Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Social & Historical Context

Religion around Charles Dicken’s time

In the time of Charles dickens, 204 million people followed the Christian beliefs. This is around 20% of the 1000 million people of the world population. In the 19th century, more and more people became religious. For example from 1850 to 1890 religion adherence rates grew by 12%.People also didn’t have to follow a religion and Darwin wasn’t an extremely religious person either. Christianity being the most prominent religion meant that Dickens could use quotes or stories form the bible as his readers would get the reference. The most disliked religious group were the Jews and so Dickens took advantage of that to develop negative characters in his books. In his writings, Charles Dickens shows his dislike of evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism, but, especially in his fiction, he is very reluctant to make professions of a specific faith beyond the most general sort of Christianity but he did have morals as he believed that the bible was true but only parts of it and other parts are not to be taken literally but only as guidance. Religion in the 1800s treated women as second class citizens with religious people like Catholic spokespeople and various religious organisations teaching people that women were put in the position of being submissive and that this position was their “God-given place”. Class didn’t affect the religiousness of people. Religion didn’t set any laws but religious morals were common place. People were expected to go to churches at least once per week and they were meant to follow the bible strictly. Some families even forbid their children to play with toys on Sunday unless they were religious toys such as a model of Noah’s ark and adults were forbidden to drink or have sex on Sunday.

Quotes about religion

“I was always treated as if I had insisted on being born in opposition to dictates of reason, religion and morality”

Pip feels like he is used as a symbol of sin.

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of Earth, overlaying our hard hearts”

Dickens is saying that strong emotions lead to us really understanding what we want in life. This foreshadows the regret Pip feels when he leaves Joe.

“This was not a very ceremonious way of rendering homage to a patron saint.”

Pip refers to Joe as a saint. Dickens does this to show the protection that Joe offers in the marshes and outlining Pip’s mistakes in leaving for London.

“Joe, I feel the loving tremble of your hand upon my arm, as solemnly this day as if it had been the rustle of an angel’s wing”

Dicken’s makes the link between religion and Pip’s friendliness in Joe. This makes the reader aware of the danger Pip is in by leaving Joe like a priest leaving behind his religion for personal gain.

“I’ve beat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so GOD bless you, dear old Pip, old chap, GOD bless you!”

Dickens shows Joe’s love for Pip and makes Joe seem like a priest or bishop who looks over Pip. Most of these religious quotes are about Joe to outline his divineness compared to other characters in the book.

“I left my fairy Godmother.”

Dickens pairs throughout the novel the tale of Cinderella with his own story. Pip began like Cinderella in a poor position and rose to riches by a fairy Godmother but the contrast is that Pip doesn’t get a happy ending or at least not the one the readers expected. Dickens does this to tell the readers that life isn’t like a fairy tale.

“he would slouch out, like Cain or the Wandering Jew”

Dickens describes Orlick as two religious figures. Both despised throughout history to give and impression that Orlick is the pure definition of sin and the alternate path for Pip (not belonging anywhere). Anti-Semitism was mainstream in 1800 and so Dickens readers would relate.

“he punished the Amens tremendously”

Mr Wopsle is a church clerk and he is Dickens representation of a corrupt religion. This expresses Dickens views on religion as he says that Mr Wopsle had a roman nose which suggests that Dickens disliked Roman Catholics which is true.



Dickens’ Life

Charles Dickens was born on the 7th February 1812 in Portsmouth. Many of Dickens’ childhood experiences and life events influenced his characters; an example of a character being strongly influenced by Dickens’ childhood is Pip. His schooling interrupted when he followed the family to London, his father having been recalled there. Dickens had experiences with crime in his early life as his father spent time in prison, which is another link to his and Pip’s childhood. Put to work in late 1823 at a blacking factory, and his father imprisoned for debt in early 1824: these humiliations provided a mainspring for his subsequent ambition. He left the factory in 1823/4, for his final two years of schooling. Like Pip, Dickens had desires as a young boy to become rich. He also had a “rag to riches” upbringing starting in the coast marshes of Kent and then moving to London, similar to Pip’s childhood beginning in the marshes and eventually moving on to London. Dickens’ father was a clerk in the navy pay office and often spent long amounts of time away from Dickens relating to Pip being brought up without his real parents. Dickens started as a freelance reporter of law cases and was admitted as reader at the British Museum Library in 1830. He became a parliamentary reporter in 1831. Furthermore, Dickens became a law clerk relating to the themes of law and injustice in Great Expectations. With his ever growing ambition to be an author, Dickens became joint owner and editor of a new weekly journal, Household Words, in 1850. He also contributed three major works during this period: Bleak House, Hard Times and Little Dorrit. Dickens separated from his wife in 1858, and with failing health, he devoted much of his energy to exhausting reading tours, visiting the USA for a second time in 1867/68, he completed nearly half of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and unfortunately died at Gad’s Hill on 9 June 1870, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, London.



