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Great Expectations (BL2-R5)
Transcript of Great Expectations (BL2-R5)
Structure and style
Numerous characters – hard to keep track of who is who
Complex narration – an ulterior narrator, whose perspective seems to be limited to his past and who yet clearly has the benefit of hindsight
Various locations: the forge, Satis house, London
Complex style – metaphors growing into real events, objects participating in action
Complex characterization: through structural symmetry, through a single feature, through gradual discovery, through rhetorical exposition, etc.
Reliance on coincidence that may appear incredible
Dividing the poor into deserving (eager to learn, industrious, neat, careful, polite, obeying rules) and undeserving (lazy, wicked, etc.)
Critique of society but at the same time the author seems to be an upholder of the status quo: as every Dickens novel, Great Expectations ends in comfortable retirement of the principle characters
early idyll, later serious family problems due to father’s debts (debt prison), working at the blacking house 10h a day, raising money for his own education and supporting his family, becoming a Parliamentary reporter
-> a man of little education writing for public less educated than himself
-> negative or overly sentimental images of women as beings incapable of caring for themselves
-> the theme of neglected children as one of the key motifs in his novels
1836 – Sketches by Boz: prose sketches, illustrated, published in the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle
1836-37 - Pickwick Club - picaresque, episodic novel with colourful characters, both comic and sentimental, characters becoming a centre of a popular cult
1837-9 - Oliver Twist - sentimental story about the hardships of a poor orphan
1838-9 - Nicholas Nickleby - Picaresque and episodic text with 18C conventions
1840-41 - The Old Curiosity Shop - Sentimental novel about a young girl infallibly good, who dies tragically; use of framing device (Master Humphrey's Clock) - 1st person narrator dropped after first few chapters, epilogue closes the frame
1841 - Barnaby Rudge - Historical novel about Gordon Riots of 1780
1843-4 - Martin Chuzzlewit - Dickens’ own favorite novel, the least popular of his books. Caricature of America
1846-8 - Dombey and Son - Planned before publication, but public’s opinion had constant influence on the contents; picaresque novel about the misfortunes of Dombey family.
1849-50 - David Copperfield - Autobiographic novel, rags to riches (fame) story
1852-3 - Bleak House - Social realism, dual narrators (partially narrated by a character, partially by omniscient narrator), a bleak image of the legal system
1854 - Hard Times - Set in a fictitious Victorian industrial town, an attack on Utilitarianism, education based on factual knowledge and not imagination
1855-57 - Little Dorrit - critique of society (social system) and government, especially the institution of debt prisons
1859 - A Tale of Two Cities - savage criticism of Revolution: demoralization, brutality of the masses, etc.
1860-1 - Great Expectations - not designed for serial publication, and therefore better planned and written than other novels; theme of search of origins, true nobility and study of the nature of crime
1864-5 - Our Mutual Friend - Most sophisticated of all Dickens’ novels, semi-Shakespearean story of a lost heir presumed dead, with many sub-plots and a long list of characters.
1870 - The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Gothic, never completed, last finished chapters published posthumously
Description of the second convict: “I saw the man sitting before me” – using reader’s assumptions that “the man” would refer to the first convict, which fits in with the child’s error of recognition – although the narrating adult Pip knows that “the man” refers to the other convict (p. 18)
When Pip is to be made a gentleman, he not knowing his real benefactor sees Miss Havisham as the "fairy godmother"
Miss Havisham seems to confirm Pip's assumptions by repeating Mr. Jaggers injunctions => the reader is fooled with Pip
conducted in past tense
subjective, telling his own story: limited perspective but improved by the distance in time between the story-time and narration-time
for the most part suppressing hind-sight, with few exceptions
Abundance of minor characters, who sometimes strangely grow in importance, and sometimes fade out almost entirely from the narrative
Characterization by a single feature, a habit, a quirk of behavior or a linked image:
Pip’s sister’s pins
Mr. Jaggers’ habit of washing hands
Wemmick’s post office mouth
cliffhangers: dramatic episodes that are interrupted during the culmination, leaving the reader suspended and therefore waiting for the next installment eagerly
extraordinary coincidence: the family relations of the characters – everyone is connected with everyone else
uncertain construction and clumsy endings in most of Dickens’ novels (but fine structure and interestingly indefinite ending of Great Expectations)
digressiveness, parallel plots not contributing to the main story - limited to the minimum in Great Expectations (Wopsle, Wemmick)
melodramatic devices: Magwitch’s death, scenes of partings, etc.
