« On Campus | Main | Listening to a Book »



It's interesting to me that you see beauty as the hook which continues to snare poor Pip. I don't disagree, but I think that may be a slightly narrow view?

It's been a long time since I read the novel, so I may well be wrong, but it was my impression that Dickens was painting a broader picture of human flaws, not just those of men.

I see a parallel between Pip & Estella's "relationship" and that of a psychologically abused wife who continually returns to her husband despite his cruelty. Why do so many people fixate on bad relationships, seemingly unable to let them go despite knowing in their heads that the relationship is bad for them?

Women and men seem to be equally vulnerable to this condition. I thought it was somewhat avant garde of Dickens to portray a man in the position of "the abused."

Literary Lover

I adore Great Expectations and consider it one of the most powerful and perceptive novels of in English literary history. So...I have to comment.

I very much disagree with your concept of Estella and beauty. Estella is an exceptional girl, and grows into an exceptional woman. I don't believe Pip fell for her exclusively for her beauty. She was mysterious and intriguing. She was confident and proud and graceful and, yes, intelligent. We may not get many glimpses of her academic intelligence, but we certainly can gleen that becuase she and Ms. Havisham "successfully" carried through a decades-long strategy to destroy men, they both must be fairly shrewd. No cutesy airhead could manage that.

And Pip's love for Estella is driven not simply by immature infatuation. Pip grew up poor. Estella, for him, represented something out of his grasp. Remember, Dickens is famous for showing the disparity between classes. Estella had fancy words, fancy clothes, and, as the title tells it, great expectations -- just because she was born that way. Estella embodied something Pip didn't believe he could have. The very fact that he could touch, talk to, and receive attention from a woman significantly above his class was enough to enchant him. Pip wanted what Estella had -- so he wanted Estella.

I don't consider Pip's lifelong pursuit of Estella as pathetic or puerile; I see it as a metaphor for something he really wanted -- stature and respect. Misguided though he was, he saw straight through Estella's beauty and directly into Estella's persona. Her acceptance would have meant for Pip the acceptance of him into high society. He would have gained their approval.

These characters are much more complex than you perceived them as. With regard to Estella as a caricature, I have to disagree as well. There are some basic, archetypal aspects of her, which Dickens used to evoke certain emotions toward her from his readers. (It works!) But, her patina of beauty and class is slowly tarnished over the course of the book. She is revealed to be an unwilling pawn in Ms. Havisham's game of smarts and strategy. This isn't simply a case of being born with a silver spoon stuck in her pretty throat; she was systematically trained to be haughty and cruel. She was taught to be nice only when she could further her own position by being so. My heart goes out to Estella more so than to any other character.

People read and understand novels differently. They see clearly the parts of characters that most affect their own lives, or with whom they can identify most. I think the fact that you don't like Estella may mean you don't like what she represents. I would venture a guess that you don't feel like you fit in with people you perceive as beautiful and charming, but somehow have always wished that you could. You said yourself you don't consider yourself "beautiful." Estella was raised to believe herself to be beautiful, so even if she was born with a crooked nose and buck teeth, she would have carried herself in such a way that people became attracted to her. I believe if you were praised continuoulsy for your appearance your entire life, you would call yourself beautiful as well. Clearly you were praised more so for your brain -- which is arguably better for a child -- so you consider yourself smart above all else. If you were told how pretty you were instead of how bright and clever you were, you may have ended up spending so much time entertaining suitors you wouldn't have made it to Yale. I guess the key is to praise all aspects of a person, but parents do the best they can...

One lesson to learn from Great Expectations, and from Estella: One's perception of one's self becomes other people's perceptions of you as well.


Thanks for the long comment, LL. I agree, there is more nuance there than my post indicated. And I agree, Pip's enthrallment with Estella's icy beauty was also about her unattainability, and class was a major factor in that.

But Pip is pretty perceptive about social climbers and despises Pumblechook above all else, and he's fairly candid with his own self-criticism and hypocrisy (e.g. his willingness to abandon Joe). But there is something very disturbing about his fascination with Estella, notwithstanding his own awareness of her cruelty and coldness.

I agree that my analysis in the post above lacks subtlety, but so does yours, I think. Even if we agree that Estella was intelligent, she was ALWAYS mean. Sometimes actively cruel, and other times just indifferently cold. But never warm. And Pip's yearning for her didn't dissipate when he learned of her truly low roots, so I don't think class alone can explain the dedication he had to her. But we get hammered over the head with the beauty piece, and I don't think we can ignore it.

Over the course of the book Pip learns to respond to people's inner character more than their trappings or class: he is revulsed by Magwich but comes to feel true warmth and loyalty to him; he recognizes Joe's goodness and worth beyond his station; he is truly selfless in the way he promotes Herbert's success; he forgives Miss Havisham, and indeed asks for nothing for himself when he is in a position to need serious financial support; he forges authentic relationships with both Wemmick and Jaggers. All of these are based not on class but on the substance and authenticity of the friendship between the two.

And yet Estella's coldness and cruelty are recognized throughout the book but don't bother Pip, or rather, they bother him greatly but don't affect his desire for her.

Writing all this (I could go on and on) I am again impressed with this book. It is rich and deep. You're right to criticize that my interpretation came off as clumsy and flat -- obviously there is so much more going on -- Pip and Estella as foils for one another, and pawns whose moral choices can be compared and contrasted. Still, I think Dickens means for us to look at the mesmerizing power of beauty, and gives us Estella to represent that.


I tend to be the person that people tell their problems too, so I've noticed that being Estella isn't a picnic either. The book ends after they finally get together. But if this were real life, Pip's obsession with perfection would just destroy the whole thing. If the book went on four pages longer, he probably would have dumped her already. I haven't read the book in a long time. But in real life, that kind of relationship ends pretty quickly. With the girl feeling more alone than ever. And the guy on to the next unattainable dream.


Just to add to what I said earlier - the kind of guys who go for an Estella are not available to the girls who are just cute, or to anyone. Their own insecurities have already taken them off the market. So it's not like the Estellas of the world are actually reducing the pool of men available for a real relationship - even if it seems like it.

Literary Lover

I want to quickly point out that there are two endings to Great Expectations. The first one was published when his novel was serialized in the newspaper. However, there was such public uproar over his ending, that when he pubished the novel in book form, he changed it. I expect you read the second ending. Try the first. It's certainly my favorite.


LL -- where do we find the other ending??

Literary Lover

I did a little online digging to try to find the endings, and I can only find commentary, not actual text (though, I'm sure it's out there somewhere). You can buy copies of the book that contain both endings, however. I suggest a quick run into a Borders to sit down with a cup of coffee and a copy of an edition with both versions. It's only a few pages, but it's a dramatic difference. Dickens admittedly wrote the revision simply to please his audience; the critics have long argued the merits of each. I hope we get another post after you get a chance to read both versions.


I thought dis book kinda sucked. It lost my attention so many times i feel asleep reading it. Dang i couldn't wait until we got done. i suggest dat u shouldn't read da book @ all. dats all

Gena M.

I actually think the book more criticizes the gentry and tells us it isn't all about being beautiful and rich. It tells us that the most important thing is to be a true gentleman or woman; meaning we should be kind-hearted, loving, and helpful. We should be more like Joe, Herbert, and Biddy. Great Expectations puts as a theme that class doesn't matter and that it is our personality that counts.

The comments to this entry are closed.