  1. “Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”
  • Shows the laws impact on Dickens’ life and how being a law clerk made him think.
  • Could affect Jaggers’ character as he is a lawyer,
  • Gives insight to reader on Dickens’ view on how things were handled in court and society at the time.
  • Dickens’ family was very involved with the law. He could have been told this at some point.
  • “Take nothing on its looks” suggests that Dickens saw the world as deceiving, that you shouldn’t believe things without clear proof.
  1. “In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.”
  • This links to Dickens life and how he was dragged into law and crime.
  • Could imply that Dickens feels that it was hard to avoid breaking the law at the time.
  • Dickens could be saying that nobody wanted to do right because they felt it wasn’t right but at the same time nobody wanted to avoid wrong because it was unavoidable.
  • Dickens is expressing how he was stuck in between the two ends of law. He and his family had a lot of involvement with crime but he was a law clerk.
  • Dickens is saying that like Pip being dragged into crime by Magwitch without choice, he too was dragged into crime without his own choice.
  1. “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.”
  • Dickens’ views on the injustice of the world are expressed in Great Expectations.
  • The feeling of worthlessness in the quote is representing Dickens’ time in the Kent marshes.
  • Shows how Dickens feels that the system of life (being born into a rich family means you will stay rich and being born into a poor family means you will stay poor) is unfair.
  • “Blinding dust of Earth” Dickens is talking about the Earth as if it is a smoggy place of dismay and he is saying this through characters in the book. His poor background gave him a bad image of life and just like Pip he desired to get out of the marshes.
  • “Overlaying our hard hearts” this is telling us Dickens view on society and further expressing Dickens’ thoughts on the unfair way of life.
  1. “I was always treated as if I had insisted on being born, in opposition to the dictates of reason, religion, and morality, and against the dissuading arguments of my best friends.”
  • Dickens feels that life was not worth living as a poor person, as this quote is from when Pip was living in the marshes. Deepens the understanding of how life was either only good or only bad in the reader.
  • “Against the dissuading arguments of my best friends” Dickens feels that even best friends are not really friends, linking with the idea of everybody being by themselves at the time.
  • The quote joins reason religion and morality together showing how Dickens was brought up to believe that religion was very important and that without either of reason religion and morality the others cannot be present.
  • Depicts different times in Dickens’ life: his childhood (wishing he had not been born because of the marshes), his adulthood (involvement in law and crime) and him going through depression due to his father being imprisoned.
  • “I was always treated” Dickens felt as if there was no break as a poor person. Connotes that he had to work a lot for very little.
  1. “So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.”


  • By saying “for the sake of people whom we most despise” it shows that Dickens had some enemies like Pip with Drummle, this tells us how Dickens didn’t have a good relationship with everyone!


  • Dickens feels that you even have to do things for the people you hate the most, otherwise they won’t do anything for you.


  • This shows how Dickens didn’t figured out why this happens, however he has accepted it unlike Pip, which infers maybe Dickens was like this as a child.


  • “For the sake of” shows that it isn’t actually necessary to do it and it is merely a choice.


  • Dickens’ life wasn’t easy and he had to work with and meet with many people who he will have despised so he knows this more than anyone, it is very much like Pip’s life however Dickens had to work his way up the ladder


  1. “ . . . No, the office is one thing, and private life is another. When I go into the office, I leave the Castle behind me, and when I come into the Castle, I leave the office behind me.”


  • Dickens uses this quote to highlight how different people can be, and need to be, in London and when involved in law to when they are at home.


  • “The office is one thing, and private life is another” shows how Dickens wanted to keep his work and life separate and he also makes a good point a few sentences on about how it is best to keep it like this because it takes the stress out of private life.


  • By stating both possibilities “when I go into the office, I leave the Castle behind me, and when I come into the Castle, I leave the office behind me” it shows how neither interfere with the other and it is almost as if he forgets about home when at work and vice versa.


  • Dickens’ work was to do with law like Wemmick therefore this is probably an accurate representation of how he separated private life and work.


  • Dickens seems like he had a good life but he still had to work and this quote infers that he was just a normal person with a regular job!


  1. “We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us.”


  • This quote shows how Dickens’ life was surrounded by money like Pip’s, the world only seems to revolve if there is money!


  • “And got as little for it” tells us that is was hard for Dickens and his family to get food and the necessities with the money they had as children.


  • It highlights that Dickens’ life wasn’t easy once again as it shows that to survive you need money and if you weren’t valued you could have twice as much money as someone else and get half as much food.


  • Dickens seems to always be quite comfortable about his life and that it wasn’t that bad however in his books he expresses his real opinion, like in this quote we see how he is angry that this happened to him and knows that it is wrong.


  • “We spent as much money as we could” suggests that they put all they had on the line to try and survive and get the necessities that they needed and shows that life now isn’t that different to some people now as it was for them but for many it is extremely different.


  1. “He says, no varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself.”


  • This quote is one of the most important quotes in the book because it sort of hints at Pip not really being a gentleman. Dickens is very passionate about knowing and never forgetting or disowning your roots.


  • Dickens wasn’t brought up by his real parents yet he didn’t forget his roots and went into the same business as his father, maybe what Pip should have done.


