Places: Great Expectations

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1860-1861

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*River Thames

*River Great ExpectationsThames (tehmz). River in southern England that runs through London to the North Sea. Several places that figure in the novel stand along the river. Some eight miles to the west of London lies Richmond, on the river’s south bank, a stylish town in Surrey. After her “finishing school,” Estella comes to live here in Mrs. Brandley’s house on Richmond Green, to be introduced into fashionable London society, to continue to break men’s hearts. It is thus an extension of Satis House as a locus for Miss Havisham’s revenge.

*Hammersmith

*Hammersmith. Town on the northern bank of the Thames, west of London. There the Pockets have a small riverside house, in which Pip is tutored together with Bentley Drummle and Startopp.

*The Temple

*The Temple. Central London district in which Pip and Herbert take rooms overlooking the river. Although this place symbolizes the pretentiousness of Pip’s life of expectations, it also marks the point where he enables Magwitch to escape, thereby bringing his false expectations to an end.

*Chinks Basin

*Chinks Basin. District in London, downriver from the Temple, in the dock area below London Bridge, where Magwitch is secreted at the home of the father of Clara, Herbert’s girlfriend, at Mill Pond Bank.

*Marshes

*Marshes. Region along the lower reaches of the River Thames in which Pip grows up. The region is featured ambiguously as a place of childhood innocence and adult menace. Here Pip’s life is threatened by Magwitch and then Orlick; however, it is also where the warmth of Joe Gargery’s forge lies. Dickens seems to collapse notions of innocence, safety, and corruption at the same time he extends motifs of imprisonment and entrapment in the symbolic Hulks, dismasted naval ships used as floating prisons near the marshes. Ironically, the Thames reaches from the pretensions of Estella Havisham in the west to the sordid reality of her paternal origin in the east. The novel refocuses these two places by seeing the river’s flow, not as time, but as inevitable moral process. Estella and Pip’s frequent coach journeys from one end of this space to the other are like the shuttle of a web, broken only by the last thwarted journey downriver of Magwitch, where full revelation of the moral failures of the past is made.

Satis House

Satis House. Decaying mansion home of Miss Havisham, standing along the edge of an unnamed town next to the marshes. Within its grounds once stood a brewery, which was the source of Miss Havisham’s inherited wealth. While satis is the Latin word for “enough,” within this novel the name represents the opposite: unfulfilled desire and expectation. Within the Satis House, Estella is raised to use her charms to entrap men. In the end, everyone in the house is entrapped, and Miss Havisham is burned to death purgatorially. Finally, the contents are auctioned off and the house sold as scrap, again symbolically signifying the end of all the unreal expectations of Pip and Estella.

*London

*London. Great Britain’s capital city, a different version of which Dickens presents in each of his novels. In Great Expectations, the reality of London is particularly symbolized by Newgate Prison, a notorious institution in which violent prisoners were kept along with those awaiting execution. Dickens made a close study of prison conditions, perhaps because of his own parents’ imprisonment for debt. Here, the nearness of Jaggers’s chambers in Little Britain to the prison symbolizes how near criminality is to the sinister order of the law as practiced by so-called respectable practitioners such as Jaggers.

Jaggers himself lives in Soho, a mile to the west of Newgate; his clerk, Wemmick, lives in Walworth. In the early nineteenth century this was a disorganized northern suburb of London. His small wooden house is built like a miniature castle, with a moat and drawbridge round it, symbolizing his attempts to cut himself off from the sordid legal activities he is engaged in. His aging father lives with him, and they celebrate Sunday, their day off, by raising the Union Jack on a flagstaff.

Another site of pretentiousness is Pip’s own dining club, the Finches of the Grove, which meets at Covent Garden, an area of central London famous for its great flower and vegetable market, as well as London’s main opera house. Thus, low-life and fashionable society share the same space, though pretending not to, just as Jaggers’s office is situated near Smithfield, the London meat market.

*Barnard’s Inn

*Barnard’s Inn. Apartment block to which Pip is assigned when he first comes to London to live up to his expectations of a fortune, and which he shares with his friend Herbert Pocket. Confusingly, the term inn in London has a legal significance, often being the place where a group of lawyers may have or may have had their offices (or chambers). Barnard’s Inn, though not presently being used by lawyers, does lie in the legal district round Holborn Hill. Pip’s first impression of it is its dinginess, rottenness, and dilapidation, again symbolizing the quality of life he is destined to live there. Later on, he and Herbert move to the Temple, another inn.

BibliographyHornback, Bert G. “Great Expectations”: A Novel of Friendship. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Helpful introduction to the novel’s historical context, guilt theme, point of view, and symbols and images. Includes chapters on Pip and Magwitch that focus on Pip’s moral education. Argues that the novel’s significance lies in its thesis that evil in society can be fought only by confronting it in the self. Includes an annotated bibliography.Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph. 2 vols. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952. A standard biography that includes a chapter on Great Expectations, which provides a succinct discussion of characters and of Dickens’ opinion that money and materialism are corrupting forces. Pip’s fortunes are related to key events in Dickens’ own life.Miller, J. Hillis. Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958. Includes an essay that explores the themes of identity and self-discovery in Great Expectations and traces Pip’s development from childhood isolation and alienation to moral descent and eventual transformation through love.Sadrin, Anny. “Great Expectations.” Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988. A comprehensive handbook with good chapters on the composition, historical background, setting, and biographical elements in the story. Presents a psychological interpretation of characters that mainly conforms to standard views while drawing on some critical perspectives and language. Includes an extensive bibliography.Van Ghent, Dorothy. “On Great Expectations.” In The English Novel: Form and Function. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1953. A groundbreaking essay that studies the themes of guilt and atonement in the context of a dehumanizing society.
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