Content and Social Purpose
Critique of the contemporary society: the criminal system, the living conditions of the poor, the misery of orphaned children
Satire of the aspirations of the poor - criticism of ambitions for social mobility
Deep preoccupation with violence, crime, disaster and insanity – effective and graphic scenes of evil
The theme of beauty – inner vs. outer beauty, transience of loveliness
Workshop / style
Often publishing his novels in serialized form – writing simultaneously with publication, without pre-planned plots, pressured by the expectations of the audience
Comic sketches / excessive sentimentalism appreciated by the Victorian readers
“The great entertainer”: combining Gothic element, sentimental scenes and comic moments
Theatrical imagination: highly visual imagery, sharply defined characters, perfectly fit for the stage
Planned ahead of time, but published serialized as most Dickens’ novels in All the Year Round
Double ending: changed because the public wanted to hear the wedding bells.
„It was two years more before I saw herself. I had heard of her as leading a most unhappy life, and as being separated from her husband, who had used her with great cruelty, and who had become quite renowned as a compound of pride, brutality, and meanness. I had heard of the death of her husband from an accident consequent on ill-treating a horse, and of her being married again to a Shropshire doctor who, against his interest, had once very manfully interposed on an occasion when he was in professional attendance upon Mr. Drummle, and had witnessed some outrageous treatment of her. I had heard that the Shropshire doctor was not rich, and that they lived on her own personal fortune. I was in England again – in London, and walking along Piccadilly with little Pip – when a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a carriage who wished to speak to me. It was a small pony carriage, which the lady was driving; and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another. "I am greatly changed, I know; but I thought you would like to shake hands with Estella, too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it!" (She supposed the child, I think, to be my child.) I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.”
(New American Classics edition published by New American Library, 1963)
Realism: reflecting the world with all its ills (purpose of social reform)
Comic style sometimes slipping into sentimentalism
Characterization of people and places by a single trait that comes to embody their true character
Frequent use of hyperbole for emphasis
Use of metaphors or highly visual language
“We saw the black Hulk lying out a little way from the mud of the shore, like a wicked Noah’s ark. Cribbed and barred and moored by massive rusty chains, the prison-ship seemed in my young eyes to be ironed like the prisoners.” (39)
The Blooming Chest
“It appeared to me that he must be a very happy man indeed, to have so many little drawers in his shop: and I wondered when I peeped into one or two on the lower tiers, and saw tied-up brown paper packers inside, whether the flower-seeds and bulbs ever wanted of a fine day to break out of those jails, and bloom”
life struggling though the man-made misery
Evidence of pre-planning
the situational irony: first convict’s description of the bogey man (“the young man”) to scare the boy comes true when the other convict escapes, which makes the first forsake the escape plan
consistent development of characters
some of the plot devices (connections / indications of things to come) become apparent only on second reading
Typical features of a serial novel:
the graveyard humor: images of his family raised from the dead by Pip through imaginative reading of the tombstones
“We are seven”
Joe as a big child, strong and weak at the same time: simple and kind
Joe is the real father who is wise though foolish, strong though weak, whom Pip treats as his equal, looks up to for a while, neglects and feels ashamed of when aspiring to become a gentleman, finally accepts and embraces when rid of undue aspirations
Yet – “I was looking up to Joe in my heart” (48)
Though Joe in all respects replaces Pip’s father, Pip patronizes him as soon as he can spell, and before that treats him as his equal – a big child;
Interconnectedness of people
a sort of hedgehog: stuck with needles – metonymic characterisation: harsh, continuously angry, boasting of her own supposed goodness
redeemed by the misfortune, when Orlick attacks her and she is handicapped for the rest of her life – seems to have a sweeter temper, though her memory is dimmed.
