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The novel is set in Kent and London in the early to mid-19th century, and contains some of Dickens' most memorable scenes, including the opening, in a graveyard, where the young Pip is accosted by the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch. Great Expectations is full of extreme imagery – poverty; prison ships and chains, and fights to the death – and has a colourful cast of characters who have entered popular culture. These include the eccentric Miss Havisham, the beautiful but cold Estella, and Joe, the unsophisticated and kind blacksmith. Dickens's themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. Great Expectations is popular both with readers and literary critics, and has been translated into many languages, and adapted numerous times into various media.
Upon its release, the novel received near universal acclaim, although Thomas Carlyle spoke disparagingly of "all that Pip's nonsense". Later, George Bernard Shaw praised the novel, as "All of one piece and consistently truthfull." During the serial publication, Dickens was pleased with public response to Great Expectations and its sales; when the plot first formed in his mind, he called it "a very fine, new and grotesque idea".