Great Expectations and Gender

[See also “Gender in Nineteenth-Century Literature: A Bibliography"

Another bibliography of works about Great Expectation and questions of gender.]

Barickman, Richard, Susan MacDonald, and Myra Stark. “Dickens." In Corrupt Relations: Dickens, Thakeray, Trollope, Collins, and the Victorian Sexual System. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, 59-110.

Claims that novel depicts Pip as a male cowed by dominant female characters. At the same time, the wounds of a patriarchal system scar both him and his sister. Interprets Pip's behaviour as typically female: passive, gentle, and full of humility. An interesting approach, despite the problems of stereotyping these feminine qualities.

Basch, Françoise. “Charles Dickens's Anti-Woman," In Relative Creatures: Victorian Women in Society and the Novel. Trans. Anthony Rudolf. London: Allen Lane; New York: Schocken, 1974, 141-151.

Argues that Dickens' lack of sympathetic understanding of single women, appears in his treatment of Wopsle's great-aunt and of Miss Havisham.

Crotch, William Walter. The Secret of Dickens. Rev. ed. London: Chapman and Hall, 1919, 171-194 and passim.

Writes in defence of Dickens' portrayals of women. Drawing on a number of Dickens' texts, Crotch claims that Dickens' women are varied, and have both perception and subtlety. Describes Miss Havisham as “quite an Ibsenic figure" and Estella as her “innocent catspaw."

Cahill, Patricia A. E. “Beginning the World: Women and Society in the Novels of Charles Dickens." Dissertation Abstracts International 39 (Sept 1978): 1581A (Massachusetts, 1978).

Compares Estella the fortune-hunter with Biddy, the hard-working woman who values education and personal integrity.

Flint, Kate. Dickens. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1986.

Flint presents a feminist reading of Dickens which, although she does not use Great Expectations, serves as a window into modern feminist criticism of Dickens' approach. Lennard Davis finds Flint's analysis to be at its best in her specifically social, historical readings (Victorian Studies, 33(1990/91): 180-183). She places the characters in their contemporary context, and reads from the perspective of a modern theorist. The bibliography at the end of the work is an almost complete reference to the more traditional scholarship done in the field.

Fraiman, Susan. Unbecoming Women: British Women and the Novel of Development. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Although Fraiman's examination of social identity concentrates primarily on male characters, it raises interesting issues involving status, class feeling, and social subordination. She points out the fact that Pip's wealth comes from a convicted criminal ironically emphasizes society's constraints.

Ingham, Patricia. Dickens, Women and Language. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

Ingham situates Dickens' writing within nineteenth-century ideological constructs of gender. She separates the characters of Dickens' narratives into “nubile girls," “fallen angels," “excessive females," “passionate women," and “true mothers." Dianne F. Sadoff criticizes Ingham for failing to initiate an innovative discourse; Ingham is accused of circling through semiotics and modern theory and arriving back at more conventional ideologies of femininity (Victorian Studies, 36(1993/94):179-182). She maintains an involved examination of Dickens' women within their social construct of marriage and family life. Ingham refutes the critiques of Mary Poovey and Nancy Armstrong, so I recommend reading some of their work in parallel with Ingham (see background bibliography at the end).

Jarmuth, Sylvia L. “The Climax of Domestic Troubles. Full Maturity of Powers: A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, The Mystery of Edwin Drood." In Dickens' Use of Women in His Novels. New York: Excelsior, 1967, 153-206.

Contains synopses of the main female characters of Great Expectations, and surveys the female elements in the book and the judgments of previous critics. Claims that Great Expectations stands out against Dickens' earlier novels in the genuine roles it gives to women.

Lucas, Audrey. “Some Dickens Women." Yale Review 29 (June 1940): 706-728.

Considers Estella a borderline character who acts as an “angel in Pip's false heaven." Lucas creates categories into which Miss Havisham does not fit and analyses Miss Havisham in her own separate arena.

Moore, Katharine. “Victorian Wives in Fiction." In Victorian Wives. London: Allison and Busby, 1974, 113-156.

Despite the fact that George J. Worth claims Moore's consideration of a number of Dickens' female characters is superficial (Great Expectations: An Annotated Bibliography. New York and London: Garland, 1986, 197-8), this is an approach worth bearing in mind while making this study. She divides his women into three categories; witches, angels and nitwits. Miss Havisham is placed in the first category, and is seen to represent the “claustrophobic, false and rotten in the Victorian attitude towards sex."

Rogers, Katharine M. The Troublesome Helpmate: A History of Misogyny in Literature. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1996, 195, 201.

Rogers reads Dickens' treatment of Mrs. Joe as a sign of his misgivings about the institution of marriage.

Additional Discussion in the Victorian Web:

Krauskopf, Katie. “Victorian Working Women."

Gives the relevant background on women's situation in the nineteenth century, drawing upon statistics from contemporary magazines (Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, and The Quarterly Review). Krauskopf discusses Biddy as a working woman, addressing the ambiguity over whether Biddy continues to work after she marries Joe.

Lee, Elizabeth. “Social and Gender Mobility."

By comparing Pip with Charlotte Brontë's character, Jane Eyre, Lee examines the differences in equality and in social mobility of Victorian men and women.

Reed, John R. “Female Aggressiveness inGreat Expectations."

Reed discusses Mrs. Joe, Estella, and Miss Havisham in parallel to the strong-armed maid (and murderess), Molly. Clara and Biddy are placed against all of the other women as the “saintly" figures. Reed interestingly points out that in the original version of the book, all the destructive women suffer.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations bibliography

Last modified 1996