Great Expectations, Romance, and Capital

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This essay examines the social function and significance of romance in Great Expectations. Dickens's parodic use of romantic modes and conventions in the novel furnishes a radical reappraisal of Victorian class relations and the dynamics of nineteenth-century capitalism. Notwithstanding Dickens's own middle-class perspective, the ironic inversion of romantic codes in the novel calls into question the very ideology of social distinction that attends upon romance and so thoroughly interpellates characters like Pip and Estella. What is more, it exposes the extent to which social "excellence" is indebted to—is in fact the product of—laboring, lower-class characters like Magwitch and Molly. Not only does the novel employ the scope and intricacy of romance in order to advance a vision of society as an integral whole, but it ultimately posits labor and even, to a significant degree, the exploitation of labor as fundamental social factors.

Original languageEnglish GB
Pages (from-to)157-177
Number of pages21
JournalDickens Studies Annual
StatePublished - 2005


  • English literature
  • 1800-1899
  • Dickens, Charles (1812-1870)
  • Great Expectations (1860-1861)
  • novel
  • romance conventions
  • capitalism
  • work


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