A figure of speech in which a word denoting an attribute is used to substitute the thing it refers to
the crown = the king / queen
Mrs. Gargery's pins and needles = unkindly character
Pip the adult
Pip the child
looking back, past tense: though Pip is a character and therefore cannot be omniscient as a 3rd person narrator would be, he is removed in time, which gives him a status of a narrator made wise through experience
First chapters: language of an adult but imagery belonging to a child
Playing with reader's expectations
Magwitch = Magi (the good gifts to the new baby) + witch (the poisoned gifts)
Havisham = Have is sham / shame
Jaggers = sharp teeth
Pocket = greed
Pumblechook = pummel and choke
Parallel relationships - structural symmetry - one character revealing the essence of another:
Magwich / Pip <-> Ms. Havisham / Estella
Complex interrelations which are gradually revealed, turning the entire cast of the novel into a single family
The village: entry through the church yard, the forge, then the marshes; not much else of the village is described, besides The Blue Boar
The town: Miss Havisham’s house, Pumblechock’s house, the shop where Pip orders clothes -> the town almost entirely consists in Pip’s and reader’s consciousness of the great half-abandoned house (a ghost town?)
Miss Havisham’s house – “Satis” (“Enough House”) – exactly the opposite, the place where the desires are never satisfied
First description of Miss Havisham’s room:
Pip comes into it from total dark
First object he notices is the gilded mirror
Miss Havisham’s dress is first described as white, rich, bridal, though unfinished, then yellow
There is a parallel between the fog and smoke of the marshes and the unhealthy air of the feast chamber – connection between Magwitch’s and Miss Havisham’s stories.
The house is a witch house, both Miss Havisham and Estella are the witches who set out to break men’s hearts; in which sense Miss Havisham’s death in a house fire is deeply symbolic.
The feast chamber appears to be a great sepulcher – the bridal cake is there as the surrogate body of the bride, which will be laid out on the table after Miss Havisham’s death to be devoured by her greedy relatives.
The living dead
First impression is of a small, stuffy and strange room with swollen faces of the executed murderers; then Smithfield (meat market), Newgate Prison, with the black dome of St. Paul's above it, the road covered with straw “to deaden the noise of passing vehicles”
the first question Pip asks Wemmick is: “Is [London] a very wicked place?” (p. 158)
The Barnard’s Inn
"we entered this haven through a wicket-gate, and were disgorged by an introductory passage into a melancholy little square that looked to me like a flat burying-ground” (p. 159) – back to the churchyard? Barnard is “a disembodied spirit” – first it sounds like a joke, then “To Let To Let To Let, glared at me from empty rooms, as if no new wretches ever came there, and the vengeance of the soul of Barnard were being slowly appeased by the gradual suicide of the present occupants and their unholy interment under the gravel” (p. 159)
this is a ghost town too: the place is a combination of the village with its graveyard and of Miss Havisham’s house with its ghosts.
First impression: an orphan, mistreated (by his sister and her crowd) but loved and cherished by Joe
the graveyard scene being the first memory of Pip, on which his self-identity is based: mystery, terror, solitude in the world, obligation towards an unknown man, belief in the unseen
curiosity that cannot quite be sustained:
“People are put in Hulks because they murder, and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of bad; and they always begin by asking questions.” (p.16)
“Why, you are a regular cross-examiner!” said Mr Wemmick, looking at me with an approving air.” (p. 158)
Pip makes up stories about Miss Havisham, because he does not want her misunderstood (thus proving his compassion of her), yet his grotesque lies make her seem hardly less strange that she is in fact.
Following the interview with Miss Havisham, Pip himself takes on the aspect of a ghost: “Sarah Pocket conducted me down, as if I were a ghost who must be seen out.”
Pip is renamed at his coming to London by Herbert Pocket as Handel, “the Harmonious Blacksmith” (164)
first described through her dress: bridal veil and flowers, but hair is white; bridal dress, but sunken and bony form; faded white but bright dark eyes; Pip’s comparison of her with both waxworks and a skeleton – grotesque figure, a living ghost
thus, from the start she is a figure entirely unrealistic, Gothic: a mixture of a living corpse and a witch
evil: scheming evil for Pip’s future through his falling in love with pitiless Estella
but good at the same time: generous to a point to Pip, also able to distinguish the good in Joe in spite of his humble station in life and his social awkwardness
Good or Evil?
The birthday party for Miss Havisham: although she intimates that she does not follow calendar and does not count the days, she knows exactly when her birthday is, Pip’s second visit to her house is planned to coincide with this event.
