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Great Expectations & The Victorian Era

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Peter Eliot

on 16 April 2015

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Transcript of Great Expectations & The Victorian Era

Women for suffrage – did not succeed until 1918
(only for women 30 & over)
1928: extended vote to women at age 21
Factory Acts – limited child & women labor
Literacy rate increased from 40% to 90% from 1840-1900
Paradox of progress:
"Victorian" became a synonym for prude; extreme repression; even furniture legs had to be concealed under heavy cloth not to be “suggestive”


Motifs & Symbols
Ambition and Self-Improvement
The Victorian Era,
Charles Dickens
, &
Great Expectations

The Victorian Era:
Queen Victoria took throne in 1837 (at 18)
Long reign, died in 1901 (at 82)
England became wealthiest nation
British Empire expansion
“The sun never sets on England.”
Queen-empress over 200 million people living outside Great Britain
There was a transition away from the Realism
of the period before into romanticism and mysticism associated with religion, social values, and art.
Industrial Revolution
Created new towns, goods, wealth, jobs for people climbing through middle class
First Reform Bill in 1832 extended vote to all men who owned property worth 10 lbs (in currency, not their weight)
Second Reform Act in 1867 gave the right to vote to working-class men (except agricultural workers)
"Ooooh la la."
Intellectual Progress:
Darwin's Theory of Evolution changes our
understanding of the earth, its creatures & natural laws
Industrialization of England depended on
and supported science and technology.
Trust in transcendental power gave way to uncertainty & spiritual doubt.
Late Victorian writers turned to a pessimistic exploration of the human struggle against indifferent natural forces.
"I'm so curmudgeonly that my head has ballooned to three times its natural size."
***Victorian writing reflects the dangers and benefits of
rapid industrialization, while encouraging readers
to examine closely their own understanding of the era’s progress.***
walk into a restaurant. They said, "Ouch."
Charles Dickens
February 7, 1812 – June 9, 1870
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire to John Dickens, a naval pay clerk, and his wife Elizabeth Dickens.
When he was five, the family moved to Chatham, Kent.
His early years were an idyllic time. He thought himself then as a "very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy".
His family was moderately well-off, and he received some education at a private school but all that changed when his father, after spending too much money entertaining and retaining his social position, was imprisoned for debt.
At the age of twelve, Dickens was deemed old enough to work and began working for ten hours a day in Warren's boot-blacking factory, located near the present Charing Cross railway station.
He spent his time pasting labels on the jars of thick polish and earned six shillings a week. With this money, he had to pay for his lodging and help to support his family, which was incarcerated in the nearby Marshalsea debtors' prison.
Dickens wrote and published Great Expectations in 1860-1861, and though the novel looks back to an earlier time (1812-1840), the period of composition itself is noteworthy.

He published the novel in segments in a newspaper which is why there are so many cliffhangers at the end of chapters. It also accounts for our reading schedule.
What is more important:
Affection, loyalty, and conscience or social advancement, wealth, and class?
Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens explores the class system of Victorian England, ranging from the most wretched criminals to the poor peasants of the marsh country (Joe and Biddy) to the middle class (Pumblechook) to the very rich (Miss Havisham).
Just as social class becomes a superficial standard of value that Pip must learn to look beyond in finding a better way to live his life, the external trappings of the criminal justice system (police, courts, jails, etc.) become a superficial standard of morality that Pip must learn to look beyond to trust his inner conscience.
Social Class
Crime, Guilt, and Innocence
The marshes
Satis House
The Forge
Full transcript