and famous, and it was he who was supposed to take the lead in conceiving and guiding the collaboration. The arrangement lasted two months, until Seymour committed suicide. In even this short a time, though, Dickens was able to assert his own resolve that he should direct the project, and by the time another artist, Hablot Browne, was hired, Dickens had gotten himself a raise, increased the proportion of the writing to the illustrations, and turned the whole endeavor into The Pickwick Papers, which was destined to become a publishing phenomenon.

      The Pickwick Papers was published between March 1836 and November 1837. From that time to the end of his life, Charles Dickens was a figure of whom everyone had something to say, so it is appropriate to take a look at him upon his first real entrance into the condition of celebrity. First and foremost, friends and acquaintances noted his lively presence, his charm, his good looks, and his colorful style of dress. Though rather short, and even slight, Dickens was extremely straight in his bearing, and his friend and future biographer John Forster recalled "the quickness, keenness, and practical power, the eager, restless, energetic outlook...Light and motion flashed from every part of it." Forster asserted that humor, "habitual, unbounded, and resistless," was his most essential characteristic, but everyone he knew expressed astonishment at Dickens's level of activity, whether the object of that activity was work, games, exercise, amateur acting and play production, charitable projects, or anything else. He was good company and he loved all sociable amusements. He later commented that at this time of his life he was going out to the theater sometimes every night of the week—not only to see the more respectable offerings at Covent Garden and Drury Lane, but to any and all sorts of shows, spectacles, pageants, and performances. Himself adept at declaiming, singing, and performing, he was invited everywhere and participated fully in all forms of the social life of the time—parties and "at homes," nights on the town with groups of male friends, dinners, jaunts, impromptu adventures. Already, though, observers were finding something uncanny about his manner. As astute as he was charming, he often gave people the sense that they were being "scanned" from top to bottom. Extant portraits and photographs certainly fail to reveal the Dickens that his contemporaries knew, especially in the early years, since for various technical reasons subjects were never pictured or photographed smiling. It is especially important, therefore, to be mindful that what the twenty-first century is able to see of Dickens is the merest brittle shell of how he appeared to those around him.


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        Great Expectations Excerpt
        Volume 1: Chapters 1 and 2
        Read an excerpt from the beginning of Great Expectations, Charles Dickens' classic tale.
        Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
        Chapter 1

        My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

        I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.

        The shape of the letters on my father's, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, "Also Georgiana Wife of the Above," I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine—who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle—I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.
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          The Cookie Burglar: How to Stop Binge Eating
          You can lock up dessert, but you won't lose weight until you find out what your fat wants to tell you. Women, Food and God author Geneen Roth explains. 
          Woman reaching into cookie jar
          Photo: Thinkstock/Photodisc
          A few years ago, I worked with a woman who had decided to stop her nighttime bingeing by locking her food in cabinets and giving her husband the key. "It sounded like a perfect plan," she said, "until I spent the hours after my husband went to sleep searching through his pockets, his drawers and his briefcase hunting for the key. When I couldn't find it, I'd take safety pins and tiny screwdrivers and I'd work the lock until it opened. I felt like a thief with a pounding heart and sweaty hands, frantically trying to get to the stash of diamonds before the owners came home. When I finally got to the cookies and cakes, I'd eat most of them, put the locks back on, and, in the morning, pretend nothing had happened."

          I hear stories like this every day from people who tell me they are longing to feel better about themselves and that the extra weight they are carrying is ruining their lives. And then, like the Cookie Burglar, they spend most of their free time planning a binge, bingeing and feeling awful afterward. (You probably have your own version of binge burglary.)

          At some point, you have to ask yourself what's going on when it seems as if you'd give your right arm to lose weight and then find yourself breaking locks at 3 in the morning to get to the coffee cake.

          Clue: The answer is not that you are crazy, lacking in willpower or forever doomed to having thunder thighs. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there are always exquisitely good reasons you turn to food when you're not hungry.

          Take a moment right now. Consider these three questions:
          • How is my apparently crazy eating benefiting me?
          • If I were eating for exquisitely good reasons, what would those reasons be?
          • And finally, if my weight/bingeing could talk, what would it say?
          I realize that considering the benefits you get from bingeing and being overweight feels counterintuitive. I can hear you thinking the same things that the women in my workshops say the first time I ask these questions: "There are no good reasons. Can't you see that this is making me miserable? Don't you understand how much better my life would be if I lost weight?" And my answer is: Yes, I do see how miserable you are, and yes, I also understand that many parts of your life would be better if you lost weight. But unfortunately, the parts that would be better are not the parts that are bingeing, and in order to stop the bingeing, we have to address how it is helping, not hurting you. Why? Because if it weren't helping you in some fundamental way, you'd stop.

          Regardless of how it may appear, what we do really does make sense. Our actions—especially with food—are inherently sane. In fact, they are expressions of our brilliance at getting our needs met.

          Emotional eating is a language of its own, like hieroglyphics or Braille. Instead of trying to understand it, we're more likely to try to ignore it or shut it up. But we can't rid ourselves of emotional eating until we listen to what it has to say. Our relationship with food is expressing a true need, so unless we learn what it's trying to tell us, permanent weight loss will be impossible. Once we "get it" and understand the needs that food fulfills, emotional eating, having served its purpose, will stop.

          How your fat can actually help you
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