  • “The more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself” shows that Dickens believes that if you ever try to act completely different it is more obvious who you really are, this suggests he has met some people/was a person that did this and it didn’t end up well.


  • During Dickens’ life he has been involved in crime a lot as well which may have made him have this opinion about people, and it is easy to spot a criminal who is guilty when they plead innocent.


  • “The grain of the wood” is almost like the DNA and Dickens is saying how you can’t change that no matter how much you want to, this is because Dickens has experienced this and didn’t like who he was, like Pip but he worked for it and became a gentleman but still stayed true to himself.


Money in Great Expectations

In Great Expectations, money is a recurring theme amongst the characters. Victorian England was largely a wealthy society yet there was huge wealth inequality between classes. 1 shilling in Victorian times would be equal to £3.82 in today’s money and, as there were 20 shillings to the pound, a Victorian pound would be worth about £76.40 today. This makes Pip’s annual allowance of £500 equal to £38,200. However, only 1-2% of the population made over £150 a year (£11,460), which explains why 40% of the country’s wealth was owned by 5% of its citizens. The average wage was £21-23 a year. Pip would not have been among the richest people, though – bankers earned double what he did each year, but shop keepers and clerks would only earn a tenth of Pip’s annual income. A member of the developing middle-class would expect to have annual living costs of £150, including £25 on rent, £5 on taxes, £50 on food, and £30 on clothing. To save on rent, people became servants and lived with their masters. 1.2 million Victorians earned their living this way.

Domestic service, manufacturing and agricultural work were the most common occupations for the lower classes, and these were amongst the lowest paying jobs – possibly only £10 a year. Girls were also disproportionately employed as maids or servants – 1 in 5 of these jobs were done by girls younger than 15.  The top paid jobs were those in law, banking and medicine, which were all considered high class jobs.

Politics, too, was dominated by high-class, rich men. This mean that the needs and requests of poorer Victorians were largely ignored although, towards the end of the Victorian era, more pressure was put on the government to create a more equal society. Despite this, it was very difficult to become richer as a poor person and people could only retire from work when they had earned enough money to sustain their household or because they had become too ill to work.

Poor people struggling to survive could take out loans, but failure to repay these meant that the person would be thrown in a debtor’s prison until they could repay it. Dickens, himself, was poor as a young adult and had experience with debtors’ prisons when his father was imprisoned in one. However, when his novels became successful, he became much richer and Great Expectations was written while he was in this situation. Despite this, because of his past experiences, he had a lot of sympathy for poorer people and wanted reform to allow a more equal society









“But if you think that money can compensate for the loss of a child-what come to the forge-and ever the best of friends!-“pg. 120 chapter 18

It suggests that with money people can be bought and sold  like livestock or items and this highlights the contrast between Joe and Jagger’s views Joe was never raised surrounded by money but Jagger’s has lived with money all his life this suggests money corrupts people. Dickens seems to agree with Joe.

“Now you all know where to take your stations when you come to feast on me” pg. 74 chapter 11

This imagery of her family eating her corpse shows that they only value her when she is dead. Their greed for money dehumanises her family into animalistic beings feasting on her corpse. This also implies that her family are only there to drain all the money she has left.  This shows that people’s greed for money removes any empathy they may have had.

“Nothing but beggar my neighbour, miss”

Pips first experience with Estella and Miss Havisham. This card game reflect the society at the time where to become rich or successful you must disadvantage those who surround you. This shows how twisted Miss Havisham’s world is and that others’ lives are just a game to her, a means to gain money. It also is a precursor to later on in the book where Pip uses his money to get his own way and to hurt others seen in the way he treats Trabb’s boy.

“Whispered to me he would never become successful or rich” pg. 150 chapter 22 

Pips makes this comment about Herbert as he is seen as a good character by the reader and Pip has been taught by people like Miss Havisham and Jaggers that, to become successful, you need to be cruel and apathetic.  This shows Pip has been perverted and manipulated by people he looks up to and the money he and they have.

“These people hated me with the hatred of cupidity and disappointment. As a matter of course, they fawned upon me in my prosperity with the basest meanness.” Pg. 172

In this extract, Pip references the Pockets and how they dislike him, but pretend to due to his wealth. This shows how the upper-class world is like a game, filled with facades and people pretending to make a gain in the long run (in this case, possibly get a share of Pip’s money). Pip doesn’t make this link, but the reader does.

“I would spend any money or take any pains to drive him out of the country” pg. 242

When Pip speaks to Biddy about her pursuer, he claims he can make him disappear through his wealth. This is a final example of how money has perverted his mind and led him to believe that any problems can be solved by it. He feels powerful due to his wealth and supposed authority over those who are lower-class, yet, in actual fact, Pip can do very little and money won’t make a difference.



In Victorian times, society was strictly layered not only into rich and poor, or even upper, middle or lower class, but hundreds of “grades”. People were expected to “know their place”, and the church taught them to be content in their “station”. Dickens didn’t like the effects of social class.

At the time, many people were becoming aware of the need to improve the condition in which the poor found themselves. Dickens was a great supporter of social reform- especially in schools and prisons.

