Great Expectations

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster


“For a mind diseased with vain longings after unattainable advantages,” says Doctor Johnson, “no medicine can be prescribed but an impartial enquiry into the real worth of that which is so ardently desired.”1Great Expectations is the narrative of such a search, taking a single consciousness through a series of personal relationships, each of which contributes to its education. Although the book was welcomed as a belated resurgence of Dickens’s comic spirit, the simple and cheerful confidence of his earliest novels had long vanished, and he had turned to a series of explorations of twisted and thwarted love in a world figured forth as increasingly labyrinthine: in Bleak House a world wrapped in fog and cotton wool, in Hard Times a world of muddle mocked by the cold serenity of the stars, in Little Dorrit a world of prison within prison, a world of inversion and negation, of frustrated dreams and chastened hope. The comic flashes are surrounded by darkness, despair is relieved by rare and hard-learned charity. In Great Expectations these themes and images recur, but with an economy, forthrightness, and ironic humour that make it Dickens’s masterpiece. Its irony keeps returning Pip from a world of vain longings to a world of hard experience, contrasting expectation against realisation, forcing the “impartial enquiry into the real worth of that which is so ardently desired”.


Fairy Tale Great Expectation Aboriginal Evil Hard Experience Violent Conviction 
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  1. 3.
    See Julian Moynahan, “The Hero’s Guilt: The Case of Great Expectations”, Essays in Criticism, 10 (1960) 60–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 4.
    Sigmund Freud, The Complete Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, translated and edited by James Strachey (New York, 1966) p. 337.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    G. K. Chesterton, Criticisms and Appreciations of the Works of Charles Dickens (London, 1911 ) p. 197.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    See Philip Collins, Dickens and Crime (London, 1962) p. 91–2.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Albert Camus, The Plague, translated by Stuart Gilbert, Penguin edition (Harmondsworth, 1960) p. 204.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Harry Stone in “Fire, Hand and Gate: Dickens’ Great Expectations”, Kenyon Review, 24 (1962) 662–91, comments on fairy-tale elements.Google Scholar

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© Juliet and Rowland McMaster 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster

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