The novel is a deliberately loose adaptation of Dickens's Great Expectations (serialized 1860-1861), and in order to appreciate fully the subtleties of Carey's revision at least some knowledge of the plot of Great Expectations is desirable, although of course, there is no substitute for the text itself.
In brief, and focusing only upon the elements of the story which resurface in Carey's reinterpretation, Great Expectations is the story of Philip Pirrip, or Pip, an orphan who is raised by his ferocious older sister and her weaker husband, the blacksmith Joe Gargery. One Christmas, when he is a child, Pip aids an escaped convict, Abel Magwitch, by stealing food for him. Magwitch is subsequently re-captured and banished to Australia for the term of his natural life. Thus, having made the briefest of appearances, Magwitch vanishes from the narrative for several years. In the meantime Pip is taken to meet Miss Havisham, a wealthy old woman who was deserted by her lover the night before her wedding was due to take place. Miss Havisham has remained dressed in her bridal attire ever since and has cloistered herself in her house with her ward, Estella, whom she has reared to use her beauty and wiles to hurt and punish men as a form of revenge for her own abandonment. Pip falls in love with Estella and wishes to become a gentleman so that he may be in a social position to marry her. When an anonymous benefactor intervenes by bestowing money...
(The entire section is 1767 words.)
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