Study Guide

Great Expectations Chapter 42

By Charles Dickens

Chapter 42

  • Hold onto your drawers. This is one doozy of a chapter.
  • Magwitch begins to tell Pip and Herbert the story of his life. This story can be summarized by the following, "in jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail." Here's the longer version:
  • Magwitch has been subject to pretty much every kind of punishment you can imagine.
  • His first memory is of stealing turnips, because he was so hungry. He was a baby orphan (like Pip), and he was taken in by several families, only to have him promptly kicked out. No one loved little Magwitch.
  • He was kind of a jack-of-all-trades, doing anything that needed to get done whenever it needed to get done. He even taught himself how to read and write.
  • Over twenty years ago, at the horse races, Magwitch met a man—a bad man. The man's name was Compeyson, and he was dressed like a gentleman.
  • But he wasn't a gentleman.
  • Compeyson and Magwitch hit it off and soon became partners in crime. Compeyson was in the swindling, signature-forging, money counterfeiting kind of a business.
  • Compeyson had another partner-in-crime named Arthur (ring any bells?), but Arthur was not doing too well when Magwitch starting working with them. Arthur was sick and kind of crazy. Apparently, Compeyson and Arthur had been involved in a scheme a few years back wherein they had swindled a rich lady out of a lot of money. Compeyson had gambled that money away, and Arthur was dying poor, haunted by the ghost of a lady in white, and he eventually died.
  • (This is all starting to sound really familiar.)
  • Compeyson used Magwitch to do all the dirty work and worked him hard for very little money.
  • Magwitch begins to talk about a lady-friend he once had, but stops short, a little flustered.
  • He continues with his story saying that he and Compeyson were eventually convicted of money counterfeiting. However, when the two of them went before the jury, Compeyson was given half the jail sentence that Magwitch got.
  • Because Compeyson looked and acted like a gentleman, the jury believed he deserved a second chance. Magwitch, on the other hand, just looked like he deserved a lot of jail time.
  • Magwitch was put on a prison ship near the marshes of Pip's hometown. While on the ship, he saw Compeyson and attacked him. He was forced into solitary confinement in the "black hole" of the ship, but ended up escaping and swimming to shore where he hid among the graves and where he found Pip.
  • Pip asks Magwitch if Compeyson is alive, but Magwitch doesn't know.
  • Herbert slips Pip a note revealing that Arthur was Miss Havisham's half-brother, and "Compeyson" was the name of the man who jilted her at the altar.