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Introduction to Great Expectations

Charles John Huffam Dickens (February 7, 1812 – June 9, 1870), pen-name “Boz”, was a popular English novelist of the Victorian era, 1838 – 1901. Great Expectations is considered one of his best novels and thought to be autobiographical.  It was written in serial form which was popular with commuters traveling to work on trains.

Dickens shared the belief of all leading Victorian reformers that more and better education was requisite if the lower classes were to be helped to better their condition


Dickens was a writer of Social reform. Society is fundamentally flawed -   In the novels written during the 1850s Dickens came increasingly to associate everything he found amiss in the world about him with the concentration of power in the moneyed middle class. Institutions which had traditionally existed to safeguard the general welfare seemed to him to have passed into the hands of vested interests, committed to perpetuating rather than reforming existing evils. Society in its institutionalized aspect has replaced the individual malefactors of the earlier novels as the true villain.  It was the institutions of society that were corrupt and self-serving.

As a journalist he soon established a method of cheap publication of novels in serial form used for his novels.  His novels are richly soaked with all aspects of human nature, destitute poverty, the misery of debt, the corrosive power of envy, the immobility of class.......all presented in lively credible prose filled with pungent dialogue and unforgettable characters.

Many feel that Great Expectations is Dickens' masterpiece because of its tight structure and unity. G.K. Chesterton wrote that "it has a quality of serene irony and even sadness which puts it quite alone among his other works".

According to Paul Byrnes, there has been a new adaptation of Dicken's 13th novel in every decade of the past 100 years which he attributes to the fact that it is one of the greatest stories ever written; a powerful mixture of romance, misadventure and ruthless class conflict.  

Great Expectations is the only bildungsroman of its day that one may call a tragicomedy; it goes on long enough (and is written with sufficient retrospective) for Pip to learn that life is one too.  -- Jerome Meckier, Dickens's Great Expectations: Misnar's Pavilion versus Cinderella, 2002


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