Oh, hello. You must be the reader. You’ve come all this way just to read this page. Please sit down. No, not there; a reader never sits there. I have a tale to tell you that will explain so much… or nothing at all. You will soon come to realize I don’t care.
Let me introduce you to Pip. Yes, that’s right, Pip. Oh, certainly, it’s a darling nickname for the young man we find on the moors, but alas, nicknames can become a bit of an albatross when one least expects it. Pip’s family is dead, poor boy; all except his intolerably cruel sister, Mrs. Joe. A ridiculous name? Oh, just wait. Mrs. Joe is married to a blacksmith (that would be Joe), a truly lovely man.
Fair warning: lovely people are rare in this area.
Pip is at his parents’ graves one day when he comes across an escaped inmate who means to do him terrible harm. The boy is released on the condition that he returns with a metal file and some food. If he does not return with the requested items, the whole family’s skulls will be cracked open, which would be unfortunate, what with it being Christmas Eve. After being smacked about by Mrs. Joe upon his arrival, Pip realizes the convict seems like Father Christmas, comparatively, and steals a little brandy and mince pie for him. That’s a good boy, Pip.
Pip returns to find not the original murderous escaped convict, but some other murderous escaped convict. Convict Two reaches out to Pip – with a large knife. Pip escapes and searches for Convict One; it’s only fair, after all, Convict One asked to crush his skull first. Pip finds him and hands over the items; Convict One gets emotional about the brandy and pie. Who isn’t moved by a nice belt and some meaty pastry? Pip inquires about Convict Two, which makes Convict One quite agitated and he races off when he hears cannon fire.
Well! You’re welcome!
Back at home, where Pip encounters insufferable Uncle Pumplechook and Mr. Wopsle (who is insignificant because he’s not wretched) Pip’s theft is nearly discovered; but conveniently the police crash through the door to enlist the menfolk in chasing escaped prisoners around hither and yon.
I hate it when people drop in unannounced, don’t you?
Joe, Pip and the police find Convict One trying to kill Convict Two in the marsh. They are both taken back to the prison ship from whence they escaped in the first muddled place, but not before Convict One takes the blame for the theft of the metal file and food so Pip doesn’t get…more of what Pip seems to get a lot of, which is a bunch of crap from the adults in his life.
Pip and Joe return home to finish dinner. This is Dickens, people. Mustn’t let things go to waste.
Uncle Pumplechook arranges to have Pip go play with Miss Havisham. Isn’t that nice – a young boy sent to play with an adult woman? That pesky Child Protective Services have impeded so many opportunities in our day and age.
Pip scrubs himself clean and reports to Satis House. Being clean, Pip is in direct contrast to everything else at Satis house, which has adopted a more “earthy” look…in that the earth is slowly reclaiming it, though not soon enough. Everything is covered in dusty cobwebs and any mold that chooses to grow is allowed to do so undisturbed. Miss Havisham, a mainstay at the Maniacal Spinsters quarterly meetings, drifts about in a ripped wedding dress trimmed with grime. I stopped wearing shoes the day I realized what it did for Miss Havisham’s complexion. You just can’t get that ghost-like pallor or a non-registering temperature with a pair of fuzzy socks on.
Estella is a beautiful girl who also resides at Satis House. Pip’s intrigued by her, mostly because she is not dust-covered, wilted or soiled in rot and he’s paired with her to practice playing cards, practice piano and practice etiquette. That’s odd; why would she need so much practice?
Miss Havisham’s birthday happens as does the annual ritual to celebrate it. Oh, I do so love a good party, don’t you? Miss Havisham’s relatives arrive and they are ushered into the dining room which has been designed by Walt Disney’s concept artists…the ones who designed Haunted Mansion.
Spread out before them is a wedding feast. The only hitch is that the feast has also been here since the dawn of time and has not held up nearly as well as Miss Havisham’s wedding dress.
Miss Havisham enjoys telling Pip about her big plans – like being laid in state on this very table where everyone will sit. Talk about a tablescape! How inventive, and why on earth hasn’t this custom caught on?
