Study Guide

Great Expectations Time

By Charles Dickens


Chapter 11
Miss Havisham

"On this day of the year, long before you were born, this heap of decay," stabbing with her crutched stick at the pile of cobwebs on the table but not touching it, "was brought here. It and I have worn away together. The mice have gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed at me." (11.99)

Niiiiiice. Miss Havisham may have stopped all the clocks at Satis House, but you can't stop time—or mildew, mold, and mice.

 "So!" she said, without being startled or surprised; "the days have worn away, have they?" (11.46)

Miss Havisham may not have any working clocks, but she does have impeccable sense of time: she knows exactly when her birthday falls each year.

Chapter 17

So unchanging was the dull old house, the yellow light in the darkened room, the faded spectre in the chair by the dressing-table glass, that I felt as if the stopping of the clocks had stopped Time in that mysterious place, and, while I and everything else outside it grew older, it stood still. (17.2)

Satis House may show the passage of time, but somehow it seems untouched by time—weird. Like Miss Havisham, it's both stuck in time and destroyed by time.

Chapter 19

And now, those six days which were to have run out so slowly, had run out fast and were gone, and to-morrow looked me in the face more steadily than I could look at it. As the six evenings had dwindled away, to five, to four, to three, to two, I had become more and more appreciative of the society of Joe and Biddy. (19.102)

One of the coolest things about Great Expectations is how accurately it conveys the way we experience time. Dumped on your wedding day? Boy, does time seem to slow down. Anticipating a big, exciting move and worried about leaving behind your entire family? It's here before you know it.

Chapter 22
Herbert Pocket

"The marriage day was fixed, the wedding dresses were bought, the wedding tour was planned out, the wedding guests were invited. The day came, but not the bridegroom. He wrote her a letter—"

"Which she received," I struck in, "when she was dressing for her marriage? At twenty minutes to nine?"

"At the hour and minute," said Herbert, nodding, "at which she afterwards stopped all the clocks." (22.55)

It's easy to roll your eyes at Miss Havisham for being way dramatic—it's just a wedding, get over it, lady—but it really does effectively end her life. In nineteenth-century England, being dumped like this is social homicide.

Chapter 39

If the wind and the rain had driven away the intervening years, had scattered all the intervening objects, had swept us to the churchyard where we first stood face to face on such different levels, I could not have known my convict more distinctly than I knew him now, as he sat in the chair before the fire. (39.28)

Time may be powerful—but it's not powerful enough to erase memories. Is Great Expectations saying that memory is the most important force?


When I awoke, without having parted in my sleep with the perception of my wretchedness, the clocks of the Eastward churches were striking five, the candles were wasted out, the fire was dead, and the wind and rain intensified the thick black darkness. (39.102)

Even in the thick of a great, blinding storm, time marches on—it's Pip's one constant. Like death and taxes, but slightly less dire. (Maybe.)

Chapter 44

They both raised their eyes as I went in, and both saw an alteration in me. I derived that, from the look they interchanged. (44.1)

Well, sure he's changed: he's grown up into a gentleman. It's almost like both Miss Havisham and Estella think that, because neither of them has changed, no one else will, either. But the world goes on without them.

She gradually withdrew her eyes from me, and turned them on the fire. After watching it for what appeared in the silence and by the light of the slowly wasting candles to be a long time, she was roused by the collapse of some of the red coals, and looked towards me again—at first, vacantly—then, with a gradually concentrating attention. (44.35)

Miss Havisham may never know what time it is, but she's never late: like a wizard, she's always exactly on schedule. She has some deep, almost psychic knowledge of time passing—like she's come to embody time itself. Creeeepy.

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