Charles Dickens' father, John, made little money working as a clerk in England's Navy Pay Office (Coles 564). John's low salary, combined with a severe spending problem, would eventually land him in debt. As a consequence, John was placed into debtors' prison. As was the custom of the time, John was forced to bring his family along with him (Coles 564). It was 1824 and young Dickens was only 12 years old (Coles 564). To help his father out of debt, Charles worked under the horrible conditions of a blacking factory (Collins 15). According to Edmund Spenser, quoted in Phillip Collins' Dickens and Crime, these events "lie behind the loneliness, disgrace, and outlawry which pervade all his novels" (15). Collins concurs: It is a commonplace that his sympathy for suffering and neglected children, which lies at the root of his educational concern, drew much of its strength from the traumatic experience of his own childhood--the period, about his 12th year when the family was in financial straits, his father in the Marshal sea Prison, and he was left alone in the world, working at the hated blacking-warehouse. (13)
There is no question that the harrowing experiences Dickens suffered in his early years would affect his writing for the rest of his life. As much as Dickens knew poverty and prison life, he also had a great deal of knowledge of the flip side of the legal coin, due to his brief - but very influential legal training. Dickens began his legal training at the age of 15, when he began studying law as an attorney's apprentice in a solicitor's office (Coles 565). It wasn't long, however, before he found his duties there boring: "I didn't much like it," it was "a very little world, and a very dull one," recalled the author (Coles 565; Collins 174). Even though "Dickens's knowledge of the law was never at all professional," he was able to make "his brief experience of the law stretches a long way" (Collins 175-76). With his interest and understanding of the law, Dickens was able to create several memorable and satirical portraits of lawyers through his fiction.
Legal historian Sir William Holdsworth, quoted in Collins, points out that "Dickens is best acquainted with the lower reaches of the legal world: his knowledge of the higher ranks of the legal profession is less extensive" (175). It is no surprise that Dickens is primarily concerned with the "lower reaches" law rather than the legal elite. After all, his intended audience was not the elite, but rather the emerging middle-class. Collins suggests that "Dickens was, of all great writers, the closest in outlook to the common man of his day and of ours; he was not ashamed to avow these tastes, for he never assumed the airs of social or intellectual superiority" (1). As a result, the most appealing and warm-hearted characters in Great Expectations are an orphan, an uneducated blacksmith, and an escaped convict, rather than such appalling upper-class citizens as Miss Havisham, Estella, and Mr. Pumblechook. In Dickens' world of crime and lower-class characters, it is only logical that these "lower reaches" would include criminal lawyers such as Great Expectations' Jagger’s, a crafty, cocky portrait of a lawyer whose main concern is to make money. A passage that demonstrates the satirical quality of his character can be found