The social classes of England were newly reforming, and fomenting. There was a churning upheaval of the old hierarchical order, and the middle classes were steadily growing. Added to that, the upper classes’ composition was changing from simply hereditary aristocracy to a combination of nobility and an emerging wealthy commercial class. The definition of what made someone a gentleman or a lady was, therefore, changing at what some thought was an alarming rate. By the end of the century, it was silently agreed that a gentleman was someone who had a liberal public (private) school education (preferably at Eton, Rugby, or Harrow), no matter what his antecedents might be (therefore would pip really be considered a gentleman?) . There continued to be a large and generally disgruntled working class, wanting and slowly getting reform and change.

Conditions of the working class were still bad, though, through the century, three reform bills gradually gave the vote to most males over the age of twenty-one. Contrasting to that was the horrible reality of child labour which persisted throughout the period.

Victorians began to write of a ‘criminal class’ who lived entirely on the proceeds of crime and preyed upon the respectable people of the West End of London. To make matters worse, this ‘criminal class’ lived undetected in the dark backstreets, ‘rookeries’ and courts of the East End, a place where ‘civilised’ people feared to tread. However, the Victorian idea that an organised underworld separate from the rest of society was systematically preying on the wealthy was largely a myth and perpetuated by social researchers such as Charles Dickens.

For those in the upper sections of society, rules such as the proper forms of address, and even what to wear (including which pieces of jewellery would be appropriate) were all considered very important (probably why in Dickens novel pip buys posher clothing). For the lower class, the poor, there wasn’t time for etiquette.


The Upper and Upper-Middle Class it was important to know who you could speak to even if you had been properly introduced.


The established career for society women was marriage – full stop. They were expected to represent their husbands with grace and provide absolutely no scandal. Charity work would be accepted, but only if it was very gentile… sewing for the poor, or putting together food baskets.

Gentlemen had to keep track of when it was proper to either smoke or have a glass of sherry in front of ladies. When to bow and to whom to tip your hat could cause gossip if the wrong decision was made.


Members of Victorian society kept busy with parties, dances, visits, dressmakers, and tailors. Keeping track of what other people in your social class were doing was also a full-time occupation.


The People in the Middle

Being a servant in one of the grand Victorian houses was a position which would guarantee shelter and food. However, there was etiquette to be learned.

The upper class was never to be addressed unless it was absolutely necessary. If that was the case, as few words as possible were to be uttered. Showing the difference.


Being just too busy trying to survive, etiquette played little part in the poor’s daily existence. But that’s not to say that pride wasn’t available. There was a ‘social stigma’ to applying for aid, and some families preferred to keep to themselves and figure out their own methods of survival.

Although Poor Laws were put into place, it wasn’t until after the Victorian age ended that ‘the lower class’ was able, through education, technology, and reform, to raise itself, in some cases literally, out of the gutter.


Victorian society could be quite pleasant, but only depending on your financial status.


  1. “I am fit for nothing”
  • This statement shows a separation boundary of class as Pip realises that his benefactor isn’t Miss Havisham and is in fact Magwitch. He feels “fit for nothing” because of Magwitch as he’s been taken from the marshes where he belongs to somewhere he has no occupation.
  1. “locked up as much as a silver tea kettle”
  • Clearly a silver tea kettle is considered valuable because it’s “sliver” and it’s of need to be “locked up” therefore for no one to take it, therefore the object being locked up must be valuable and it suggests that only an upper class person would have something like that due to how valuable it could be.
  1. “I was took up”
  • Dickens has a lot of compassion for poor children, and thought the needed guidance rather than punishment. He wanted his novels to help towards social change, extenuating circumstances.
  1. “Rags of mist, like a beggar”
  • This quote shows that beggars are looked down upon. There everywhere like “mist” and that there is such thing as class, upper and lower in the book GE and also in Dickens time.

In Dickens’ time, there was little to no social mobility and nobody really travelled from where they were born, you died in the place and class into which you were born. Cases like the one pip experienced in the book would have been extremely rare and almost unthinkable due to the limited interaction between the classes and the degree of superiority felt by someone of higher class towards one of a lower class.  There were three classes in Dickens’ time; the upper, middle and lower classes. Despite this, the differences within each class was quite large. For example, there could be people in the lower class who were almost as well off as some middle class people and middle class people who were quite poor. The living conditions also varied through the classes as someone from a lower class could expect a smaller or less well constructed house with maybe two or three rooms whereas a wealthy member of the upper class could expect a large mansion with multiple rooms. Similarly, the possessions differed as well, the higher classes could afford nicer beds, pocket watches as well as finer cutlery. Class effected your life much more than anything else in Dickens’ time, a person of higher class could afford a better education for their children whereas someone from the lower class wouldn’t be able to send their kids to school at all. This meant that the higher classes could remain much more wealthy than the lower class.


