Critical Insights: Great Expectations

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Edited by Eugene Goodheart

In-depth critical discussions of his life and works - Plus complimentary, unlimited online access to the full content of this great literary reference.

Editor: Eugene Goodheart,
    Professor Emeritus of Brandeis University
September 2009 · 1 volume · 320 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-614-9
# of Pages: 320
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-615-6
eBook Single User Price: $105

In-depth critical discussions of Charles Dickens' novel - Plus complimentary, unlimited online access to the full content of this great literary reference.

Great Expectations, one of Dickens's finest novels in terms of writing and construction, tells the story of young Pip as he grows up from being a poor and abused orphan to being a man of means. Pip's struggles with class consciousness, wealth, and education have provided critics with ample material for discussion and consideration. Great Expectations remains one of Dickens's most read novels and continues to generate interest among literary critics.

Edited by Eugene Goodheart, Edytha Macy Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Brandeis University, this volume of critical approaches brings together a lively and diverse selection of essays. Of primary concern to a number of the essays reprinted in this volume is the moral character of the protagonist, Pip. Essays by Samuel Sipe and Elizabeth MacAndrew argue that Pip achieves a sort of moral autonomy as the novel progresses while critics like Peter Brooks and Eiichi Hara view Pip as a victim-of both his own demons and the plotting of others. Scholar John Cunningham examines the Christian imagery and rituals present in the novel, while Calum Kerr employs a mythic-structural approach in viewing Pip's progress as a character. In the volume's concluding essay, the topic of Dickens's treatment of gender and class is taken up by Peter Scheckner.

Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index

From "About This Volume"
Here is a collection of lively and diverse essays—prefaced by commentaries on context, the novelist’s life and the critical reception—on plot symbolism, class, gender, and sexuality in Dickens’s great and perhaps most popular novel, Great Expectations (1860-1861).

In focusing on the workings of plot, Eiichi Hara, Peter Brooks, Samuel Sipe, and Elizabeth MacAndrew address themselves to the question of the moral character of Pip, the protagonist, as it emerges in his narrative of events. Sipe and MacAndrew share the view that Pip achieves moral autonomy and peace at the end; in contrast, Brooks and Hara see him as the incorrigible and hapless victim of the plotting of others (Magwitch, Miss Havisham, and Estella) and of the irrational demons of his own character. (For Brooks, it should be noted, Great Expectations is an opportunity for a sophisticated psychoanalytic interpretation.) Caroline Levine reads Great Expectations as a detective story, in which the suspense and doubt generated by the plot serve the pursuit of truth and reality. Calum Kerr employs a mythic-structural approach, based on Joseph Campbell’s narrative model of the hero’s journey, in tracing Pip’s progress in the novel. These different, vigorously and incisively argued, readings of plot should provide students with an opportunity to take sides or formulate their own views.

MacAndrew and John Cunningham demonstrate the richly symbolic structure of the novel. MacAndrew addresses the ways in which “abstract views of social institutions [e.g., church and prison] and spiritual states [e.g., weather] are symbolized.” Cunningham has a keen eye for Christian imagery and shows how in the early episodes, rituals such as baptism are perverted in the service of death, only to be restored at the end to their true life-giving Christian significance. In a tour de force, William A. Cohen, in perhaps the most controversial essay in the collection, finds a sexual subtext, a theme of pervasive masturbation. It remains for the reader who is persuaded by the argument to connect the theme with the more open themes of the novel, such as Pip’s social ambition or his love of Estella. In the concluding essay, Peter Scheckner provides a lively account of Dickens’s treatment of gender and class in which the novelist reveals himself at different times as liberal, conservative, and radical. Scheckner comprehends the contradictoriness of Dickens’s politics, whereas most critics, whom he cites, tend to fix Dickens in one or another political position.

The hope is that students will be stimulated by this cornucopia of approaches to make their own individual readings of the novel.