First, the context of the book.
Can you remember what ‘context’ means?
Simply, it is all the things in the life of the writer, his (or her) experiences, what is happening in the world at the time they wrote something, and even sometimes, how those things affected the writer.
Did you look at the short presentation about Charles Dickens? It’s here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=10hX3iU0XnBYAWRdSC87A2gTNx3Bra42n
What other books do you know by Dickens? Look at pictures 1, 2 and 3. They are: Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol.
In the video, you can see a bit about the times of Charles Dickens. All those things are just called the ‘context’. They change for every writer, because no two people live the same lives.
A lot of what Charles Dickens wrote was based on his own experiences, or he put his experiences in the lives of his written characters.
This is what has made Dickens one of the best loved and most popular English writers ever!
The trouble is, that to get his message across, he had to use vocabulary which is very precise, and his words often have very focussed meanings.
That’s great for a writer to do, and super if you happen to live at the same time, and know what the words mean. But often we don’t, so we can either use the internet or a dictionary to find out very detailed meanings.
It’s true that Dickens using words which we do not usually use any more makes reading his stories a bit hard, but once you get used to the word he used, often you can guess at the meanings of difficult words.
Like akimbo (Picture 4) - having the hand on the hip and the elbow turned outwards.
Back to ‘Great Expectations’.
It is one of the longer books of Charles Dickens. That puts lots of people off, and they think - why was it so popular when it was published?
The answer is, that when Dickens wrote it, it was not one single book. Dickens wrote for a newspaper, and magazine, and parts of the story were published (printed) each week. People could read a new part of the story each week, and this is how many of Dickens’ stories were published.
One of his most famous is ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ and people were actually queuing up to buy the magazines each week because they were so excited to know what happened next!.
Just like series on TV today, we can watch episodes each week. We can also watch whole series but that takes away some of the excitement of waiting for what happens next.
The story of ‘Great Expectations’.
The main character is nicknamed Pip.
‘Pip’ is really called Phillip Pirrip.
Pip lived on the east coast England quite a way from London (picture 5). In those days it was a long journey to London by horse and carriage and in a place which was very bleak and marshy (picture 6).
Pip lived a nice enough life; it was at the time when people believed strongly in the power of God and spirits, and at the beginning he is in a graveyard.
He is actually visiting the graves of his mum and dad. Which is quite sad, but an important part of the story.
Mrs Joe is doing her best, but Pip isn’t her child and in those days it cost money to feed and clothe a child. So she wasn’t so very happy, although, it was just her way to be a bit gruff and strict. Even with her husband.
Joe was a blacksmith, a hard job, making things from metal, a difficult, hot job and very dirty. Pip didn’t much like the idea of becoming a Smith, but in those days you sort of did what you were told. Pip accepted that he would be a Smith, and that was that.
Now, while Pip is in the graveyard, he is suddenly grabbed by a dark, scary, big man. People think that graveyards are scary like picture 7.
But really, a graveyard is a place where God is, so people shouldn’t be scared.
Anyway, as Pip was just ‘talking’ to his parents, or at least thinking about them, he was grabbed (picture 8). Which would be very scary when you’re a little one and an ugly great man gets hold of you.
We might call the most important event in the story - and it’s right at the beginning.
Let’s think for a moment about the title of the book - ‘Great Expectations’.
What does great mean?
Something which is fantastic, brilliant or really good. Well, that’s the meaning these days but in those days it also meant something good and fortuitous.
'Fortuitous’ is related to fortune.
What about ‘expectations’?
An ‘expectation’ is something in our mind which makes us think that something good will be given to us at some time. Usually money.
So we can work out that ‘Great Expectations’ means that someone is expecting good things - probably a lot of money - in the future.
As Pip is the main character, he’s the one with ‘Great Expectations’. But not quite yet in the story. The man who grabs him and scares him is in fact an escaped prisoner.
Surely no good could come from an escaped prisoner? He forces Pip to get him food (vittles) and a tool (a file) so he can eat, and take of the chains on his legs. Pip does this because he is really scared that the prisoner will come and get him! The prisoner even says he has a friend who will look out for Pip and he will get him even if the big ugly man can’t.
So Pip helps him. But by then, the army is out looking for escaped prisoners, and they see and chase, then capture the prisoner.
Is Pip’s nightmare over? So far, yes. Life goes on as before, and Mrs Joe is just as angry as ever, and Joe works hard and encourages Pip to learn the trade of a Blacksmith.
And Pip learns well. It’s a job which is hard work and makes you have good muscles, too, and Pip grew well, into quite a strong young man.
One day, though, a strange request comes to Pip.
In the village there is a large house, called ‘Satis’ House’ (picture 9).
What does ‘satis’ mean?
The word satisfied means ‘enough’ or of course ‘I am pleased with what I have’.
Someone who lives in that house must ‘have enough’. They must have enough money and their lives must be good.
But no. There’s a strange old woman who lives in that house, who people do not see, and they only see her daughter, Estella.
Do you know why no one outside sees the scary old lady?
Her name is Miss Havisham (picture 10), and no one sees her because she has shut herself off from normal life.
Do you know why she has shut herself off?
In the book and the film, we don’t really find out for quite a while. So, for now, if you don’t know, I won’t spoil it.
The strange request which Pip receives is to go and ‘play’ at Miss Havisham’s house. A very strange thing because even Estella is a few years older than Pip, so who should he play with?
Everyone in the village knows Miss Havisham is both rich and odd, but Pip is made to go anyway, by Mrs Joe and an odd man called ‘Mr Pumblechook’ - who is a family friend, and thinks he, himself, is an important man.
Off Pip goes, and when they get there, Pip is allowed in, and Mr Pumblechook is not allowed. Mr Pumblechook doesn’t like that at all.
In Pip goes, and meets the very proud - but very pretty - Estella.
This is another really important part of the story. For the first time in his life, Pip meets people who are rich and have manners which are very much different than his own.
Every set of people in society have different ways of doing things and behaving towards each other - and these are called ‘manners’. No one is better than anyone else, manners are just different in each group of people.
While Pip is playing cards with Estella, he calls this card a ‘Jack’ (picture 10).
The correct name for that card is a ‘knave’. Estella make fun of Pip for not knowing that. And she pokes fun at his clothes and the way he acts.
The important thing is that Pip is behaving the best he can - but still Estella is horrible to him.
We do find out why, but I won’t tell you yet. In this first meeting of Pip, Miss Havisham and Estella, Miss Havisham is not so very important.
Once Pip leaves the company of Miss Havisham, he goes out into the gardens and meets a young man (picture 12) who seems to actually want to fight.
The very quick fight is over soon and Pip goes home, told to visit again in about 7 days.
The visit, though - and this is why meeting Estella and Miss Havisham is important - has made Pip start to change the way he thinks. He is no longer happy with being a trainee blacksmith - no longer happy with his dirty hands, no longer happy living in the forge. That’s quite a terrible thing to happen to someone.