Dickens' 13th novel has remained pre-eminent among readers for good reasons. "Great Expectations" (published originally as a weekly serial from 1860 to 1861) has an attractive yet flawed first-person narrator. The plot moves forward with compelling momentum, fueled by mystery, romance, and reversals, and graced with an artistry many consider Dickens' most nearly perfect literary achievement. This new reference companion sets out to recover and illuminate the Victorian culture and allusive verbal worlds that inform the novel. How distinctive are the story's temporal and topographical settings? How carefully has Dickens integrated Pip's life story with the embedded histories of a mad, jilted spinster, a beautiful orphan girl, an unscrupulous con man, a fierce yet tender convict and a brilliant criminal lawyer? What relevance does the "then" of Pip's childhood and the "now" when he relates the story of his evolution into a gentlemen have to the revised, controversial ending Dickens adopted on the advice of a fellow novelist?
David Paroissien draws on a range of 19th-century sources to illuminate the late Georgian and mid-Victorian contexts of Dickens' novel: the brutal punishments that characterized Hanoverian England's legal system; the transportation of felons and their rough lives in Australia's first penal colony; the social mobility a public school education conferred on a swindler and forger; the struggle to gain the desired status of gentleman among brewers, bakers, and a raw young blacksmith; and the changing face of early 19th century London, with its Inns of Chancery and Inns of Court, the vibrant life on the Thames; and the river's lower, deserted reaches, bound by mists, marshes, and tidal flats, which serve as background for the novel's brilliantly menacing opening. The volume provides the most comprehensive annotation of "Great Expectations." The annotations identify allusions to current events and intellectual and religious issues, and supplies information on topography, social customs, costume, furniture, transportation, and so on. Identifications are provided for allusions to plays, poems, songs, the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and other literary sources. Elements of Dickens' plots, characterization, and style which are influenced by the works of other writers are also identified. This is indicated when an aspect of the text can be shown to have been influenced by Dickens' own experience. The work of Dickens' illustrators is also discussed. Finally, although the volume does not attempt the work of a modern scholarly edition, material from Dickens' manuscripts and proofs is included when it is of major significance. An indispensable reference tool for all scholars and students of Dickens' pre-eminent novel.