Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens
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Who really teaches at the educational institution run by Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt in Great Expectations?

Biddy is the one who really teaches a little bit at the educational institution run by Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt in Great Expectations.

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Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt is too old and infirm to actually teach at the small, low-priced school she runs for an hour every evening. As Pip describes it, the children enter in a disorderly way, eating apples and putting straws down other students' backs, until the great-aunt comes at them with a birch rod to try to strike them. This doesn't work, but eventually, the students form a line and pass a worn-out schoolbook from hand to hand. At this juncture, the great-aunt falls asleep, or as Pip puts it, falls into a "coma."

The students then start to go wild and stomp on each other's toes until Biddy takes over. Biddy is the only one who does any actual, if very minimal, teaching. She hands out three moldering Bibles, and the students read along with her until the great-aunt wakes up and school is over.

Pip, who really does want to learn, asks Biddy to help him and learns the very little bit she has to teach him. Pip also learns a bit on the occasions that Mr. Wopsle appears and recites Mark Antony's oration over the dead Caesar from Julius Caesar and a work by Collins. Through this comic description of rural education, Dickens critiques the haphazard way English village schooling is handled.

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