Study Guide

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations eText - eText

This eText contains embedded glossary terms and other notes added by our community of educators. Simply mouseover or tap on the yellow highlighted words within the text to see the annotations.
Turn Off

Notes

What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812. He came from a poor family and often went hungry; at the age of twelve, when the rest of his family was placed in debtors' prison, he was forced to take work in a bootblack factory. Upon his father's release, he returned to school, but left at the age of fifteen to begin a career as a newspaperman. Both the terrible experiences of his childhood and the close observation that he developed as a journalist contributed heavily to his writing.

When one of his first works, Observations by Boz, was serialized in a magazine, Dickens began to gain recognition as a writer of note; The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, which followed soon after, secured him a reputation as a literary genius. His personal life, however, was not happy. His marriage to Catherine Hogarth was troubled, and, though he and his wife had ten children, they separated in 1858. Charles Dickens died of a stroke in 1870.

Dickens' sharply drawn, often sympathetic characters bring his works to life, and his striking treatment of the Victorian underclass still resonates today. He has given us some of the English language's best-loved characters and stories: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Scrooge and Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, Dr. and Lucy Manette in A Tale of Two Cities, and of course, the unforgettable inhabitants of Great Expectations.