This classic tale tells of an orphan, Pip, who through a series of strange circumstances first finds a trade as a blacksmith's apprentice and then learns that he has "great expectations" of a future inheritance from an anonymous benefactor. He soon learns to live the profligate life of a gentleman as he gradually sheds his associations with the gentle souls of his past, Joe (the blacksmith) and Biddy (a level-headed young lady). He throws his money at improving the prospects of his roommate and friend Herbert and his heart at an "ice princess" whose heart will never respond. But then an escaped convict from his distant past comes calling, and all Pip's hopes dissolve.
It is set among the marshes of Kent and in London in the early to mid-1800s. The novel contains some of Dickens most memorable scenes, including its opening, in a graveyard, when the young orphan Pip is accosted by the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch. Great Expectations is a graphic book, full of extreme imagery, poverty, prison ships ("the hulks"), barriers and chains, and fights to the death.
The novel received mixed reviews from critics upon its release. Thomas Carlyle spoke of "All that Pip's nonsense." Later, George Bernard Shaw praised the novel as "All of one piece and consistently truthfull."Dickens felt Great Expectations was his best work, calling it "a very fine idea," and was very sensitive to compliments from his friends: "Bulwer, who has been, as I think you know, extraordinarily taken by the book."