Time and memory
The wedding feast chamber
She seems to glory in decay: the wedding feast chamber is presented as a tomb, in which the dead body is already being devoured by decay (spiders, mice, beetles), and where after Miss Havisham’s death she intends to have her body laid out for her relatives to “feast upon”
Pip’s first impression of him – the scent of soap from his hands
Mr. Jaggers speaks with “an air of authority not to be disputed, and with a manner expressive of knowing something secret about every one of us that would effectually do for each individual if he chose to disclose it” (Ch. 18)
Mr. Jaggers confidence that Pip will go bad somehow – illustrating his understanding of human nature.
The outward appearance:
Chisel work features: the author is the craftsman with the chisel
“post office of a mouth” mimicking smile, but not smiling at all
Small, keen glistening eyes
the same air of knowing something of everyone to his disadvantage as with Mr Jaggers
Pip reads his face like a book he does not understand: “I was still looking sideways at his block of a face in search of any encouraging note to the text” (p. 158).
The man turns out to be pathetically kind and warm-hearted...
The London Gentlemen
First impression: “pale young gentleman” – a person who already has what Pip is after – the true nature of a gentleman
Re-acquaintance with Pip when he comes to London: “I have never seen any one [...] who more strongly expressed to me, in every look and tone, a natural incapacity to do anything secret and mean. There was something wonderfully hopeful about his general air, and something that at the same time whispered to me he would never be very successful or rich.” (163)
Man of honor – the only one to stay away from Miss Havisham
a true gentleman – recognizing Compeyson for what he was: “no varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself” (p. 167)
entirely ineffectual - “a gentleman with a rather perplexed expression of face, and with his very grey hair disordered on his head, as if he didn’t quite see his way to putting anything straight”
lovely, intelligent (?) but harsh
appears incapable of love until softened by suffering
detests Pip as a blacksmith’s boy, but seems unwilling to trap him (warns him several times of the futility of his feelings for her)
Pip does not want to taint her with the touch of Newgate when meeting her in London, unaware of her own much stronger link to prison (mother and father)
Ms. Havisham treats her as an extension of herself, her chance to avenge herself on the men
Estella remains a bit of a mystery, her feelings stilled and silenced...
angelic in every way: all goodness and intelligence
plays the role of Pip’s conscience: reminds him that he is abandoning friends, asks him not to make promises he won’t keep
does not seem to mind the mistreatment at Pip’s hands, waits patiently until Pip reforms
a tamed animal – watching her master without comprehension
constantly teased by Jaggers, entirely at his mercy
“’Do you know what I touch here?’... it made me think of the young man” – the irony of the situation is made apparent on second reading: the heart was broken by the man Pip thinks about without knowing his relation to the lady (Compayson is the second convict and “the young man” and also Miss Havisham’s bridegroom)
what does it mean to be a gentleman:
charity, goodness of heart, compassion (heart) + education (manner) = the chivalric knight code;
“no varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself” (p. 167) – a tale of Compeyson, who is not a gentleman.
the crimes committed out of greed, hate and envy
crimes construed as such by the hypocritical society
Pip’s return from town after attack on his sister reenacts the beginning of the novel: the mist, booming guns, 2 convicts escaped, guilt of a crime that is not his; The Tragedy of George Barnwell (who murdered his uncle) read to Pip, who feels as though he is the protagonist, while his sister is being injured almost to death, Pip feeling “I was at first disposed to believe that I must have had some hand in the attack upon my sister, or at all events that as her near relation, popularly known to be under obligations to her, I was a more legitimate object of suspicion than any one else”; when it turns out that the murder weapon is the leg iron, Pip’s guilt is confirmed.
the graveyard: mist, darkness, death, loneliness – setting the mood of the novel
the Hulk as the wicked Noah’s ark
Satis House: the place of decay, the house of living dead, the witch palace
Pip sees the ghost of Miss Havisham in the brewery “hanging by the neck” (61) – significance?
London as a place of wickedness:
the Newgate theme
the casts in Mr. Jaggers’ office
the criminals: gothic theme slipping into a farce
the Barnard’s Inn: a delapidated, decayed and corrupting place
Glancy, Ruth. Student Companion to Charles Dickens, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Hühn, Peter. Narratologia : Eventfulness in British Fiction : Historical, Cultural and Social Aspects of the Tellability of Stories, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010, p. 87-88.
Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative Fiction : Contemporary Poetics, Florence, KY: Routledge, 1983, p. 73.