“I should not be understood” Pg 55

  • People didn’t dream of raising their class really, so the fact that pip feels estranged from his family suggests dickens liked people to fill out a select roll.
  • It may also suggest that Pip feels family wouldn’t understand what he experienced because they have nothing to compare it to as the difference in possessions was different
  • The difference in mannerisms would also be different as the classes were almost completely separate.
  • The phrase also suggests that Mrs Havisham is too great for them and so Pip wouldn’t be understood because his family were too lowly. This goes with the way the higher class looked at the lower classes as the lower classes were looked down upon.
  • The phrase might also suggest that, as living conditions were vastly different between classes, Pip feels his family couldn’t understand quite how much they differed.


“Pale young gentleman” Pg76

  • Being pale was a sign that you stayed inside and did not work, this reminds the reader how pip feels about not being a gentleman.
  • Shows how pip doesn’t fit at Mrs Havisham’s either as he does work and isn’t pale
  • the pale young gentleman doesn’t seem to look down on pip, this might be because of his age, and if so, Dickens might be suggesting that people shouldn’t treat other classes as inferior.
  • There was little to no social mobility in the time when Dickens was alive, this meant that the class you were born into was the one that you stayed in all your life. The use of “young” in the phrase reminds the reader that Pip will never fit in with any class but the one he was born into, the lower class.
  • Higher class did not necessarily mean more money, people often went without food rather that get rid of a servant which would mean loss of status, the use of “pale” reminds the reader that being in a higher class does not give you a more fulfilling life and therefore causes annoyance at Pip.


“Course hands and common boots” Pg 51

  • Course hands were a product of labour, similar to pale skin which was a product of doing none. This reminds the reader that Estella hasn’t worked and neither has Mrs Havisham yet they look down on Pip.
  • Because of this, Dickens might have been pointing out that features are much like clothes and are a symbol of class, not their intelligence or character.
  • The majority of people were in the lower and middle classes, because of this, Dickens’ use of “common” might not just be a derogatory term pip is using but a reminder to the reader of that fact, people like Estella and Mrs Havisham were in the minority.
  • He might have also wanted the reader to consider that Pip feels ashamed of being with the majority of people.
  • The use of “hands” and “boots” might be Dickens making the reader aware of how the upper class felt about lower classes; the upper class felt a great degree of superiority over the other classes, so Estella might have thought of Pip as only useful to the extent that he can work



“’never too soon sir’ said Joe” Pg 59

  • There was hardly any social mobility in Dickens’ time, this might show how estranged Pip now is from his family and old friends.
  • It also reminds the reader how odd Pips fortune is
  • The oddity of his fortune might suggest to the reader that, since this is a novel, it surely cannot continue forever and it will be ruined eventually.
  • The awkwardness between Joe and Pip might also stem from the fact that there was very little communication between the classes apart from businesses like tailors. This would suggest Joe simply doesn’t know how to address Pip.
  • People of different classes wore very different clothes to each other, this might suggest that because Joe uses the word “Sir” to address Pip, Pip now looks like a gentleman on the outside. This creates a juxtaposition between Pip’s smart clothes and Joe’s house and forge. It reminds the reader of Pips roots.


Dickens influences/ other novels


What influenced dickens to write Great Expectations, and can we see his own voice and experiences in the novel? Shortly before he wrote Great Expectations, Dickens re-read through many personal letters and David Copperfield, which is the most autobiographical of all his novels, and would’ve influenced him to include some of his experiences and opinions through to Great Expectations. Dickens was also influenced by the themes and kinds of other novels. In the mid-19th century there were five main kinds of novels that people were interested in and wanted to buy. These are: The ‘silver Fork ‘novel- stories about rich people fascinated poor people. The ‘Newgate’ novel- people were enthralled by stories about jail, crime, the criminal underworld and gruesome murders. The ‘Gothic’ novel- horror stories set in bleak locations or scary mansions. The ‘Romantic’ novel- love stories such as Jane Eyre (especially where the lovers were from different social classes.  And finally The ‘Social-purpose’ novel- stories such as Oliver Twist, written to bring social issues to the notice of the general public. We as the reader can see examples of all of these throughout Great Expectations, for example, Pip becoming a gentleman and the extensive descriptions of the rich, the number of lawyers, criminals and murders, the misty graveyard on the marshes and scary description of Satis house, Pips love for Estella and the attack on social problems in Victorian society. Dickens did all this to sell and thus save his magazine ‘All year Round’ and Great Expectations for him would’ve been seen as a commercial project. There are many aspects of Dickens life which come through in Great Expectations. For example, when he was twelve his father was imprisoned for debt. This can be linked to Magwitch who is a convict but becomes Pips’ father figure in the novel. When his dad was in prison he was sent to go work in a boot blacking factory; this can be linked to how Mrs Joe and Miss Havisham treat Pip badly. In 1830 Dickens fell in love with Maria Beadnell but she rejected him. This can be likened to Estella repulses Pip. In 1857, Dickens, now 45, fell in love with an actress, 18 year old Ellen Ternan, but although he never told the public about her. This can be likened to Joe marrying the much younger Biddy on the novel. Furthermore, some critics said that his previous novel A tale of two Cities was too sad, so in response Dickens added lots of dramatic action, love and murder to mix it up.

