Mr. Percy Buckle's Great Expectations

Briel Steinberg '06, English 156, Brown University, 2004

Peter Carey's Jack Maggs tells a very different story of Magwitch, the escaped convict who plays such a large role in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Before the character of Jack Maggs is firmly established, however, many of the characters who are to play an important role within the novel are presented to the reader. Mr. Percy Buckle, soon to become Maggs' master, is one of the first to be introduced and the quickest to be characterized. It is evident that Buckle's history is very important to the description of this man as a whole. Not a born gentleman, but rather an inheritor of a large amount of wealth from a long lost relative, Buckle's servants scorn him and many others are able to take advantage of him because of his somewhat clueless nature. The theme of inheriting large sums of money from long lost relatives is a central one in this novel as it is in Great Expectations. Though the inheritance itself is not central to this novel as Pip's is in Dickens' work, the fact that Buckle is not a born gentleman is important to hold onto throughout the work. The disarray of Buckle's house, the disrespect of his servants and his acquiescence to Tobias Oates are all a result of him being "no more a gentleman" than Jack Maggs himself. The beginning of chapter 3 introduces Mr. Percy Buckle into the novel:

Mr. Percy Buckle was the owner of a gentleman's residence at 29 Great Queen street, but he was no more a gentleman that the man who was presently entering his household in disguise.

Then, on a brisk autumn morning in 1836, Percy Buckle had "my little visit from the solicitor," as a result of which good fortune he became, in two short months, the master of a household in Great Queen Street and the owner of the Lyceum Theatre on Holubrn Hill

Having spent a lifetime laboriously elevating himself from fried-fish man to grocer, this inheritance came as a great shock. He was at first rather feverish and dizzy, and could take nothing stronger than the toast and broth brought to him by the daughter of the mad woman he employed to scrub his stairs. For days he tried to follow the dark and slippery lines of blood and law that had led from the body of a deceased stranger to his door in Clerkenwell. He lay in his newly pressed night shirt, in his freshly laundered sheets, and looked at the small squre of neat sunshine as it passed across his bedroom wall.

Then on the third morning -- Guy Fawkes Day in fact -- the fever lifted. Percy Buckle looked around his little room and knew he never had to weigh a pound of flour again in his life. [12]


1. How does this passage, depicting Buckle's stroke with luck, differ from Pip's experience with gaining fortune? How does Pip react differently to his change in circumstances? Which depiction is more realistic?

2. How might this mysterious stroke of fortune be received differently today as compared to when this novel takes place? Is Buckle's mysteriously gained fortune pertinent to the novel itself? What is its place within the text?

3. Later in the novel, it becomes apparent that all of Buckle's servants, whom he inherited with his purchase of the Great Queen Street house, look down upon him for his lack of breeding. How does this play on Pip's own fears with Great Expectations? Why do these fears affect Pip so greatly, and yet not seem to bother Buckle a great deal?

4. How does Buckle's position as a fish-frier turned grocer turned wealthy man affect the remainder of the novel? If Buckle had merely been clueless but brought up as a gentleman, would that change the novel to any degree?


Carey, Peter. Jack Maggs. New York: Vintage, 1999.

Australia Carey OV Jack Maggs Leading Questions

Last modified 1 March 2004