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On Christmas Eve, around 1812, Pip, an orphan who is about six years old, encounters an escaped convict in the village churchyard while visiting the graves of his mother, father, and siblings. The convict scares Pip into stealing food and a file to grind away his shackles, from the home he shares with his abusive older sister and her kind, passive husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. The next day, soldiers recapture the convict while he is engaged in a fight with another convict; the two are returned to the prison ships from which they escaped.
Miss Havisham, a wealthy spinster who wears an old wedding dress and lives in the dilapidated Satis House, asks Pip's "Uncle Pumblechook" (who is actually Joe's uncle) to find a boy to play with her adopted daughter Estella. Pip begins to visit Miss Havisham and Estella, with whom he falls in love, with Miss Havisham's encouragement. Pip visits Miss Havisham multiple times, and during one of these visits, he brings Joe along. During their absence, Joe's wife is attacked by a mysterious individual and lives out the rest of her life as a mute invalid.
Later, when Pip is a young apprentice at Joe's blacksmith shop, a lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, approaches him and tells him he is to receive a large sum of money from an anonymous benefactor and must immediately leave for London, where he is to become a gentleman. Assuming that Miss Havisham is his benefactress, he visits her and Estella, who has returned from studying on the Continent.
Years later, Pip has reached adulthood and is now heavily in debt. Abel Magwitch, the convict he helped, who was transported to New South Wales where he eventually became wealthy, reveals himself to Pip as his benefactor. There is a warrant for Magwitch's arrest in England, and he will be hanged if he is caught. Pip and his friends Herbert Pocket and Startop hatch a plan for Magwitch to flee by boat. Pip also discovers that Estella is the daughter of Magwitch and Mr. Jaggers' housemaid, Molly, whom Jaggers defended in a murder charge and who gave up her daughter to be adopted by Miss Havisham.
Pip learns that Miss Havisham's fiancé jilted her, resulting in her strange behaviour and her desire to have revenge on the male sex by using Estella to break Pip's heart. He confronts Miss Havisham with Estella's history. In a fit of depression and remorse, Miss Havisham accidentally sets her dress on fire. Pip saves her, but she eventually dies from her injuries, lamenting her manipulation of Estella and Pip.
A few days before the escape, Joe's former journeyman, Orlick, who was responsible for the attack on Mrs. Joe, attacks Pip. Herbert Pocket and his friends save Pip and prepare for the escape.
During the escape, Magwitch kills his enemy Compeyson, a con artist and Miss Havisham's fiancé. Police capture Magwitch and jail him. Pip visits a deathly ill Magwitch in jail and tells him that his daughter Estella is alive. Barely alive, Magwitch responds with a squeezing of Pip's palm and dies shortly after, before his execution. Pip is about to be arrested for unpaid debts when he falls ill. Joe comes to London and nurses Pip back to health and pays off his debts. Pip realises that in his fruitless pursuit of Estella and wealth, he has callously ignored Joe. Realising the error of his ways, Pip returns to propose to Biddy, a friend from his childhood in Kent, only to find that she and Joe have married.
Pip asks Joe for forgiveness, and Joe forgives him. As Pip has lost his fortune upon Magwitch's death, he is no longer a gentleman. Pip promises to repay Joe and goes to Egypt, where he shares lodgings with Herbert and Clara and works diligently as a clerk.
Eleven years later, Pip visits the ruins of Satis House and meets Estella, whom her dead husband, Bentley Drummle, had abused. She asks Pip to forgive her, assuring him that misfortune has opened her heart and that she now empathises with Pip. As Pip takes Estella's hand and leaves the ruins of Satis House, he sees "no shadow of another parting from her."
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