One of the relatives is a young Herbert Pocket who pokes Pip with a stick and Pip punches him out. Estella thinks Pip is awfully clever for punching a boy without any known pugilistic training and allows Pip to kiss her cheek. In Dickensian terms: scandalous!
Back at home, Pip is grilled by Mrs. Joe and Pumplechook, forcing Pip to make up fanciful stories of large dogs, veal cutlets and cake. He feels guilty about lying, once again, which is peculiar because all we have learned about Pip is that he lies… when he is not stealing. Well, at least he feels bad, doesn’t he? Pip confesses to Joe and Joe tells him perhaps he should stick to his class and take an honest path.
Pip has no idea what those words mean.
Pip spends most of his time fantasizing about Estella; the rest of his time, he is tutored by Biddy. Biddy is a well-meaning girl who is also… honest. I apologize, that word takes so much out of me. Biddy takes Pip into her heart and loves him in the purest, friendliest way possible which is beyond comprehension given that Pip is already thinking of a way to hide her from his new fancy friends.
Speaking of friends, why does that gentleman in the pub keep eyeing dear Pip? And where have I seen that metal file before?
Joe and Pip are called to Satis House. Miss Havisim floats into the room, accompanied by a waft of Eau deCay, and announces that she has elected to pay for Pip’s apprenticeship under Joe. Joe is thrilled, but then Joe would have been thrilled with a piece of petrified wedding cake. Pip, on the other hand, not so much.
Pip takes to his apprenticeship as a hairstylist does to lice. Orlick, Joe’s other apprentice, looks like Gollum and has the personality of a badger. Of course Joe likes him, but no one else is too fond of him, including Mrs. Joe. One particularly awful day, Pip is sent to Satis House where he learns that he was summoned solely to be told that Estella was sent away. Heartbroken, he learns that Joe had to trounce Orlick for insulting Mrs. Joe. Well that lifts Pip’s spirits some… until his return home to find Mrs. Joe lying bloodied on the floor.
There must be more escaped convicts about! Orlick, can I borrow your bloody hammer? I want to make sure this door is secure.
The story moves along at less than a snail’s pace until the day we have all been expecting arrives. Miss Havisham’s lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, instructs Pip that he has a patron and will be made into a gentleman. Pip does what any boy from humble beginnings and no means does, he becomes a snob and commences flaunting his status about town. He is cruelest to Joe and Biddy because they are lovely people and if Miss Havisham taught us anything, it is that butterflies should be speared through the heart.
Pip regrets treating Joe and Biddy poorly as he makes his way to London, and changes his last name to Hindsight.
London holds so many surprises! The first being that his companion is none other than the young Herbert Pocket he punched out at Satis House. The second is that London is smelly and dirty. Miss Havisham begins to look and smell like only a mildly rotting rose in comparison.
Herbert Pocket has become a decent person and wants nothing more than to be the best companion he can be to Pip. Jaggers advises Pip about not overspending – which Pip summarily ignores. Pip is tutored by the Pockets, who make as much sense as Joe’s devotion to Pip. Two other students tutor with him, Bentley Drummle and Startop.
That’s right. Pip, Drummle and Startop all tutor with the Pockets.
A law should be passed to name all children after Dickens’s characters.
Drummle engages in gentlemanly activities like whores, beating underlings and siphoning things off the less fortunate.
Finally, we learn Miss Havisham’s back-story. Miss Havisham and her step-brother were the only children of an extremely wealthy family. The step-brother was a terrible person, so he fits right in. Step-Brother plots to swindle Miss Havisham which leads to Miss Havisham having a mysterious new boyfriend. After getting Miss Havisham to spend exorbitant amounts of money on him, Boyfriend proposes – oh, how romantic! The wedding was arranged and on the morning of, as she was putting on her shoes, she received a note in which Boyfriend said he was not coming. Thus, the Wedding that Never Was motif… and the lack of shoes. Of course! Why else does one wander around barefoot in a wedding dress? Step-Brother dies and Boyfriend disappears. Estella was adopted to inherit Miss Havisham’s love and estate – only the love failed to make an appearance.
