Great Expectations (Modern Library Classics Series)

Great Expectations (Modern Library Classics Series)

Great Expectations (Modern Library Classics Series)

Great Expectations (Modern Library Classics Series)

Paperback(2001 MODER)

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Introduction by George Bernard Shaw • Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

Pip, a poor orphan being raised by a cruel sister, does not have much in the way of great expectations—until he is inexplicably elevated to wealth by an anonymous benefactor. Full of unforgettable characters—including a terrifying convict named Magwitch, the eccentric Miss Havisham, and her beautiful but manipulative niece, Estella, Great Expectations is a tale of intrigue, unattainable love, and all of the happiness money can’t buy. “Great Expectations has the most wonderful and most perfectly worked-out plot for a novel in the English language,” according to John Irving, and J. Hillis Miller declares, “Great Expectations is the most unified and concentrated expression of Dickens’s abiding sense of the world, and Pip might be called the archetypal Dickens hero.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375757013
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/13/2001
Series: Modern Library Classics
Edition description: 2001 MODER
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.84(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

About The Author
George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) was a leading playwright of the twentieth century. His plays include Man and Superman (1905), Major Barbara (1905), Pygmalion (1913), and Saint Joan (1923).

Date of Birth:

February 7, 1812

Date of Death:

June 18, 1870

Place of Birth:

Portsmouth, England

Place of Death:

Gad's Hill, Kent, England


Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I.

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.

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within as the river wound,
twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip
Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and
Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes;
and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was

"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil,
or I'll cut your throat!"

A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A
man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

"Oh! Don't cut my throat, sir," I pleaded in terror. "Pray don't do it,

"Tell us your name!" said the man. "Quick!"

"Pip, sir."

"Once more," said the man, staring at me. "Give it mouth!"

What People are Saying About This

George Gissing

Observe how finely the narrative is kept in one key. It begins with a mournful impession—the foggy marshes spreading drearily by the seaward Thames—and throughout recurs this effect of cold and damp and dreariness; in that kind Dickens never did anything so good.... No story in the first person was ever better told.

John Irving

Great Expectations is the first novel I read that made me wish I had written it; it is the novel that made me want to be a novelist—specifically, to move a reader as I was moved then. I believe that Great Expectations has the most wonderful and most perfectly worked-out plot for a novel in the English language; at the same time, it never deviates from its intention to move you to laugher and tears.

Reading Group Guide

1. The two endings to Great Expectations (see pp. 437-38 for a note about the original ending and the text of it) have been the source of endless controversy among critics. Which ending do you think is better and why?

2. What is the role of food and drink in the novel?

3. Critic Robin Gilmour argues that although Pip believes the savagery of the marshes and the refinement of Satis House are irreconcilably opposed, in fact "criminality and civilization, violence and refinement, Magwitch and Estella, are not warring opposites but intimately and inextricably bound together." Do you agree or disagree?

4. What accounts for Pip's moral regeneration in the third part of the novel?

5. Julian Moynahan, in a very influential essay on Great Expectations, argues that "Orlick rather than Magwitch is the figure from the criminal milieu of the novel whose relations to him come to define Pip's implicit participation in the acts of violence with which the novel abounds," suggesting, for example, that Orlick, in bludgeoning Mrs. Joe, merely acts as Pip's surrogate in taking revenge on her for her cruel treatment, and that Drummle, a duplication of Orlick, is likewise a surrogate for Pip in his beating of Estella. Moynahan is in part responding to Dorothy Van Ghent's claim in her 1953 book on the English novel that "[w]hat brings the convict Magwitch to the child Pip, in the graveyard, is more than the convict's hunger; Pip . . . carries the convict inside him, as the negative potential of his 'great expectations'-Magwitch is the concretion of [Pip's] potential guilt." Which side do you take in this debate?

6. How does place function in the novel? Consider such examples as the forge, the marshes, Satis House, and Newgate Prison.

7. Margaret Oliphant wrote in a 1862 review of Great Expectations: "So far as 'Great Expectations' is a sensation novel, it occupies itself with incidents all but impossible, and in themselves strange, dangerous, and exciting, but so far as it is one of the series of Mr Dickens's works, it is feeble, fatigued, and colourless. One feels that he must have got tired of it as the work went on, and that the creatures he had called into being, but who are no longer the lively men and women they used to be, must have bored him unspeakably before it was time to cut short their career, and throw a hasty and impatient hint of their future to stop the tiresome public appetite." Do you agree or disagree with this assessment?

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