So we can clearly see Dickens influences from his experiences, other novels, childhood and many events from his life.


Here are some quotations that are illuminated by the context we researched:

‘It struck me that Wemmick walked among the prisoners much as a gardener might walk among his plants’ – pg 222


This is illuminated by the context as, as well as linking to the ‘Newgate’ themes of crime and jail in the novel, this quotation also links to the ‘Silver Fork’ themes: the theme of relationships between the poor and the rich. It does this as Wemmick is often described as wealthy throughout the novel, and linking the prisoners to his plants, which he cares for and his garden is often immaculate, shows a link between the poor prisoners, and rich Wemmick. This quotation is from a section of the novel set in a prison, so strongly links to the ‘Newgate’ theme.


‘The complete realisation of the ghastly waxwork at the fair’ – pg 71


This quotation, describing Mrs Havisham at the first meeting between her and Pip, links strongly to the ‘Gothic’ theme. This shows that Dickens establishes her as a main, influential character for the rest of the book, as Gothic was such a popular theme at the time. Using this theme, it shows the emotions Havisham plants in Pip, such as corruption and fear.


‘Do all the shining deeds of the Knight of romance, and marry the Princess’ – pg 197


In this quotation, Pip is describing himself ‘saving’ Estella, although this is mainly his own fantasy. This can be linked to the theme of ‘Romance’, which is a strong theme throughout the book, and what Pips Expectations revolve around. The fact that this metaphor is Pip’s own ‘dream-world’ is illuminated by the fact that Dickens fell in love with Maria Beadnell but she rejected him, much like Estella rejects Pip.


‘Coarse hands and common boots’ – pg 50


This links to the ‘Silver Fork’ theme, as this is the beginning of Pips expectations and how, mirroring Estella, he begins to look down upon the poor: first through self hate, and wishing to become a gentleman, and later when he receives money looking down on the lower classes, despite his past. This is a strong theme within the novel and Dickens uses this to make richer people more aware, and it was also a popular theme at the time.


‘Like a young penitent into sackcloth’ – pg 43


This quotation links to both the ‘Newgate’ theme and the ‘Social-Purpose’ theme. It is from a part of the novel where Mrs Joe is getting him ready to go to Mrs Havisham’s and treating him roughly. Dickens did this as he wanted to show to his audience the way that poor boys were treated, and a way he was treated in his child hood. He also links it to the theme of prisons as the criminal, Magwich, often is on Pips mind and also the theme of crime and jail seems to follow Pip throughout the book.


‘Get hold of portable property’ – pg 170


Wemmick states that this is his ‘guiding star’ to navigate the upper class world. This links to the theme of ‘Silver Fork’ as it shows how corrupt and materialistic the rich seem to be in this novel, only caring about money and how you can show this through how you look, and how much you own. This seems to set Pip into debt, where he buys so much property and joins the ‘Finches’. Dickens does this to show how ridiculous this mindset is.


‘I loved her against reason’ – pg 197


This is another quote that falls into the theme of ‘Romance’. Dickens twists the normal idea of romance themes and makes it darker, due to the manipulation that both Estella and Mrs Havisham put upon Pip. His love for Estella seems fake and childish, especially when he describes her as an object he wants to obtain.


‘For she rose up in her chair, in her shroud of a dress’ – pg 204


Mrs Havisham is often linked to ‘Gothic’ themes, including this quotation. The word ‘shroud’ links her to death, and an air of fear and creepiness seems to surround her. By using this gothic theme, Dickens makes her and important and memorable character, and also the antagonist of the book.​

Justice / Law

In the 1860’s the law was corrupt, influenced by gender and wealth. London in the early 1800s had a population of nearly a million and a half people but was policed by only 450 constables and 4,500 night watchmen. The idea of professional policing was taken up by Sir Robert Peel when he became Home Secretary in 1822. Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established a full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force for the greater London area known as the Metropolitan Police. The new Metropolitan Police were responsible for an area of 7 miles in radius from the centre of the city, which was later extended to 15 miles. The government intentionally tried to avoid creating any likeness between the police and a military force; in particular the officers of the new police force were not armed and a blue uniform was chosen, dissimilar to that of the army. During this period, the Metropolitan Police was accountable directly to the Home Secretary.

The City of London was not included within the remit of the Metropolitan Police because the Mayor and Corporation of the City of London refused to be part of a London-wide force because the City of London had certain liberties dating back to Carta. The London City Police was formed in 1832, later renamed in 1839 to the City of London Police.

In 1847 two pieces of national legislation were enacted – the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. Parliament continued to discuss the idea of national policing and, by the early 1850s, the Government was thinking about implementing policing across the nation.

After the County and Borough Police Act in 1856, policing became a requirement throughout England and Wales paid for by central government Treasury department funds distributed to local government. In addition, the Act formed a “central inspectorate of constabulary” that would assess the effectiveness of each constabulary and report regularly to the Home Secretary. Parliament passed a similar Act for Scotland in 1857.

