Scholars have disagreed about whether Dickens himself wrote the 1861 adaptation of Great Expectations, despite the fact that Charles Whiting, the printer of this small book, had printed other works by Dickens (such as Sketches by Boz in 1836) and regularly printed All the Year Round. In the Dickensian for 1955, the Victorian stage scholar Malcolm Morley specifically mentions this "copyright" adaptation, published (presumably) by Dickens himself to forestall any theatrical piracy at the end of the novel's serial run in All the year Round on 3 August 1861.

In the latter year, when the story had run its course, there was published by J. Holsworth, whose address was given as "at the office of All the Year Round," a volume described as Great Expectations, a drama in three stages, by Charles Dickens. From this it appears Dickens himself made a dramatisation of his novel, which was never performed. The Holsworth publication is a rarity: no copy exists in the British Museum [i. e., The British Library, London] or at Dickens House [now the Dickens House Museum, 48 Doughty Street, London]. It must surely be that Dickens, anxious to retain the stage copyright of his own work [as distinct from the novel's copyright], made use of a device he had employed before in the case of A Message from the Sea, whereby he secured protection from pilfering bookwrights. The volume ranked as a published book and was registered at Stationers' Hall . . . . (79)

George J. Worth disagrees, pointing out that although Whiting had printed other works by Dickens, other evidence suggests the novelist was not the actual bookwright of what Philip Collins in the third volume of the NCBEL has referred to as "a copyrighting device." Worth notes that, although S. J. Adair-Fitz-Gerald in Dickens and the Drama (1910) credits Dickens with the authorship of the then-recently discovered adaptation of Great Expectations, this theatre scholar is "not a highly reliable source" (169). Further, he cites the more careful scholar of Dickens and the theatre, Malcolm Morley, as being "unsure about the authorship of this book" (169-170), and that Dickens reportedly told actor J. L. Toole with respect to dramatising the 1861 novel, "I haven't time to write books" (170).

Left: Title Page. Right: Cast List. Click on images to obtain larger pictures.

In terms of the text itself, Worth notes some un-Dickensian characteristics, including the fact that its "stages" ("The Blacksmith's Boy," "The Heir Apparent," and "The Convict's Friend") do not parrel the major divisions of the novel, and that the book begins when Pip is 15 and ends when he is just 21. In order to compress the geographical and chronological settings, the bookwright has resorted to "an inordinate number of conversations that are tediously expository" (170). Too often, the bookwright has taken dialogue straight out of the novel but altered its context entirely, so that, for example, Herbert rather than Magwitch tells Pip the story of the convict's life from Chapter 42. "Missing altogether, to the great detriment of this version, is the most important voice of all, that of the narrating Pip" (171).

Perhaps the most telling indicator of the book's not being by Dickens is the fact that it does not resemble the novel at all in its conclusion. Estella has dropped out of the story, and the bookwright has utilized the entrapment of Pip by Orlick in the sluice-house from Chapter 53 for the final scene: "There is no chase, no capture, no trial, no deathbed scene for Magwitch; more important, there is no remorse, no repentence, no reformation for Pip" (172). A reading adaptation printed in 1861 is probably by Dickens (intended for use in his famous public readings, perhaps) follows the novel's story far more scrupulously than this book; furthermore, while Dickens set the novel on the Kent "meshes," this book is specifically set on "The Marshes of Essex" and its stated chronology (1815-1820) is quite inconsistent with that of the novel. Finally the title-page is ambiguous at best in its attributing the book to Dickens, since "Founded on, and Compiled from" hardly suggest that the novelist is the bookwright, and the phrase "By Charles Dickens" may merely allude to the novel and have been given prominence for the sake of advertisement.

That the cast list does not have the names of the actors who took the various roles does indeed suggest that the book was never performed.


Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations: A Drama, in Three Stages. Founded on, and Compiled from, the Story of That Name. London: G. Holsworth, at the Office of "All The Year Round" Wellington Street, Strand, 1861.

Worth, George J. "Great Expectations: A Drama, in Three Stages (1861)" Dickens Quarterly 3 (1986): 169-175.

Last modified 6 May 2003