Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Chapters 42 and 43 Summary

Chapter 42

Most of the chapter consists of Magwitch’s narrative, as spoken to Pip and Herbert. First, he neatly sums up his life. His memories of his childhood are hazy and do not include any parents or family, instead beginning with being abandoned by a tinker. As a “ragged little creetur,” he seemed to inspire fear in others. He alternated between stealing and committing worse crimes to survive and working, always for a pittance, when possible. He spent time in and out of jail. In jail, he heard lectures about the devil, and the wardens considered him a lost cause.

More than twenty years earlier, he had met Compeyson—the man whom Pip later saw him fighting in the marshes. At this first meeting, Magwitch was down and out, but the other man was elegantly dressed. He took Magwitch on as his “pardner” to help with elaborate swindles that involved documents and forgery. Compeyson already had one accomplice, Arthur. Their previous swindles included one they had worked on a rich woman years earlier; it proved lucrative, but Compeyson gambled the money away. Arthur, whose deteriorating mental health included hallucinations of a woman with a shroud, lived with Compeyson. He died shrieking in fear of her.

Eventually their crimes caught up with them, and both Compeyson and Magwitch received a felony conviction. The apparently well-bred Compeyson received the lighter sentence of seven years, while Magwitch was sentenced to fourteen years. Thinking of this time upsets Magwitch, but he composes himself and goes on. When the two men escaped from a prison ship, Magwitch found him in the marshes and attacked him. They were recaptured, and this time, Magwitch was sentenced to a life term. Compeyson escaped once more.

At this point Magwitch pauses, and Pip asks if Compeyson is dead. Magwitch hopes so but does not know. Herbert,...

(The entire section is 472 words.)