When writing his novels, Dickens often draws on personal experiences. ‘Great Expectations’, one of his later novels, is a prime example of this observation. For example, Dickens was a lonely child and like in many of his other male protagonists, Pip is an orphan. Charles Dickens’ early life is comparable to Pip’s, but it is to some extent contradictive. Born on the 7th of February 1812, in Portsmouth, his family moved to Chatham, in Kent when he was five and relocated to Camden Town in London when he was ten.
These years seemed to be an idyllic time until his father was incarcerated at Marshalsea debtor’s prison. By the time he was twelve, Dickens was working ten hour days in a boot blacking factory, earning six shillings a week pasting labels on the jars of thick polish. By contrast, Pip’s early existence, was in poverty until he was introduced to prosperity as an early teenager.
Before he obtained his expectations, Pip had a desire for education; ‘I mentioned to Biddy that I had a particular reason for getting on in life… nd that I should feel very much obliged to her if she would impart all her learning to me. ‘1 This desire was shared by Dickens who as a young boy spent most of his time reading; Dickens like Pip realized that the only way to escape hard labour and poverty was to obtain a good education. In the novel, Pip falls in love with a girl called Estella. However, their relationship never really starts as she marries another man. Estella could be compared to Dickens’ first love Maria Beadell. Dickens and Beadell’s relationship ended when Maria was sent to school in Paris.
Dickens met her again twenty five years later but she didn’t live up to his idealized memory of her. This is similar to when Pip meets Estella again when he is older; ‘The freshness of her beauty had indeed gone… what I had never seen before was the saddened soft light of the once proud eyes’. 2 Pip has no desire to marry Estella at this point, this is a sharp contrast to earlier on in the novel when he is besotted with her to the point that he wants to become a gentleman to please her. Charles Dickens spent a large amount of his life abroad, living in The United States among other countries.
Similar to Dickens, in ‘Great Expectations’, Pip spends most of his later years living and working abroad; ‘I had quitted England, and within two months I was a clerk to Clarriker and Co. ‘3 Another similarity between Dickens’ own life and his character Pip’s is that one of Dickens’ first jobs was as a law clerk. When Pip is living on money that is simply given to him he seems unfulfilled and as if he is wasting his life away. Dickens had to work very hard to obtain his successful career and has an apparent resentment for people who come across riches without working for it.
When Pip gets an honest job as a law clerk he is portrayed as being hard working and a respected worker. It is clear that Pip has matured and recognised his mistakes from the past. As well as being autobiographical in his writing, Dickens’ personal attitudes are very strongly placed in his novels. ‘Great Expectations’ is certainly not an exception. An example of this is the way the legal profession is portrayed. Pip’s guardian Mr. Jaggers, is a very successful lawyer and he is ruthless in his profession.
For example when a poor client of Jaggers’ tells of how he struggled to get his fee together Jaggers says: ‘I don’t ask you when you made it up or whether you made it up at all. Has Wemmick got it? ‘4 This can be read as Dickens commenting on the greed of lawyers and the whole profession being based on money with no personal relationships involved. Although he is Pip’s guardian, Jaggers does not seem to have any emotional relationship with Pip. Jaggers’ clerk Wemmick, is a far more affable character who is a good friend of Pip’s; ‘Now, Mr. Pip you know, you and I understand one another… Official sentiments are one thing.
We are extra official. ‘5 It is therefore far easier to sympathise with Wemmick than with Mr. Jaggers; this could be because of Dickens’ job as a Law Clerk, Dickens can identify with Wemmick better. As well as the law profession, Dickens’ own snobbishness appears through Pip throughout Great Expectations; ‘It was all coarse and common’ Pip speaks of the Forge, ‘and I would not have Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account.
Pip is portrayed unsympathetically at these points in the novel which can be read as highlighting that Dickens may have a certain resentment towards his personal snobbishness. To conclude, while it is arguable that Charles Dickens’ writing style of drawing from personal experiences is self-indulgent and the attitudes that he adds in to his novels are often very biased, the way he does this is unique and provides an interesting insight into his life and thoughts as an extraordinary storyteller. Dickens was very ahead of his time in these aspects and also as a social commentator.