Joe comes to London and Pip is an entitled little twit to him until Joe mentions Estella has come back to Satis House. Miraculously, Pip decides he should apologize to Joe and maybe inquire about his sister, who is an expensive doorstop at this point. While home, maybe he will pop over to Satis House to say hello to Estella.
Such a good boy, Pip – careful and don’t trip over that ulterior motive.
The ravishing Estella moves to London and spends all her time with Pip. Somehow, he grew some small amount of humanity and buys poor, struggling Herbert into a partnership. What a good use of the money you have not yet received!
Surprise! Pip’s benefactor is not Miss Havisham at all but Abel Magwitch, the convict Pip gave the file to in the beginning of the story. Why does Abel want to give Pip all his money? Because Pip brought him mincemeat pie. Sure Abel threatened to crush his skull, but he didn’t have to bring pie. So Abel steals a bunch of money to give to Pip. Well that all seems in order. But Abel, being a convict, is too low for Pip to take money from.
Oh dear, this could produce a problem or two.
I expect Abel has his own story, and he does: Abel’s had a daughter and a wife. While Abel was away, his wife was attacked. She knifed her attacker in order to escape him. The attacker got a slap on the wrist and Abel went to prison for beating him up. The wife tells Abel that their daughter is dead and then the wife disappears – I am not really sure why. The attacker is Compeyson, or Convict Two as we know him, and is apparently still holding a grudge about the whole knifing, beating and subsequent attempted murder in the marsh.
Interesting to meet all these new characters this late in the story, don’t you think?
Pip decides to visit home; okay, his sister died and he thinks that’s as good excuse as any to go to Satis House. He admonishes Miss Havisham for letting him believe she was his benefactor and is rewarded by being told his true love Estella plans to marry Drummle. Then Estella admits that Pip was only ever practice for her.
Oh, that’s what she was practicing.
Obviously Pip wants to keep coming back. Who wants to be with Joe and Biddy when you can be buried in abuse in the House of Lunacy?
Returning to London, Pip finds Compeyson has fingered Abel, Herbert’s partnership cannot be purchased without actual money, and Orlick is there; Orlick – the angry young man with a penchant for hammers that Pip usurped at the forge but also got fired from Miss Havisham’s.
Things happen quickly from there.
No they don’t. But I will run through them quickly lest you be inclined to adopt Miss Havisham’s attraction to flame.
Abel makes a run for it and Pip goes with him (why?). Abel is caught only feet from freedom and Compeyson turns out to be Miss Havisham’s long lost boyfriend. It’s okay, though – Abel kills him. Pip somehow connects Jaggers’ housekeeper as Abel’s missing wife and Estella as his baby daughter. Miss Havisham invites Pip to Satis House and decides to roast something in his honor, which turns out to be herself.
Pip saves her and she finishes her life as an invalid; so nothing’s changed. After Miss Havisham finally dies, Estella vacates Satis House leaving nothing in its place but some bitter, cold memories. Orlick is finally arrested and Herbert takes off for Cairo with his betrothed. The crown takes all Abel/Pip’s, money and Pip is on his way to debtor’s prison when Joe arrives to pay off his debt.
For some reason, this makes Pip think he should marry Biddy (you know, the nice one). He returns home only to find Biddy has married Joe. Pip is disappointed since he was expecting to marry Biddy but thinks that maybe, just this once, he should think about someone else’s happiness. He probably burst something in the process. What else is there to do but go see where Satis House once stood – like a heroin addict looking for a hit? Satis House is gone but Estella, inexplicably, emerges from the mist and announces the awful Drummle has died (the horse didn’t mean it!).
Estella takes Pip’s hand for what we are to somehow call a happily-ever-after.
I give Great Expectations 64 plumes for having the world’s slowest first half only to pack 3,687 plot twists in the last 3 chapters. I was not expecting that.
Take-away – when in doubt, there’s nothing a rotting wedding gown and an open flame can’t cure. I’d propose a drinking game, but we’d all die of liver disease before we got halfway through the book.
*Special thanks to SparkNotes.com for literary assistance and L.C. Neal of fictionique.com for editing