Dickens was a lifelong critic of the iniquities of a social system that produced criminals and then punished them. his fiction is full of prisons, judges, trials, lawyers, wills and lawsuits, focused on the City of London, where the system had its fulcrum: when he was a teenager, Dickens spent time working there as a solicitor’s clerk and considered a legal career. He approved of hard labour in prisons and felt satisfaction at witnessing a ‘determined thief, swindler or vagrant, sweating profusely at the treadmill or the crank.’ Once you had committed a criminal act, Dickens believed, you had to take responsibility for it, and incarceration was more about expiatory retribution and repentance than reform. Yet Dickens also had a deep imaginative empathy with the criminal mind. In his earlier novels, he relished creating and inhabiting villains such as Quilp, Fagin, Bill Sikes and Uriah Heep, whose wickedness is caricatured and exploited for melodramatic effect, but he also understood how people were from childhood pushed or drawn into crime, in the face of heartless Poor Law institutions such as workhouses and appallingly inadequate housing, education, sanitation and moral guidance.


“Which side he was on I couldn’t make out”- page 171 (Pip talking about Jaggers)

Dickens thinks the law is corrupt, abused, ie the rich always win the trials, as they can pay for good lawyers like Jaggers, Jaggers keeps to the law but has no morals, he doesn’t stand anywhere specific morally, changes his views, abides by law but is in it for the money

“the prison ship seemed in my young eyes to be ironed like the prisoners”-page 33

“ “Jaggers would do it if it were to be done”” –page140, two men talking about Jaggers

Again shows his lack of morals, he will do things other lawyers may not consider doing, as long as there is money involved, also shows what a good lawyer he is – shows that Dickens doesn’t trust lawyers, no matter how good they are, trying to portray even the best of them in a negative light

“He seemed to bully his very sandwich as he ate it”- page 143, Pip about Jaggers

Shows how Jaggers is a bully in a lot of ways, he intimidates and uses people, even to food!, he is rude to people because he knows they need him

“A fearful man… with a great iron on his leg”-page 2 (pip about Magwitch)

As a child, Pip is scared of Magwitch as the iron symbolises the fact that he is a criminal, he has learnt to be scared of this symbol, describes him as ‘fearful’, sets a negative view as convicts, not really sure which side of the law Dickens is on as he looks down on criminals and lawyers alike

“What a guiltily coarse and common thing it was, to be on secret terms of conspiracy with convicts”

Lots of word associated with crime – guilt, secret, conspiracy, convicts – law and crime is a main theme in the book and Dickens links lots of things to it, and Pip is always linking things back to the convict at the beginning – that has a huge effect on him throughout the entire story.

“the flowerseeds and bulbs wanted of a fine day to break out of those jails, and bloom” – page 44

Jails is another reference to crime, shows how much of an effect crime and the law has on Pip’s life, central theme, convict and Jaggers, this idea always seems to follow Pip around and stay with him

“great numbers at their backs, as if they were street doors” “their coarse, mangy ungainly outer surface, as if they were lower animals” – Pge 193

These 2 quotes show how convicts are almost dehumanised and how theyre seen in society – nowadays people give people the benefit of the doubt, fair trials, look at circumstance – then it is much more simple, criminals are looked down upon with disgust and feared




The theme we were given to research was children in great expectations.

We have chosen quotations to give an insight to the lives and treatment of children in Victorian Britain . Life for Victorian Children in Victorian times (1830 to 1900) was nothing like childhood in today’s world. For the wealthy there was an overwhelming sense of boredom and the constant prodding to be proper and polite with very little parent to child communication. For the poor Victorian Children life was much different. Street children in Victorian times were found in abundance living in alleys or side streets. Many were orphans but a large part of the street children were from neglectful, alcoholic families where abuse was the norm. Faced with the choice of living in these conditions or living on the street some children chose the street. Many of these children fell prey to prostitution and thieving to support themselves. Others became street sellers or actually worked public jobs like other children. London’s population grew rapidly during the 19th century. This led to major problems with overcrowding and poverty. Disease and early death were common for both rich and poor people. Children in the Victorian Times were the most vulnerable to illnesses and disease. Infants had a high mortality rate with a poor immune system that most infants have. Kids who had any serious injury to a limb often had the limb amputated and died from infections because surgery devices were hardly ever sanitized. Sanitation was rare within this time period. Especially within orphanages, charity schools and workhouses, many children died of disease because they were in close proximity to each other for diseases to spread quickly. There were few options for orphans in this time period. Either a family member took in the child; the child had to fend for itself or was sent to a charity school, workhouse or orphanage. If a family member took the child, social status was still judged. If the children’s parents were of a lower class than the relative, often times the child would be abused and treated inferiorly.


How were children brought up in Victorian Britain?


“Brought up by hand” (pg 5, chapter two) -this reflects how children in that era were brought, by smacking and beating . “By hand’’, connotes that Mrs. Joe is actually slapping Pip(and Joe!). The way she treats Pip is reflective on how she feels about him – she wishes he was dead even though she is his only blood relative alive.

