Summary: Chapter 20

Jaggers takes Pip to London, where the country boy is amazed and displeased by the stench and the thronging crowds in such areas as Smithfield. Jaggers seems to be an important and powerful man: hordes of people wait outside his office, muttering his name among themselves. Pip meets Jaggers’s cynical, wry clerk, Wemmick.

Summary: Chapter 21

Wemmick introduces Pip to Herbert Pocket, the son of Pip’s tutor, with whom Pip will spend the night. Herbert and Pip take an immediate liking to one another; Herbert is cheerful and open, and Pip feels that his easy good nature is a contrast to his own awkward diffidence. Whereas Pip’s fortune has been made for him, Herbert is an impoverished gentleman who hopes to become a shipping merchant. They realize, surprised, that they have met before: Herbert is the pale young gentleman whom Pip fought in the garden at Satis House.

Summary: Chapter 22

Pip asks Herbert to help him learn to be a gentleman, and, after a feast, the two agree to live together. Herbert subtly corrects Pip’s poor table manners, gives him the nickname “Handel,” and tells him the whole story of Miss Havisham. When she was young, her family fortune was misused by her unruly half-brother, and she fell in love with—and agreed to marry—a man from a lower social class than her own. This man convinced her to buy her half-brother’s share of the family brewery, which he wanted to run, for a huge price. But on their wedding day, the man never appeared, instead sending a note which Miss Havisham received at twenty minutes to nine—the time at which she later stopped all her clocks. It was assumed that Miss Havisham’s lover was in league with her half brother and that they split the profits from the brewery sale. At some later point, Miss Havisham adopted Estella, but Herbert does not know when or where.

Summary: Chapter 23

The next day, Pip visits the unpleasant commercial world of the Royal Exchange before going to Matthew Pocket’s house to be tutored and to have dinner. The Pockets’ home is a bustling, chaotic place where the servants run the show. Matthew is absentminded but kind, and his wife is socially ambitious but not well-born; the children are being raised by the nurse. Pip’s fellow students are a strange pair: Bentley Drummle, a future baronet, is oafish and unpleasant, and a young man named Startop is soft and delicate. At dinner, Pip concentrates on his table manners and observes the peculiarities of the Pockets’ social lives.

Summary: Chapter 24

Pip returns to Jaggers’s office in order to arrange to share rooms with Herbert. There Pip befriends the lively Wemmick, who invites him to dinner. Pip sees Jaggers in the courtroom, where he is a potent and menacing force, frightening even the judge with his thundering speeches.

Summary: Chapter 25

Pip continues to get to know his fellow students and the Pockets, attending dinners at both Wemmick’s and Jaggers’s. Wemmick’s house is like something out of a dream, an absurd “castle” in Walworth that he shares with his “Aged Parent.” Pip observes that Wemmick seems to have a new personality when he enters his home: while he is cynical and dry at work, at home he seems jovial and merry.

Summary: Chapter 26

By contrast, Jaggers’s house is oppressive and dark, shared only with a gloomy housekeeper, Molly. Pip’s fellow students attend the dinner at Jaggers’s with Pip, and Pip and Drummle quarrel over a loan Drummle ungratefully borrowed from Startop. Jaggers warns Pip to stay away from Drummle, though the lawyer claims to like the disagreeable young man himself.

Analysis: Chapters 20–26

Structurally, this series of brief, quick chapters inaugurates the second phase of Great Expectations, marked by Pip’s receiving his new fortune and his move from Kent to London. Pip’s move to London marks a drastic shift of setting for the second main section of Great Expectations, away from the desolate marshes of Kent and into the teeming crowds of the city. Dickens, with his consummate knowledge of the London of his era, evokes the city masterfully, describing the stink, the run-down buildings, and the colorful mass of humanity through Pip’s stunned perceptions. One of the first things Pip sees after his arrival in London is the terrible gallows of Newgate Prison, which gives Pip “a sickening idea of London.” In a novel that places so much emphasis on the relationship between character and setting, it should come as no surprise that Pip encounters objects of punishment and justice everywhere he looks. Beneath his awkward desire to be a gentleman and advance socially, Pip is obsessed with ideas of guilt, innocence, and moral obligation, going all the way back to his first encounter with the convict in the marsh. The gallows evokes not only the memory of the convict, but also the themes of guilt and innocence that preoccupy Pip’s young mind.

Read more about the relationship between characters and setting.

Pip’s new acquaintances are unlike anyone he has ever known before, and they make his transformation into a gentleman an unpredictable one. Jaggers is hard, cold, and powerful, but beneath the surface he seems disgusted by his own work. In Chapter 20, he does not allow his clients to talk to him, and he scrubs his hands ferociously at the end of each workday, symbolically attempting to remove the moral taint of his work. Herbert (the “pale young gentleman” of Chapter 11) makes a natural contrast to the lawyer; he is everything Jaggers is not. Kind, relaxed, and poor, he is the perfect gentleman to educate Pip in the ways of the upper class. Herbert’s father, Matthew, is kind as well, but his absentminded carelessness makes him a weak figure even in his own household. Of his students, Drummle is an oaf and Startop is a weakling. Wemmick’s split personality—he acts hard and cynical in Jaggers’s office but wry and merry at home in Walworth—confuses Pip, but it also emphasizes the inner goodness beneath Wemmick’s callous exterior. His insistence on obtaining “portable property” and his good-natured teasing of his “Aged Parent” give him two of his most memorable catchphrases, which he uses throughout the novel.

Read more about Jaggers and how his work conflicts with his sense of morality.

The story of Miss Havisham mirrors some of the same themes—social class, romantic anguish, and criminality—that run throughout the main story of the book. The story explains the main mystery of Miss Havisham’s life, which was implied by her surroundings and her behavior much earlier in the novel. It answers many of Pip’s questions about her but raises many more. Who were the criminals who preyed on her, and what became of them? What is Estella’s history, and how is she related to Miss Havisham? As the novel progresses, these questions will become extremely important; for now, they are used primarily to continue the sense of mystery that is so important to the forward momentum of Dickens’s plot.

Read more about how Dickens uses foreshadowing.