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Dickens: Great Expectations

2. Plot and Genre

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About this Lecture


In this module we think about the plot and genre of the novel. Is Great Expectations a romance? a melodrama? or something else entirely?


In this course, Professor John Bowen (University of York) explores Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, first published in Dickens' weekly periodical All the Year Round from December 1860 to August 1861. We begin by thinking about the complex texture of the novel – Dickens himself described it as a 'grotesque tragi-comic conception' – before moving on to consider its plot and genre. In the third module we think about the presentation of crime and the law in the novel, before turning in the fourth module to the performance of class. Finally, in the fifth module, we return again to what the novel is actually about, focusing in particular on the presentation of empire and colonialism, the theme of survival, and the novel's ambiguous ending.


John Bowen is Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of York. His main research areas are in nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, in particular the works of Charles Dickens and other major Victorian novelists including the Brontes, Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope, but he has also written on modern poetry and fiction: he has a particular interest in mid-twentieth century novelists such as Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell and George Orwell.

Professor Bowen is the author of Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit (Oxford University Press, 2000, 2003) and has edited Dickens's Barnaby Rudge for Penguin; Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers (2014) and Phineas Redux (2011) for Oxford World’s Classics; and Palgrave Advances in Charles Dickens Studies with Robert L. Patten. He is the author of more than fifty academic articles and book chapters, including contributions to the Oxford History of the Novel in English, Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens, the Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins, Cambridge Companion to European Novelists and the Cambridge History of English Literature. He has worked closely with many leading cultural organisations, including the British Library, BBC, V&A, RSC and Museum of London, and was academic advisor to the Museum of London Dickens bicentenary exhibition 2012 and to the Royal Shakespeare Company for David Edgar’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol 2017-18.

A former President of the Dickens Society and Co-Director of the University of California Dickens Project, Professor Bowen s the current President of the Dickens Fellowship 2017-19 and a Fellow of the English Association (FEA). He is a member of the Advisory Boards of the British Library ‘Discovering Literature’ website and of the Oxford Clarendon Dickens; has given many keynote addresses and public lectures around the world; has frequently reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement; and has contributed to a number of television documentaries and radio programmes, including BBC Radio 4's Front Row, Open Book, Beyond Belief, PM, Today and Woman's Hour, Channel 4’s Dickens’s Secret Lover and BBC2’s Being the Brontes (2016). He is currently writing Reading Dickens for Cambridge University Press and editing Dickens’s Bleak House for Norton and George Orwell's 1984 for Oxford World's Classics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Bowen, J. (2018, August 15). Dickens: Great Expectations - Plot and Genre [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Bowen, J. "Dickens: Great Expectations – Plot and Genre." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,