This shown to have a negative impact on Pip, who resents his sister because of her actions. Being brought up by hand caused physical pain for Pip and has lowered his self esteem. It was a sad fate that almost all Victorian children went through. Dickens feels that this type of nurturing is not effective and is quite detrimental to both the guardian and the child affected.


 How did the community have an effect on raising children?


“She had established a great reputation with herself and the neighbours because she had brought me up by hand” (pg 5, chapter 2) – Here, Pip is explaining how Mrs. Joe’s harsh method of parenting has received commendation among her neighbours . The societal view on children is again reflected here clearly – Everyone clearly thinks violence and abuse is the best way of parenting . In a way, everybody rallied round to raise, or should I say abuse the children. Normally, it should be only the parents raising a child,  but the community has an inherent affect on how a child is raised and in Pip’s case , its negative. The neighbours edge on Mrs Joe and praise her for her sick acts. They encourage and validate her sadistic behaviour, not bearing in mind the feelings of  Pip .


Where were the demographics of infants in the Victorian era?


“Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias and Roger, infant child of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried’’( pg 1, chapter 1) –Pip is explaining how his siblings apart from Mrs Joe are all dead. This was another factor in Victorian Britain concerning children – Infant mortality was so common, children were replaceable. Half the children born in 1831, one year before Dickens’ birth, died before their fifth birthday, and most before the age of two. By comparison, of the 1,000 children born alive in 1851, 522 had reached the age of 5 years. In our view, of course, the death of half of all children before their fifth birthdays is awful, but it may explain why parents did not automatically invest emotionally in their children.





How did religion have an effect on parenting in the Victorian era?


“Babies are to be nut-crackered dead”  (pg 164, chapter 23) Here, Mrs. Pocket is showing her motherly nature (!) . The baby was playing with a nutcracker, a potentially dangerous object and Mrs pocket is neglecting the baby – not really caring if it got injured or not. Mrs pocket is another of the many bad examples of a guardian in great expectations. This view on children was everywhere at that time because of different factors but one of the main ones was religion. John Wesley, A prominent Christian preacher at that time claimed that because of original sin, children had an incapacity for good. This influenced people at that time greatly because almost everyone was religious, and more importantly Christian. So, even if you didn’t believe what John Wesley said, and you didn’t “Bring up your child by hand” that meant that you weren’t a good Christian and your neighbours looked down on you. As mentioned earlier, how you were seen by people around you had a massive impact of your self-esteem and inherent worth, especially in the Victorian era.



“children should be seen not heard”


this quote is suggesting that children are only to been seen and that people in Dickens time were not very well educated in taking care of children and suggest that children’s opinions weren’t relevant and weren’t taken account of. ​




“I was always treated as if I had insisted on being born in opposition to the dictates of reason, religion, and morality, and against the arguments of my best friends.” Chapter 4, pg. 25

This quote is saying that it denies a sense of guilt on having been born. An interesting way also for saying that the world despises his very existence. By looking at this quote it tells the reader that children were like a burden to their parent and burden to the world as children then were helpless and not useful in any economical industries.


“My sister’s bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there’s nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice (8.95)

Mrs joe has  hardened Pip by the way she treated him  and has made him more sensitive to insult and injury, Mrs. Joe’s bullying actually made him weaker. This shows how important your formative years are and how they can shape the rest of your life .


“I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too. (8.92)


Your childhood dictates the rest of your life.



At the beginning of the 19th century, London was the largest city in Europe and capital of the British Empire. During this time, London became a global, political, financial and trading capital. Although the city grew wealthy, London was also a city of poverty where millions lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slums. The population grew at phenomenal rate and much of this growth was the result of people migrating to London looking for work. One of the most famous events to happen in London was the Great Exhibition which displayed Britain at the height of its imperial dominance. London became a magnet for immigrants from the poorer parts of Europe and it also had a sizable Jewish community. Living conditions in the 19th century were often dreadful as they were dirty, unsanitary and they were not cleaned. Rubbish was not collected and it was allowed to accumulate in piles in the streets. Since most of it was organic, when it turned black and sticky it was used as fertilizer. London at this time was also involved in the industrial revolution. Steam engines and light bulbs were being invented and the first underground railway was built with steam locomotives pulling the carriages. The first electric underground trains began running in London in 1980. From 1829 horse drawn omnibuses began running in London.


137 “ugly, crooked, narrow and dirty”. Dickens is using Pips attitude toward London as symbolism. In this case, London is the setting for Pips great expectations but immediately we find it rather ugly, unnatural and suffocating which indicates how those great expectations may be played out. Ironically, Jaggar’s office is located in a place called ‘little Britain’ and it contains all the ideas of death: a chair that looks like a coffin. This is Pips future.


Chapter 20 “Where people were publicly whipped”. Dickens is showing the reader a close link between crime, money and survival as Pip is given a tour of the yard where criminals are publically tortured or executed often for issues of money and debt.


Pg. 145 repetition of “most dismal”. Dickens is showing that London isn’t what it’s made out to be and Pips great expectations won’t be what he was expecting.